Friday, November 21, 2008

Babies and Bathwater

This might seem a little contradictory to some of y'all considering this piece I wrote a few days ago, but just follow me for a while.

Ever since the presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion among conservatives about the direction of the Republican party. More specifically, there has been a lot of discussion about how to marginalize the religious right while still keeping their votes.

Don't believe me, check out this article by a leading conservative discussing that very topic.

Now, in the past I've castigated many of my white Christian brethren for perverting God's message and blindly following leaders whose actions do not align with values taught in the Bible. I've complained that they spend far too much time discussing gay marriage and abortion, and too little time talking about poverty and violence. I still think that's true. But, this new movement is extremely short-sighted, it shows a shocking lack of understanding about minority believers and, ultimately, it reeks of elite secularism gone amok.

Let me explain those three points.

First, the idea that Republicans need to stop letting the Bible dictate their policy decisions has merit. Americans have a wide range of religious beliefs and attempting to force the entire country to live according to some strict interpretation of the Bible would be impossible. More importantly, it would be un-Godly. God does not force human beings to obey him. He lays out his commandments and then he lets us make choices. There are rewards and punishments for those choices, but the choice is up to us.

However, that doesn't mean that Christian values should not play a role in policy making. The problem in the past has been that we've seen a skewed form of Christianity that adheres to the philosophy that thinking about God's true intentions is a waste of time. Far too many Christians learn their values through the mouths of their preachers instead of through biblical study and prayer. That's not to say that preachers do not offer insight, after all that is their purpose, but the Bible instructs believers to "study to show themselves approved" and that means critical thinking, not just rote memorization.

I think that this country needs the Christian values of forgiveness, kindness, charity, patience, long-suffering, gentleness and self-control. If our foreign and domestic policy was guided by the two most important commandments, love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as you love yourself, I can't envision how the world would be in its current state. I think many secularists focus on the negative aspects of Christianity without giving credit for the good the religion's members do, and that has led to this short-sighted view of the role of the religious right.

My second point is that this push to encourage Republicans to abandon much of the religious underpinnings of their party would actually make them less attractive to minorities, not more attractive. Truthfully, the main reason conservatives have struggled to attract minorities is because they often make direct appeals to the racism of some of their members and because on issues that are key to the country's two largest minority groups, conservatives had taken the wrong stances.

From what I can tell, Latinos are attracted to the conservative message of hard work and self-reliance, at least when they initially arrive in this country. In addition, most Latin American countries are extremely religious with Catholicism enjoying huge membership in them as a carryover from colonization and ministry work. I'm not an expert, but it seems that if Latinos and Hispanics were asked to describe their value systems and outlooks on life, they would closely align with the conservative ethos. The success George W. Bush had among that group is proof of that.

The problem for conservatives is that they took a hardline, violent and racist stance on immigration, particularly illegal immigration, that in some ways contradicts their other values about free markets. That's one of the main flaws in modern conservatism; they discuss the value of the free market and personal liberty, but then take ridiculous stances that support government intrusion into the free market and into people's personal lives.

Latinos heavily supported Barack Obama because he refused to demonize illegal immigrants and promised to give them a path to citizenship after they paid for their infractions. That's much more reasonable than the most prominent stance of conservatives, which was basically "kick them all out." That stance, and the racism and xenophobia that flourished among those who held it, was what hurt conservatives among Latinos, not the Republican party's overwhelming whiteness or religious base.

Conservatives have the same sort of problem with black people. Most black people believe that there is still a need for affirmative action, we think that mandatory minimums unfairly target our community and we understand that our children are being warehoused in inferior schools that need improvement. On just those three issues we are diametrically opposed to the basic beliefs of most conservatives who see affirmative action as an unfair advantage, think long prison terms reduce crime and think the solution to the problems in the public school system is to eliminate the system.

Those are just three examples, but they are representative of the real problem for conservatives. Most of their policies attack government programs that provide assistance to poverty stricken individuals and African Americans have a higher incidence of poverty than any other group in the country. While some of us may see the social programs as fostering dependence and weakness among black people, most black people see those services as the basic help they need to eke out a living. Since Republicans constantly are trying to cut those services, most black people see them as constantly trying to harm us.

