American political religiosity

“I’d be delighted to live in a country where happily married gay couples had closets full of assault weapons.”

US blogger Glen Reynolds giving an example of why he can’t be easily classified as left or right!

Reynold’s Instapundit blog is one of the A-list blogs, and I must admit that I had dismissed it as a pointless pro-Bush blog without looking too closely at his posts. In his Guardian column this week Reynolds points out why he sits uneasily in any easily defined spectrum of American politics. His main point is that religiosity affects both the left and right wing agendas and he finds both equally disturbing:

The language of righteousness and sin, if not that of redemption and grace, remains a hallmark of the purportedly secular left, though I find it no more attractive than the language of the religious right.

I don’t fit into the religious right or the religious left. But, in America, you don’t get to choose a major political party that does not have some sort of religious strain to it.

And it strikes me that one reason why politics in the US have become so much more bitter over the past couple of decades is that two rather different threads of religiosity have come to dominate the two major parties in distinct fashion, where each party had previously incorporated major components of both. This has turned political battles into quasi-religious ones.

I think this is undoubtedly true and Reynolds gives the example of Hilary Clinton as a religiously inspired leftie, pointing out that “the roots of this do-goodism are ultimately in New England Puritanism, which had many characteristics associated with today’s left.”.

However, I think there is a fundamental difference between the right’s use of religious rhetoric and the left’s use of religious rhetoric. One of the primary religious values of the left is a call to inclusive community. This is inherent in the title of Hilary Clinton’s book about children: “It takes a village” I haven’t read the book but the excerpts here seem to support this view:

The horizons of the contemporary village extend well beyond the town line. From the moment we are born, we are exposed to vast numbers of other people and influences through the media. Technology connects us to the impersonal global village it has created.

To many, this brave new world seems dehumanizing and inhospitable. It is not surprising, then,, that there is a yearning for the “good old days” as a refuge from the problems of the present. But by turning away, we blind ourselves to the continuing, evolving presence of the village in our lives, and its critical importance for how we live together. The village can no longer be defined as a place on a map, or as a list of people or organizations, but its essence remains the same: it is the network of values and relationships that support and affect our lives….

We cannot move forward by looking to the past for easy solutions. Even if a golden age had existed, we could not simply graft it onto today’s busier, more impersonal and complicated world. Instead, our challenge is to arrive at a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.

Creating that consensus in a democracy depends on seriously considering other points of view, resisting the lure of extremist rhetoric, and balancing individual rights and freedoms with personal responsibility and mutual obligations.

This is a fundamentally different view to the resisting pre-apocalyptic communities of the religious right, whose religious world view promotes a divisive politics that wants to proscribe, people and practices that don’t conform to their particular beliefs. Now this does not mean that the left does not also use the politics of consensus in devise ways, nor do they always live up to their ideals of inclusion, but in their basic orientation I think that religious conservatism and the religious liberalism need to be read quite differently.

The similarities and differences of the religiously inspired right and the religiously inspired left is certainly something that I should look at further.

Any world view, strongly held, creates divisions: sometimes these divisions are helpful organising devices, other times they lead to easy judgments, (like my instant assessment of Reynolds!) that really deserve more open thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *