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[religion] Coming back to an old thread, my politics and your religion - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-01-12 05:57
Subject: [religion] Coming back to an old thread, my politics and your religion
Security: Public
Tags:family, personal, politics, religion
Lengthy discussions with blzblack, cathshaffer and daveraines in comments a while back, largely on the Atheism, cancer and me post. blzblack in particular raised some issue challenging my views on religion to which I have meant to respond, but it was cathshaffer who made a point that caused me to stop and carefully consider my approach.

She said:
you view religion through an intensely political lens. This only makes sense, because you are a person interested in politics. However, I also think it can color your perceptions to the negative, because you are seeing what comes up on your politically selective radar, and because most authentic religious practice is *actively orthogonal* to religion or contains philosophies which are at opposite ends of the artificial blue-red spectrum that is created in the old sausage factory (like social justice <--> respect for life). You are a very experienced and wise person, but because your life experience has not included a strong faith in god, that whole experience is somewhat of a black box. Your ideas about what is inside that black box are sometimes quite dismissive, such as an assertion that people hold faith for reasons of comfort, and that their choice is not challenging or difficult

To which my answer is ultimately, well yes. But it's a very important yes.

In some aspects, I have clearly not expressed myself well enough yet. I don't mean to be dismissive when I say that at least some people hold faith for reasons of comfort. That's demonstrable on the face of it. The evangelical message, at least in my lifetime, has ranged from "Know Jesus, know peace; no Jesus, no peace" to "Pray for a red Mercedes." If such messages, along with the Prosperity Gospel and the Rapture mythos, aren't comfort seeking, then cathshaffer and I have very different definitions of "comfort". The primary source talks about comforting the afflicted, albeit in a somewhat different sense of comfort.

Likewise, blzblack has challenged a number of my assertions about the provability of God, and whether it is intellectually honest to even consider the question. I take the pink unicorn argument myself — absent some material evidence it is no more incumbent upon me to consider the existence of God to be a provable assertion that it is incumbent upon me to consider the existence of pink unicorns to be a provable assertion. The difference is God has a posse. The existence of faith, and more particular Faith as a political and cultural artefact, is demonstrable and powerful.

And this is where cathshaffer hit it on the head when she said that I "view religion through an intensely political lens". Of course I do. I stand outside the black box of religion by deliberate self selection. Her faith, or yours, is a private matter that has no effect on me, and is of interest to me only insofar as we are friends. What happens behind the door of your home, church, synagogue, mosque, temple or forest grove is between you, your temporal lobes and your vision of your spirituality. My faith was heavily inculcated into me with early and severe churching which I rejected over time in my grade school years and teens, and have never looked back on with longing.

To argue that because I stand outside the black box of religion means I'm misinterpreting is beside the points I keep trying to make. To be clear, the fault here is my own, not cathshaffer's or anyone else's. I have been unclear in much of my rhetoric. I have no grounds or reason to criticize religion or faith from within the box. An it harm none, believe what you will. Not my concern.

But because I am an intensely political person, and religion is an intensely privileged, political force in contemporary American society, I do have strong opinions about the impact of religion on my life and yours. They are political, not faith-based.

When your faith matters to me is when it spills out of the sacred space and influences the secular sphere. When children are allowed to die because a faith refuses medical intervention, for instance. That's murder, pure and simple. That's a cheap example, because it's easy to set up and difficult to defend.

But how different is that from the distorting effect of the Christian Right on medical research? Over the past decade we've ceded dominance in stem cell medicine to England, South Korea and other countries, simply because of a minority religious view. That directly undermines our medical and scientific systems.

Or in my own personal case, back in the mid-1990s, when Mother of the Child had a miscarriage wherein the pregnancy would not spontaneously abort. She carried a necrotic fetus for four weeks. The required procedure was a DNC DNX, which due to pressure from the Christian Right is no longer taught to most new doctors because it's primarily an abortion procedure. Neither the public nor the Catholic hospitals in town would allow it to be performed, even under our circumstances, due to religious pressure. We had one option, and in a smaller city than Austin, we would have had none. if you've ever prayed aganst abortion or given a dollar to Operation Rescue, your religious beliefs could have killed my wife. And there was no child's life at stake. That is a distorting effect of religion on the secular sphere that has left me angry to this day, more than fifteen years later.

I could go on with these examples, as I so often do — the decline in science education and awareness; the proud know-nothingism of Palinite conservatives backed by Biblical rectitude; the effect of End Times theology on Bush foreign policy. My point is, religion is intensely political. It affects everything we do as a society. It Christianity is intensely privileged in the political process — an assertion my Christian friends sometimes seem to find boggling, but how many avowed atheists serve in elective office? How many avowed churchgoers? 97.3% of the members of Congress avow a faith, 88.9% some form of Christianity.

We're still arguing about evolution in American society, with a rate of denialism matched only by the country of Turkey. That's a question that shouldn't even be asked in a rational culture. Religion distorts political, educational and legal processes every day in America.

So of course I view religion through a political lens. Your beliefs are your own, and I back them to the hilt as part of my own view of civil liberties and Constitutional rights. But the consequences of your beliefs write themselves large on my political life every time Texas rejects a textbook, or a child is taught Intelligent Design, or two people I love cannot marry because your God who hates shrimp also hates fags, or the life of someone I love is endangered because medical decisions have been taken away from doctors and patients in the name of one nonsecular view of the inception of life.

Keep your black box with my blessings. But for the love of God, just because you believe it doesn't mean it's true. Don't write it into our country's laws, our curricula, our healthcare guidelines and our court rulings. I'll try to keep my rantings out of your black box in return.

Really, we're not that different. I only believe in one less god than you do. Or perhaps one less pink unicorn.

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User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-01-13 18:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There is nothing wrong with being primarily concerned with politics and having strong disagreements with the positions of other groups. What I see happening here is that you are conflating the overall religious/Christian majority with a group which is actually a minority--those that identify as religious right or "Christian coalition." Why this is important is because the numbers you cite above about the representation of atheists/religious in public office imply that there is a religious vs. atheist relationship. The truth is that the majority of Christians or believers in other faiths would agree with all of your points above. With respect to those who don't agree, the majority of THOSE are content to tolerate differences of opinion and accept that their views may be different than the majority. I think it's important to also note that there are a great many atheists and nonbelievers among the ranks of hardcore conservatives. All of the serious conservatives I know are either atheists or agnostics who lean heavily towards nonbelief. Over about the past decade, I have watched observed many of these nonreligious conservatives hardening positions on issues which truly are faith-based, such as gay marriage, simply because of the polarization of the political spectrum and a feeling that there is a war on and a need to close ranks.

The problem we have in this country is that the political activism of the religious right attempts to legislate morality for the country as a whole. We have discussed already the elements of American-style evangelical Christianity that are conducive to this kind of politicized religious experience, but the truth is--as you've pointed out--that it is not ONLY evangelicals involved with the religious right, and that it is also much less than ALL evangelicals that support that particular kind of political activism. (I know many people who are members of evangelical denominations who are staunch democrats and pretty socially liberal.)

The way to understand this is to take a step back and realize that it is common throughout history for governments and/or political parties to use faith and ideology to dominate and control populations. This includes atheism. In fact, it's hard to come up with an example of any kind of religion or belief system that has not been abused in that way, and this is the reason we have separation of church and state in modern democracies.

It is for this reason that I think it is most helpful to look at activities of the religious right as primarily political in nature. This explains why other religious groups are drawn in on some issues and not others.

The problem with railing against the belief systems underlying the political behavior is that it involves a lot of friendly fire. I often feel attacked by your writings, even though I do understand you're not talking about me, and even though I mostly agree with you on the policy points you are bringing up. But because I believe in God, I inevitably get rounded up with the pink unicorn crowd.

You have only to look as far as the comments in this thread to see a lot of vitriol vented against Christianity, and I can see no particular purpose in it, except to alienate people that should be natural allies. For example, I despise the teaching of creationism as science, and I don't see how bashing belief in pink unicorn or God is at all relevant or useful in the discussion of how we can keep religious doctrine out of classrooms.

I agree with you that the power grab by the religious right in order to impose faith-based morals on the country as a whole is totally unacceptable. And I agree with you that atheists are often marginalized because the majority do believe in some form of religion. But I also believe there needs to be a cessation of hostilities, especially regarding stuff that has no real policy implications, such as whether there is proof of the existence of God. This latter is not a political question and really has no place in political debate, and in fact in its own way is equivalent to citing scripture when trying to defend a political position.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-14 13:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am framing a careful response to this, because (once again) you have prodded my thinking past some of my own assumptions. Not sure if I have time or energy to get it finished this morning, but I am paying attention. Thank you.
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