Thursday, March 24, 2005

Religion and the Left

For those who haven't been following the string of blogs on the religious left, Science and Politics offers a good synopsis of the debate that started with Amy Sullivan's article in Salon which argued that the Christian left has failed to organize as effectively as their conservative counterparts, and that the Democratic Party, for its part, has abandoned them in favor of greener political pastures.

PZ Meyers' response to the Sullivan article was so full of venom and vitriol towards religion and religious people that it's hard to take his screed seriously. Even our fearless leader Everett posted a response on this website.

Regardless of their opinion on the merits of salvaging the Christian left, most of the bloggers assume that the 'Christian left' is either ineffectual at best, or at worst, nonexistent.

For example: Although Mike the Mad Biologist rightly affirmed the existence of a Jewish left, he assumed that the Christian left "hasn't shown up" yet. Mr. Mad Biologist is keenly aware that many progressive Jews are politically motivated precisely because of their Judaism and not in spite of it. But why does he fail to see the same dynamic within Christianity?

There are many politically active and progressive Christian organizations operating in the United States and around the world. Not only are they "showing up" to the political table, they are bringing with them an impeccable record of championing for toleration and human rights on behalf of those who have been victimized by political and economic violence. And just as in the case of their Jewish cousins, they do this precisely because of Christ's teachings and not in spite of it. This isn't a matter of progressive churches merely conforming to a secular agenda, these Christians are practicing what they believe to be the heart of the Gospel.

Allow me to name at least a few:

(1) Christian Peacemaker Teams -- CPT is a nonviolent civilian peace team that organizes violence reduction projects around the world to support peacemaking initiatives where violence is a day-to-day reality. CPT has had a long time presence in the West Bank working with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, as well as in Colombia and Iraq. CPT was the one of the few Western NGOs that did not pull out of Iraq during the initial American bombing campaign prior to the invasion. CPT's Adopt-A-Detainee Campaign publicized the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of the US military well before the American press broke the Abu Ghraib scandal.

(2) American Friends Service Committee -- AFSC is a Quaker led organization that is committed to peace and social justice. The Quaker movement has a peace tradition that dates back to the seventeenth century with George Fox and the 1660 Peace Declaration.

(3) The Catholic Worker Movement -- The Catholic Worker movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York City. Following in their footsteps, over 180 Catholic Worker "houses of hospitality" are operating in many cities throughout the United States and Canada. Similar to the Christian monastic tradition, Catholic Workers undertake a voluntary vow of poverty and share their resources with the jobless and homeless, providing them with food, shelter, and dignity. Organizationally, Catholic Workers are committed to nonviolence, and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C. stages a protest vigil at the Pentagon at least once a week.

(4) Fellowship of Reconciliation -- F.O.R. is an interfaith community that has been training and witnessing for nonviolence since World War One. F.O.R. is one of the oldest peace organizations in the United States and worked with Dr. King during the Montgomery bus boycott.

It is a great disservice to dismiss these progressive Christian organizations, as the author of Science and Politics does when he says that "liberal Christians have to do the work of joining in the fight..." There is a smug tone to these posts, a kind of self-c0ngratulatory rhetoric that assumes by implication that 'Christianity' (as if it were monolithic) is inherently inferior and contrary to 'secular liberal values' (as if they were unambiguously defined).

I am aware that I may be overstating my case, but when people like Chris of Mixing Memory claim that "we shouldn't compromise our values [emphasis mine] simply to make...religious groups who agree with us on other issues happy," I wonder whether they have ever seriously considered that the ideals of tolerance and social justice could arise independent from secular liberalism.

More on this later...