In addition, black people remember that conservatives had no qualms about aligning themselves with virulently racist organizations in the South and providing legitimacy for their activities. Not only is this history undeniable, but the practice continues today. Combine that with conservatives' economic policies and you have the perfect explanation for their lack of support among black people. It's not because there are so few black faces at conservative events, successful black people are used to operating in lily white environments. No, the problem is that black people have a sinking suspicion that if a lynching party broke out at these lily white events nobody would have a real problem.

However, it's not about religion. Blacks, like Latinos, are overwhelmingly religious. Both communities have a higher incidence of traditional Christianity than white people. In fact, many black people would like to vote for Republicans because of their religious stances, but can't get past the rampant racism and distaste for the poor. Religion is not a problem for minorities, and to think otherwise shows a shocking lack of understanding about how minorities view religion and view the Republican party.

Unfortunately, that lack of understanding isn't surprising. Most of the people attacking the religious wing of the Republican part have very little experience with dealing with "the masses." They espouse grand theories, but they haven't spent the time studying the way humans interact, which would give them true insight.

These people, if they were being honest, would admit that they don't really have much use for prominent displays of religion. They prefer a more sedate worship service and much more quiet faith, if they like any faith at all. And they are convinced this is the way things should be.

However, any traditional Christian would tell them that this runs counter to a huge number of biblical teachings. From childhood, traditional Christians are taught that it is a virtue to be demonstrative of their faith in public. While we are instructed that a true relationship with Christ is cemented in our "prayer closets," we are also taught to be "beacon lights" to non-believers and to never appear ashamed of our faith, or God will be ashamed of us.

Consequently, the idea that traditional Christians should practice a more "quiet" version of their religion is insulting to them. I would compare it to a straight person asking a homosexual to practice a less "flamboyant" brand of homosexuality. The person making the request is implying that there is some shame associated with certain activities, so the person practicing those activities should try not to call attention to themselves.

There is a difference between shouting down those individuals who disagree with me about God and boldly proclaiming my belief in Jesus. I've found that many secularists cannot see this difference the same way many white people don't understand the concept that race can be a factor in a person's decision making without that person being a virulent racist.

Honestly, some of the blame for this state of affairs can be attributed to my Christian brethren who seem to have forgotten how to share the gospel with non-believers and how to conduct themselves in general society. But, I've also discovered that those who do not have a belief in Christ or any god have a tendency to look down on those people who do, particularly those people who talk about their beliefs often. I think that secular branch of the conservative movement is marshaling its forces and trying to make a power play because they would be more comfortable if the party moved in a new direction. However, they haven't made many good arguments that this new direction would win the party more converts.

So, they are tossing out a relatively clean baby, just to rid themselves of some filthy bathwater.



MCBias said...

Big Man, I like what you have to say here. But what seriously bothers me is, what does the Republican Party have to do to attract minorities? Yes, it's fairly white right now. So the problem is, blacks and Hispanics look and say "I don't see my race there", and so the GOP has no chance of attracting them. How could that change?

And it's somewhat disappointing to me that, given the choice between a party that supports your race and a party that supports your religion, most opt for race over religion. I was born here to two immigrants from the same European country. Ethnic pride is reasonably strong in me. But I was only born into that family tree...I CHOSE Christianity. It's not even close for me which is more dominant, race or religion. So why not so for others? How about you, Big Man--what are you first, a black man or a Christian?

Yes, these are provocative questions, but I don't mean them as slams. I'm honestly asking here because I don't get it.

Esquire said...

Big Man - But, I've also discovered that those who do not have a belief in Christ or any god have a tendency to look down on those people who do, particularly those people who talk about their beliefs often.

Great post. I have also found this to be unfortunately true. This leads to people just not talking about religion at all and no progress is ever made.

I also find the attacks on the Christian right to be pretty much baloney. The Republicans use religion to draw those people in and then do completely the opposite once they are in office. Bush and Co were not being guided by God. The only reason the race was even close was because of those people's loyalty to the party. So I have to agree with you that they are tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

Esquire said...

MCBias - genuine concern and work toward minority issues would be a good start. The Republicans are worse than the Democrats about not showing up until they want your vote.

The views expressed by many of the party's talking heads against Affirmative Action and illegal immigration literally reek of racism. It's hard to ignore that when you head to the polls.

And I think that is their biggest problem. The Republicans problem has more to do with the Rush and Hannity's of this world.

