Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

July 21, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I'm a Christian. In fact, you could call me a fundamentalist Christian (although I find that term a little insulting). I've noticed a lot of Democrats show nothing but contempt for us just because we tend to vote Republican.

I often times have a hard time understanding this since I've met some "fundamentalist Christians" in the Democratic Party. I've yet to find a difference between the two of us besides our political affiliations, yet for some reason their fellow Democrats view us as a threat. Can you help me understand what it is about us the Democrats don't like?

Denver, CO

Dear Nick,

Auntie is happy to help, and I hope you won't feel too badly if I start out by pointing out that you appear to be actually engaging in some of the same behavior you find objectionable in others. Here's a hint: "...what it is about us the Democrats don't like?" (Italics mine.)

Can we back up a bit and establish our common ground on a slightly larger basis? Some Democrats (Auntie is willing to postulate a substantial number, even, though I doubt if it's a majority) find some things about some Christians objectionable. Indeed, some Democrats who are Christian have quite vehement political and philosophical disagreements with other Democrats (not to mention Republicans) who are Christian.

This isn't new; these disagreements go back to the Founding Fathers and beyond. My Christian forebears-in-faith were hanged by other Christians' forebears-in-faith even before America won its independence. Some of those incidents played a role in why the Constitution explicitly forbids the government to make laws in respect to establishment of religion.

The nature of religious belief is inherently non-rational, because faith is non-rational. (If it were rational, after all, it wouldn't be faith!) Rationality is based on a high level of verifiable causal links. For example, we know that water boils in certain physical circumstances because a particular level of heat has been applied. That's relatively easy to verify. Also verifiable, though less easily, is the fact that the sun rises in the East because of how our solar system is arranged. Still verifiable, with some difficulty, is the fact that certain diseases are caused by certain living organisms.

But there is nothing verifiable about the notion that something called "God" exists, that "God" is responsible for the creation of all else that exists, and that "God" manifested to humanity in the form of a man called Yeshua ben Yusef in the Roman colony in Judea around the time of Caesar Augustus for the purpose of dying a sacrificial death that would allow humanity to unite with our creator through Divine Grace. The fact that this is not verifiable doesn't perturb people of faith; we accept the long documentary tradition that has established these events, and find constant validation of our faith through the mysterious power of prayer and the congruence between our beliefs and our experiences and feelings.

But it's one of the peculiarities of human nature that non-rational beliefs have a much higher emotional and psychological link with our identities than knowledge acquired rationally. Because our beliefs help define our selves, things that are not congruent with those beliefs can be very threatening to us. If you add that factor into the role that religion has historically played in the acquisition and maintenance of power and wealth by political elites, you have a recipe for conflict. Much of the blood that soaks human history can be attributed to this. It is the dark side of the wonderful progress and enlightenment that has come from humanity's perception that there is something larger and more important to serve than mere self.

The current religion-linked conflicts among Americans have many elements, but the major thread is nothing new. All Americans - even the non-religious - believe that our laws and government should reflect our values. Fortunately, there is a large area where a great majority of Americans' values overlap: we value freedom for individuals to make choices about their leadership, their lives, and their communities. We value giving children the best possible chance to thrive, be healthy, and have a future of opportunity and prosperity. We value ensuring that the weak and vulnerable among us need not die of starvation and exposure. We value work aimed at building better futures for ourselves, our families, and our communities. While none of these values requires adherence to any specific religious creed, most religions also value some or all of these things.

Many shared values are religious in origin, but have transcended religion. For instance, "the laborer is worthy of his hire" and "thou shalt not bind the muzzle of the oxen that tread the grain" are Biblical injunctions that could be considered prototypes of today's largely secular values about fair treatment of workers. In fact, most of the core values of the major world religions are reflected in America's political and social structure. We all, religious and non-religious, value human life - every single U.S. state has a criminal statute prohibiting murder. We all, religious and non-religious, value property - every state has criminal statutes prohibiting theft.

It is in the area of practices that Americans experience the differences that have sparked much of the conflict over religion. Christian religious practice traditionally defines "human life" to include unborn children. Some Christian sects have more detailed, specific, and narrow definitions of what constitutes an "unborn child" than others, but virtually all Christians believe that the abortion of a viable fetus constitutes the taking of a life. While there is no universal consensus among all Christians of all sects about what God demands of us in respect to the specific moral, legal, and ethical principles involved in abortion, there is a pretty universal consensus that we want our society's laws to reflect our value for the lives of children, even in the womb.

Yet many Americans - including many Christians - do not believe that our laws should prohibit women from making that moral judgment based upon their own conscience and belief. We all value life, yet how we practice that value in respect to abortion is an area of deep and passionate differences, largely based on religion. The same is true of human sexual relationships. We all value the formation of families where humans who love each other make covenant to share their lives and fortunes, but religious practices are responsible for deep differences in how we believe such relationships should be defined and sanctioned by the state.

The more specific and prescriptive a religious creed or sect becomes about such practices and definitions, the more likely it is that they will not be shared or valued by others who are not part of that sect. Christian groups that are often called "fundamentalist" tend to share a great many detailed and prescriptive beliefs and practices based on their particular (sometimes very literal) interpretation of the Bible. Some of these are shared by other Christian groups and even by other religious creeds, but some are not.

Non-Christians, as well as Christians who do not share all of those prescriptive definitions and practices, don't want them enshrined in America's laws and policies. But some Christian groups (variously defined as "evangelical," "fundamentalist," "conservative," etc.) have organized themselves based on their religious identity as Christians, and wish to effect changes in our society and its laws based on an explicitly religious rationale. These efforts have (not unnaturally) evoked a strong negative reaction from those who do not share their practices. This has been made worse, in some instances, by Christian groups who define "Christianity" so narrowly as to exclude everyone who does not conform completely to their own doctrines.

The success of such efforts has drawn a great deal of attention to these particular Christian groups. Most people are aware that there is considerable commonality among Christians in various areas of belief, and do not always recognize where the differences lie. Indeed, many are unaware that lots of Christians whose beliefs might be considered "evangelical," "fundamentalist," "conservative," etc., don't feel a need to have America's laws and policies reflect their own practices. Those advocating for political ends are highly visible (and because many of them communicate as though they speak for all Christians, not merely those who share their specific doctrines.) Thus, they have shaped a public perception of "Christians" and "Christianity" that is narrow and inaccurate.

But I can also assure you, Nick, that while as a Christian I have occasionally been the target of mistrustful glances among Democratic Party members who don't know me, I have also been warmly and enthusiastically welcomed and appreciated by many, including the millions of Christians who proudly identify themselves as members of the Democratic Party. Don't let those who are misinformed and narrow-minded (on either side of the aisle!) keep you from being active in the Party of your choice, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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