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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: arielstarshadow
Date: 2010-01-12 14:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just a quick point:

While Christianity is a religion, religion = Christianity.

religion is an intensely privileged, political force in contemporary American society

The CHRISTIAN religion is an intensely privileged, political force. Not so much the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hellenics, etc.
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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2010-01-12 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's the over-reaching privilege more than anything else that disgusts me, personally.
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Kenneth Mark Hoover
User: kmarkhoover
Date: 2010-01-12 14:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Frankly, I'm sick and disgusted with the over-reaching privilege religion demands upon society all because of their "faith".

I'm not interested in Play Pretend. Trees aren't made of ice cream and frogs don't wear funny hats. (Well, most frogs.) I believe in things that have evidentiary value. Religion and its foundation of "faith" does not meet that scientific bar. And don't even get me started on the stupefying hypocrisy that is endemic in religion.

Flying Spaghetti Monster or Martian Monkey-God. They're both the same. They're made out of whole cloth with no scientific basis whatsoever. And all the faith in the world doesn't make it any more real.

There's no evidence for the existence of God. And all the faith in the world, and the holier-than-thou societal privileges that comes with it, doesn't change that aspect one bit.
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User: bondo_ba
Date: 2010-01-12 14:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is a great post. Being an etheist in a strongly Catholic country, I can't help but wonder why Americans (and many other societies, as well) politicize everything.

Argentines, whether deeply spiritual or completely atheist, are much more laid back about the whole thing. We have our kooks, f course, but they generally aren't out and about making a spectacle of themselves. From what I've seen in the US (and I've both lived there and been a tourist), the strong commitment to certain ideas (wheter it be religion or any of the other hot topics that abound) makes it difficult to sit back and relax, and a lot of unnecessary legislation seems to get passed to appease offended extremists.

You've had lots of experience in other countries - I'd be interested in knowing how they contrast with the US in your opinion.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-01-12 16:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, this. I'm a woolly agnostic in the UK, where again religions are present -- I grew up around Christian (Catholic and C of E), Muslim and Hindu communities -- but where their impact on the political process (and the training of doctors -- no D & Cs? Sheesh) is far less than it seems to be in the US. And we *don't* have a protocol of the separation of church and state.
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User: the_ogre
Date: 2010-01-12 15:22 (UTC)
Subject: Nail, meet hammerhead.
Quite dead-on, Jay.

There's a lot that I can and have said about all of the points above, and I've said those things in tones ranging from gentle remonstration to invective-laced screaming - and I've never felt that I've gotten much of anywhere.

You've managed to state it in the best-understandable terms that I've seen.

Thanks for posting this.
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John A Pitts
User: bravado111
Date: 2010-01-12 15:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

I find this post to be very thoughtful. I find myself agreeing with you on this subject as it comes across as reasonable. I believe, like most of what we as humans do, that the Political aspect of Christian life is based on Fear.

On my read of the Bible, I recall Christ espousing that the body is the temple. I do not recall him being a big fan of big churches and overt political thuggary.

He hung out with the prostitutes and the drunks. He spent his time helping those who needed help, not judging those whom he feared.

I come from a very eclectic religious background, but steeped in traditional Protestant leanings. My wife is Catholic.

To me faith is personal, and if you truly believe in God, or any god, then what do you have to prove? It's like Pascal's wager. You live your life, follow the tenants of your beliefs, and leave me to mine. In the end, we'll see who was right.

Frankly, most Christians I know are not radicals. For those who feel the need to push your agenda onto others, I'd suggest you go back and reread the bible. It's obvious that some of the most outspoken in the Fever-Pitch crowd have only a cursory understanding of the text.

We are a country founded on judgment and persecution. Many will tell you it's based on Christian ideals, but that's just propaganda.
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When life gives you lemmings...
User: danjite
Date: 2010-01-12 15:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, but re-read which bible?

I was just re-reading Matthew (6:6, if you must know) and the site I am using lists 18 different translations and it is hardly encyclopedic.