Lolo said...

One of the things that we as a society don't fully grasp about how the constitution was framed was that it was informed by the times in which it was formulated. Remember, the Puritans left behind a Europe that was almost entirely lashed to The Church and its own agendas. That is the basis for separation of church and state. The idea was not to divorce religious principles from public discourse but to sever the power of religious demagoguery from the government. The most obvious parallel in present day terms would be Iran.

I have little problem with my elected leaders having faith in a higher power, it's the possibility of said religion (note, I do not say "faith" but "religion") exerts unchecked power through its practitioners that makes me deeply uneasy.

This is my problem with how much catering the Republicans have done to such as Falwell, Dobson, et al. They and their ilk appear to have an entirely different approach to influencing our laws than the Reverends Graham or King, for example. Asking your fellow citizens to march against injustice, under our laws, is a fine but crucial difference than using the tithes of your church to lobby to overturn the laws that you don't agree with.

Big Man said...


It's hard for me to choose whether I'm a black man or a Christian first. If I had to choose with would be Christ, but I probably think abotu what it means to be black as much as I think about what it means to be a Christian, if not more.

However, I think you are operating from some bad information. It isn't that black people won't join something where there aren't other black people. We go to Ivy League schools, work at Fortune 500 companies and play baseball, all of those areas are light on the black folks. People always overplay the notion that you need diversity to attract diversity.

What you need to attract black people is a consistent effort to make your organization comfortable for them, and many white people balk at that. Mainly because it would mean changes in their "traditions."

For Republicans, some of your positions will mean you will always be at odds with a large segment of black people as long as we are disproportionately affected by poverty. Republicans don't seem to care about solving the poverty problem and many black people feel that means they don't care about us.

But, getting rid of the rampant racism would be a good way to attract more of the black people who aren't that concerned with poverty.

Big Man said...


Is it really that evil for Christians to use their money to overturn laws they don't agree with?

Isn't that what all citizens have the right to do? I mean, if black people want to lobby to overturn laws they don't agree with, is that a bad thing?

The only problem I have is the non-profit status of churches prevents them from getting politically involved. If they want to get politically involved, they need to relinquish that status. Other than that, I don't have an issue with faith organizations banding together to get their interests dealt with.

Deacon Blue said...

Like Esquire, I was also struck by this part of your post:
But, I've also discovered that those who do not have a belief in Christ or any god have a tendency to look down on those people who do, particularly those people who talk about their beliefs often.

But then again, I just today had my own run-in with that mind-set at one of the other blogs I frequent other than yours.

Lolo said...

Oh, I didn't mean to imply that I think it's evil and I'm sorry to have come off as overreacting. I mean that I think it's more of what the founders had in mind when they laid out the whole separation of church and state. That an organised religion can not use its monies and members to wield legislative power. I'm uncomfortable with church lobbies.

Deacon, I don't like how nonbelievers tend to treat people of faith either. I freely admit that there are many religious practises that leave me cold but I'm also offended at atheists who shrill about any public expressions of faith.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, Thanks for a good read. I don't agree with everything, but I'll get to that.

McBias said "And it's somewhat disappointing to me that, given the choice between a party that supports your race and a party that supports your religion, most opt for race over religion."

Forgive me is if misquote the bible, but it said something to the effect "before you talk about the splinter in someone's eye, remove the log from your own"

McBias how can you pose such a ridiculous question to Big Man? There is a region of this country refered to as the Bible Belt. It is the least tolerant, most hateful and racist part of this country. That's saying something given the history of this country. It is the Bible Belt that spawned the klan, jim crow and the southern strategy. Clearly these bible thumpers chose race over the religion. I hope you're visiting their blogs and challenging them of their hypocrisy.

Why do you think sundays are the most segregated day of the week? I believe it the choice of race over religion. All started and perpetuated by the white folks.

BigMan said, "But, I've also discovered that those who do not have a belief in Christ or any god have a tendency to look down on those people who do, particularly those people who talk about their beliefs often."

I don't look down on those who found something that's meaningful in their lives. If I look down on anyone, It's becasue it seems like I'm being forced to accept someone elses beliefs. I don't care if you shout it to the high heavens, but if I tell you I'm not interested, then leave me the F alone. No, I'm not going with you to church, or bible study, don't send me emails either.

