January 11, 2006

An Alliance of Christians and Progressives?

Although I am not a practicing Christian myself, I grew up knowing something of Christian beliefs, attending, as an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic school in Tokyo, Japan, and studying in what we called the non-Catholic ethics and religion classes about the many variations of Christianity, as well as about Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and other beliefs. We had students from 48 different countries and 20 different "religions." It was an amazing cross-cultural and cross-denominational experience that I learned from and which I put to use in my daily life, even to this day. We were taught by extraordinarily liberal Christian Brothers of Canada, from Trois Riveres, Quebec.

With that in mind, and accepting my apologies in advance for sounding moralistic, I am going to hazard a forecast that, eventually, significant numbers of fundamentalist Christians -- who, heretofore, have been considered solidly in the Bush camp -- are going to realize that homosexuality, abortion, and gay marriage are not imminent threats to their beliefs or their existence, and are not, in and of themselves, compelling enough reasons to support the right-wing corporatist agenda of the Republican Party. Likewise, they are going to realize that issues like school prayer, flag-burning, and women's rights are not as menacing to them as is the destruction of our democracy and our environment by corporate corruption and a plutocracy gone wild.

It may be hard to imagine, but I foresee an alliance, of sorts, between progressives and fundamentalist Christians on a number of important, politically revolutionizing fronts. Here are some of the issues on which progressives and fundamentalist Christians ought to be able to find common cause:

the loss of good jobs -- we all want and need personal fulfillment and satisfaction, not millions of new jobs that are dead-end, unskilled, mind-numbing and low-paying;
the lowering of our mutual standard of living -- wages that are more equitable, retirement plans that don't disappear overnight, and health care that protects our families;
the despoilment of our environment -- good stewardship of the natural world is a mutual interest;
the loss of privacy -- progressives and Christian Americans do not want a government or corporations that pry and peer into our private lives, our libraries, our communications, and our bank and credit card accounts;
the disappearance of a free and diverse press -- regardless of political, social or economic point of view, it is not in the interest of progressives or fundamentalist Christian Americans to have a media that is owned by fewer and fewer corporations and which bombards us with advertisements, over-the-top consumerism, and violence that invades and distorts our families and children and which diminishes our ability to participate in a democracy as real citizens, not merely as spectators and sheep;
the concentration of wealth in fewer hands--the distance between the haves and have-nots is widening and the number of have-nots is growing -- one in five kids is living in poverty in the U.S. and we can work together to remedy this;
the bankruptcy of our families -- the elephant in the room for us all is the greed of banks and credit card companies, and their usuristic rates;
the corruption of our political process -- there is deep discomfort on all sides by the obscene amounts of money that have become a huge corrupting influence in our elections, a discomfort that can evolve into corrective action;
the loss of our mobility -- higher fuel prices and lower gas mileage threaten our mobility as a nation, and demand that we unite to require more efficient vehicles, lower fuel prices, and a Marshall Plan for alternative energy sources;
taking back our time -- while the plutocracy demands that we work more, work two jobs, work overtime, we all really want more time for our family, child care, taking care of our elderly, recreation, and time off.

Many conservative Christians will come to realize that the Bush plutocrats, the Rovian manipulators, the grotesque distortions of our politics by corporate money, the PHARMA bullies, the bankers and the oil cartel, all have very little to do with inculcating and preserving Judeo-Christian values. How can these negative forces in our lives actually be reconciled with the seven virtues?

Faith is belief in the right things (including the virtues!).
Hope is taking a positive future view, that good will prevail.
Charity is concern for, and active helping of, others.
Fortitude is never giving up.
Justice is being fair and equitable with others.
Prudence is care of and moderation with money.
Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.

After watching their putative leadership long enough, significant numbers of fundamentalist Christians will come to the realization that it consists of self-centered people who are the anti-thesis of hope, charity, justice, prudence and temperance. It is worth considering the proverbial story of the well-to-do man who encounters a modestly dressed, unshaven man on the street who is going from one homeless man to another handing out food and asks him: "What is it that compels you to live this way, interacting with such people?" The unshaven man says: "The Sermon on the Mount?"

In the actions of men like Bush, Rove, Libby, Cheney, Delay, Abramoff, Robertson, Falwell, and others, how can Christians not see pride replacing Humility, envy working against kindness, gluttony overcoming abstinence, lust supplanting Chastity, anger shoving away Patience, and greed replacing Liberality? Who can look at these men and say they are generous (what liberality means), or humble (with their on-air preening and self-aggrandizement), or patient (while they are publicly overcome by their angers)?

Is there one of these who actually offers genuine hope, who does not pander constantly to our basest fears, whose sole purpose in life is not the exercise of power? Which one of them is truly fair and equitable in their dealings with anyone who disagrees with them? Which one exhibits a life of charity and temperance? These men are no more representative of true Christian practice and virtue than were Pope Gregory IX of the Roman Inquisition or Tomas de Torquemada of the Spanish Inquisition.

There is common cause for progressives and fundamentalist Christians. The challenge is finding a way to introduce those ideas to a common agenda, a grassroots movement of sorts that transcends partisan stricture. Progressives need to communicate these ideas to the bible belt, to the less strident, more reasonable fundamentalist Christian organizations around the country. Progressives and liberals need to reach out on these issues and find common ground on a few of them. We don't need to unite on every one of these issues -- just a few, just enough to have a positive effect on our national agenda.

We need to lower the language of condemnation and conflict and raise the language of cooperation and conciliation.


MidlifeMutant said...

Might I cross post this on my blog ?

Stephen McArthur said...

Priscilla -- I'd be honored. Please do.

Kvatch said...

It may be hard to imagine, but I foresee an alliance, of sorts, between progressives and fundamentalist Christians on a number of important, politically revolutionizing fronts.

This is not hard to imagine at all. The American populist movement had it's roots in the predomonantly protestant, but still quite religious midwest, where faith was married with a notion of duty to improve the plight of workers and farmers.

J.D. Ryan said...

I wish I believed what you were saying is true, Steve, but do you really know the amount of ignorance you're up against here? Eventually, they won's ee homosexuality or abortion as a threat? I'm trying not to over generalize here, but do you realize the amount of un-educated people you're dealing with? Yes, I know there are some progressive fundies out there, but few and far between.
AS long as they are poor and uneducated it will be asy to prey on their fear. They have to work three jobs, so they worry about raising their children and want to protect them from that 'danngerous liberal agenda'.
I would recommend checking out Joe Bageat's great blog. He grew up dirt poor in West Virginia, and gives a unique insight into the mindset of the types of people we're dealing with. Check out his great writing on the fundie favorite 'Left Behind' series. THis isn't some East Coast urban liberal. He knows this stuff really well, he's lived in it and still struggles with some of the baggage every day.Have a read here...
He can be a bit crude, but nowhere near as rude as the Rude Pundit.
I appreciate your optimism, but until REAL education happens in some of these areas and there are other books in the household besides the Bible and the Left Behind series, it's not going to change. Only then will these people be smart enough not to be manipulated.
Fundamentalism, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, has at its heart a reaction and response to the changes of modernity, and the inability to accept the change. That's not something that is so simple to undo. When people have beliefs, albiet deeply held irrational ones, when confronnted with things that challenge thier world view, they react accordingly.

J.D. Ryan said...

Sorry about the typos in that last post of mine... If I'm going to rant about uneducation I should probably proofread, no?