alien & sedition.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
  What We Talk About When We Talk About Religion

Five Before Chaos has a thoughtful post about my ruminations on the rise of moderate evangelicals. JD is generally in agreement, but makes another important point:
The key is for the Dems to not go overboard with the God talk, because then they're going to lose the support of those who hold secularism and rational inquiry in highest regard.
This is a valid concern, and it reflects - albeit more moderately - the worries of many secular progressives who are very reluctant to see Democrats attempt to appeal to evangelical voters.

It would be a tremendous mistake for Democrats to overlook the rapid rise of a secular voting bloc in America - especially as those voters overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates. Digby had a terrific post about this last month: the growing numbers of "unchurched" Americans present a serious problem for the Republican party. Digby cites Bill Scher:
Democrats crushed Republicans among secular voters, broadly defined as those who attend church seldom (favoring Democrats 60% to 38%) or never (67% to 30%). Republicans retained strong support among those who attend church more than weekly. But among those who only go weekly -- the larger portion of the religious vote -- the Republican lead shrunk from 15 points to 7.

In short, Republicans failed to be competitive among secular voters, while Democrats were at least competitive among regular churchgoers. And since the secular vote is roughly equal to the regular churchgoing vote, according to the last several national election exit polls, that means Republicans and their conservative base have a far bigger secular problem than their rivals have a religion problem.
These secular voters, Digby points out, represent the fastest growing religious group in America.

So it looks, on one level, like a bit of a conundrum for Democrats. How can we free ourselves from the shackles of traditional political piety and appeal to the unchurched while at the same time making new efforts to reach out to evangelicals?

It looks like at least one party is going to end up playing confessional whack-a-mole here. But it doesn't have to be the Democrats. Candidates who are wondering how to talk about their faith - or lack thereof - on the campaign trail shouldn't make religious rhetoric the object. This goes for whether they hold strong religious beliefs or not. Faith both informs and is given substance by one's values. So are the ethical strictures that lead secular folks to make certain moral choices - including the choice of how to vote. The "God talk" that shallow pundits and glib consultants try to foist on candidates is a distraction at best - an exercise in embarrassing fakery at worst. You can't force someone to write a sonnet if she speaks only Japanese. But let her compose in her own language, true to her own experience, and you're likely to find that her poetry is drawn from very familiar themes.

Secular progressives and moderate evangelicals share many of the same values: concern for the poor and the health of the middle class, stewardship of the environment, peace and freedom abroad, equal opportunities and justice for all. Secular Democrats should talk about those values in the way we know to talk about them, and understand that others will use different language to articulate the same concerns. Communication is not about mindlessly parroting someone else's language, nor is it about abandoning your own. It's about searching for ways to transmit ideas from one language to another, and learning to notice when you and your interlocutor are using different words to say the same thing.

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Good points, Paul. Kepp in mind, I don't think of myself as a typical secular voter.I'm one of those ones who gets irate when I hear 'God Bless America' at the end of a speech. I'd rather candidates talk about God as often as they do about astrology, but I'm also aware of how unrealistic that is. By and large I wish we could somehow send the entire Bible belt to Saudi Arabia, that's how strongly I feel about it. that's why I got a bad feeling when Edwards was talking about a moment of silence in school. This is how NOT to go about it.

I think if the Dems try to seek a common ground on these issues I talk about, they can do it in a way that is not overtly religious. Saying things like this would be a good start:
"As I travel across America in search of finding ways to bridge the gaps in this divided nation, I find that many Americans share a common goal: eliminating poverty (or other concern). And although Americans have different reasons for believing this, whether it be through their faith or their personal philosophy, the fact remains that it is something that unites us, regardless of why we feel that way. That is why I want us to work together to achieving these goals that we share.'

Is that really so hard?

BTW, I crossposted that at Green Mountain Daily, a prominent lefty VT blog, so hopefully you'll have more people turned on to A&S. Cheers.
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