I don't dismiss or diminish a persons belief and faith in their God, I rejoice for ya. But allow me the right to not embrace your beliefs or to listen to it.

Anonymous said...

If you compare these two statements I think you'll find one of the reasons why they... "look down" upon others

But, I've also discovered that those who do not have a belief in Christ or any god have a tendency to look down on those people who do, particularly those people who talk about their beliefs often.


... we are also taught to be "beacon lights" to non-believers

sometime Christians refuse to turn that danged beacon off even when asked politely....

Dave said...

You know what's funny? About 6-7 years ago this same debate was being played out here. We had a right-wing party called the "Alliance" that just couldn't seem to attract the minority vote (In this case Hindu and Sikh voters). Amusingly though, our right wing party figured out the problem (holdover anti-immigration values from their previous incarnation as the "Reform Party") and solved it. They demoted and gagged all the really hardline anti-immigration types, this in the post 9/11 world, reincarnated their party as the "Conservative Party" to put more distance between those views and themselves, and managed to attract a slate of East Indian candidates across the country.

I still remember hearing on the right wing radio call in shows back then the East Indian men calling in and complaining that they wanted to vote for them, they didn't agree with gay marraige, abortion, et al, but they had to vote Liberal for the sake of bringing over their family who were still overseas...

It's amazing how politics are the same no matter where you're from...

Big Man said...


Thanks for that international insight. Interesting stuff.

Imohotep and Anon

I feel y'all on Christians refusing to turn off the beacon light. I'll admit that some of my fellow believers are a tad aggressive when it comes to recruitment. I'm not one of them, but I'm in the minority.
Honestly, I don't know what to do about that.

Deacon Blue said...

Anon, it is true that Christians can be "in the face" at times in being a beacon light. A Christian doing what he/she should be doing doesn't need to turn off the beacon, becasue he/she won't be blinding anybody (though that's not to say that person won't catch flak from folks who despise religion on general principles sometimes).

The Bible talks about not hiding your light under a bushel, for example. That doesn't mean stick a torch right up into someone's face. It means you shouldn't cower and cringe and pretend that being Christian isn't an important part of your life. Being a light for Christ is about being a good example and not hiding the fact that it's God's light you're reflecting, and not because you're so freaking wonderful. That light doesn't have to be blinding, and in most cases, shouldn't be.

Also, if we're going to take the "beacon light" analogy, what does a beacon do? It helps keep you aware of something important. Like a lighthouse sweeps its light broadly instead of shining on one ship or one small spot in the ocean. Beacons should not be blinding, because then they become safety hazards. A light that is truly a "beacon" doesn't need to be shut off and shouldn't be, because it is there to show you something; you shouldn't be focusing on the beacon but on the message it is supposed to convey to you. And if you don't like that message, by all means steer a different course with your ship or brave the rocks in front of you. It's your choice.

I wouldn't ask a gay person who's on the more flamboyant end to turn down his "gayness" and I wouldn't tell a hard-core feminist to turn down her "womyn-ism." I wouldn't expect Bill O'Reilly to cease being a jerk most of the time and wouldn't ask him to; I'd just walk away from him. Etc. Etc.

the uppity negro said...

**opens mouth inserts foot**

I thought this was great article and opened up the floor for some meaningful discussion.

If, you see why I am suffering from foot in the mouth disease, just check out my latest article.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, does not compute for me. I was raised as a black man and I was raised in the church but I am now a confirmed aetheist. Make of it what you will but if patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel I am not sure what to make of appeals to religion in the public square. I do not discount the beliefs of other but can only examine their actions. Some of the actions have not been pretty. Part on my confirmation has been the inability of me to separate the institution of religion from its belief system. From a historical purpose, the correlation is slim. There are good men/women everywhere, I choose not to delve in religion.

end of rant

Anonymous said...

To Deacon Blue: The Flamboyant Gay, the hard-core womynist are not recruiting members. The problem with Christians is they attempt to promote their book and ideology to folks even when they are told it is not wanted. Even your argument held the premise that the book that you quote from means a hill of beans to me! What do I care what your scripture says when I don't find the source fallible in the first place? That type of assumption and arrogance is what drives many to want to flip the switch on that beacon. I'll find my own way thank you very much......

Raving Black Lunatic