Depending on when your bible was, uh, translated and by who one can support an amazing array of "beliefs".
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misofuhni: oxford comma
User: misofuhni
Date: 2010-01-12 15:50 (UTC)
Subject: For Clarity's Sake
Keyword:oxford comma
I'm not going to get up on a soap box here with you. This is your blog and you are more than entitled to you opinions (in this country, at least) as the next person, but this bothered me.

Now, I wasn't there with you, but I do know a bit about medicine and medical procedures. Mother of the Child had a D and C--Dilation and Curettage. It is a procedure where the cervix is dilated and a curette is used to scrape the interior of the uterus. This procedure is used for things like getting a specimen of the endometrium for a biopsy to test for a number of things, including fibroids and uterine cancer. I'm not even going to get into the whole abortion issue here.

Carry on and I'll just go back to my corner and be quiet.

P.S.--I'm pulling for you and thinking about you.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-12 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: Re: For Clarity's Sake
It may have been a DNX. I vividly remember the explanation from our doctor of the issue.
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scottedelman: BuhZurk
User: scottedelman
Date: 2010-01-12 16:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post, Jay!
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User: gvdub
Date: 2010-01-12 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You do seem to treat politicized conservative evangelical American Christianity as if it is the embodiment of all religion. That seems like a major error in thought. They are not equates.

Being opposed to ossified thinking, unwillingness to tolerate other-ness, cultural imperialism, and persistent delusions of righteousness is a good thing (at least to my thinking), but those things exist in many different forms of human endeavor and are not the sole possession of any one belief structure.

The baby ≠ the bath water, and we should always be careful in discarding beliefs that we're disposing only of that which is not useful.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-12 16:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You do seem to treat politicized conservative evangelical American Christianity as if it is the embodiment of all religion. That seems like a major error in thought. They are not equates.

Fair enough, but I will submit that from a secular point of view, in the contemporary political and social calculus of US society, for most practical purposes, politicized conservative evangelical American Christianity is religion, with a strong assist from the Catholic Church. I don't see Jews or Quakers or Hindus grabbing headlines, dominating electoral races, or getting into constant court battles over religious displays, curricula, etc. Or, frankly, trying to tell me how to live my life.
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Steve: Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
User: anton_p_nym
Date: 2010-01-12 16:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Anton Ego (Ratatouille)
America has a particular historical problem regarding faith and state power; the Puritans.

US popular history tends to whitewash this heritage, but there was a lot more to the Puritan movement than funny hats, Biblical quotations, and quaint dialect. Puritans are the Scarlet Letter people with stocks and floggings and, yes, witch trials; they're the ones who imposed a miserably-unsuccessful "Blessed Parliament" upon Britain in the aftermath of a bloody civil war, who tried to conquer Catholic Ireland and cancel Christmas, who viewed themselves as holy warriors sent out to convert or repress misbelievers because those who did not accept Puritan tennets were the tools of Satan.

Simon Schama, in his documentary series A History of Britain, notably referred to Puritans as "the Protestant Taliban"; I find that phrase incredibly appropriate.

You see the effects everywhere in US politics; the unexamined exceptionalism, the Manichaean worldview, the suspicion of leisure and "unearned" comfort, the vulnerability to political hysterics, the paternalism, the desirability of "truthiness", the twin drives to independance and conformity... the fabric of America has a great many threads spun by Cotton Mather.

-- Steve acknowledges that the Puritans were persecuted in Britain... but not only because they refused to join the Church of England, as their apologists like to claim. In a great many ways, as a political movement they were a nasty, nasty bunch.

PS: In this context, I don't think folks need three guesses to figure out why the first ammendment passed to the US Constitution forbade the establishment of a state religion in its first article. (And that the eighth, forbidding "cruel and unusual punishment", passed the same year for that matter.)
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2010-01-13 03:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes. This. Excellent point.
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paulcarp: pic#67230600
User: paulcarp
Date: 2010-01-12 17:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post. As always, thanks for sharing some of what's in your head.

With your permission, I'm off to form the Pink Unicorn Posse now.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-12 18:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Up with PUP!
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User: magentamn
Date: 2010-01-12 18:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I believe religion to be an intensely personal experience. I like to say, I don't belong to any organized religion, I'm a Witch. And we need to rebuild the wall between religion and politics.

Two buttons I have:
"God, please save me from your followers"

"Religion should be practiced behind closed doors by consenting adults... want to come to my room for a religious experience?"
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2010-01-12 19:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
you view religion through an intensely political lens

I was raised Immersionist Baptist, and this left me with a lifelong love of swimming, plus SCUBA qualifications, because you wonder about folks who hold you down til the bubbles stop.
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User: daveraines
Date: 2010-01-12 19:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Evidences for God constitute a whole different (usually fruitless) discussion, and I wish you hadn't thrown the trivial pink unicorn in. But I would like to say two things about the political angle.

1. What you're complaining about is the fact that we live in a democracy. "Religion" is organized faith, faith is deeply integrated in a believer's life, and cannot be separated from behavior, including voting. In my own denomination, the Pacific Northwest area is generally liberal, but unable to liberalize the global denomination in matters like the treatment of gays, because we are outnumbered. Do I like this? I do not. But it's the rules of the road. There are lots of evangelicals, and in a democracy, numbers matter.

Of course the Constitution is also set up to preserve the rights of the minority, and we can hope that the Constitution matters, too. Also stories of pain like the one you shared are not only important in their own right but as mind-changers.

2. This is all deeply ironic, because the Bible does in fact address political matters - but does so by setting up a counterculture, a protest against Empire. Christianity is supposed to be a place where the poor are blessed / honorable, the hungry are fed, prisoners are set free, shalom is granted, the rich give freely to the poor, and Christ brings all these blessings in the face of Caesar and his oppressive minions (who kill him, but he wins anyway).

Christianity functions really well as a place of power for an oppressed remnant (cf. MLK and civil rights); not so well when we're in charge of the wheels of state. From way back in the Old Testament, the people of God end up in trouble when they possess the land, and the same may be true today.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-12 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Throwing out the pink unicorn question for the moment (though I know you see how the point looks from my end), I'll respond to your other comments.

1) We do live in a democracy. But some of the issues most cherished by the Christian-identified political segment in this country are purely religious, not political. For example, there is no support (or even a rational basis for support) of evolution denial outside of a religious framework. That's no more of a political issue than the presence of Thetans in your bloodstream, pace Scientology. Yet the rest of us in this here democracy have to sustain that idiocy through election cycle after election cycle, through lawsuit after lawsuit. That's a clearcut example of how religion perniciously influences politics and education.

More controversial, but still under the same rubric, abortion opposition. The absolutist position which dominates GOP politics has very little secular support. There is a *huge* slippery slope of developmental biology, ethics and human rights around when and how to define acceptable abortion, but the religious perspective has distorted the democratic and medical-scientific process all my life, including quite specifically my own story of pain.

So I think it's a bit disingenuous to say, faith is part of democracy, and therefore I must accept its role. When faith breeds patent idiocy, such as evolution denial; or deadly misdirection, such as the distortions in women's health and reproductive rights; it deserves to be called out. Otherwise we might as well accept Flat Earthers into discussions about satellite traffic control.

Mind you, I'm very clear that faith is not the only source of patent idiocy in our society or politics. But faith has that special imprimatur of divine approval which can in some cases so readily and demonstrably exempt its practioners from examining the consequences of their own beliefs, or considering how they might be improved. As an atheist and an empiricist, I don't have the luxury of rectitude. Being human, I fall into rectitude far too often, but it's not socially sanctioned or privileged the way religious rectitude is. My errors are entirely my own, and I cannot defend them with Scripture.

2) With you all the way on that one.

Edited at 2010-01-12 08:27 pm (UTC)
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User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-01-12 20:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay--thanks for the very thoughtful response. Just wanted you to know I won't be able to comment oroperly until tomorrow due to internet outage. Am two-thumbing it right now.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-01-12 21:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All good. You made me think, a lot. Thank you.
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User: anghara
Date: 2010-01-12 23:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You inspired me to post something along these lines on my own blog. But on the whole, I find myself just nodding as I read and agreeing with you here...
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