Saturday, February 17, 2007

How Can You Have Commitment If You Don't Eat Your Faith?

Seemingly remarkable article at called "The Religious Right's Era Is Over." He writes:
Evangelicals — especially the new generation of pastors and young people — are deserting the Religious Right in droves. The evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper, engaging issues like poverty and economic justice, global warming, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur and the ethics of the war in Iraq. Catholics are returning to their social teaching; mainline Protestants are asserting their faith more aggressively; a new generation of young black and Latino pastors are putting the focus on social justice; a Jewish renewal movement and more moderate Islam are also growing; and a whole new denomination has emerged, which might be called the "spiritual but not religious."
But the author, Jim Wallis, never passes up an opporunity to point out that the only thing worse than the Religious Right would be an atheist:
Most people I talk to think that politics isn't working in America and believe that the misuse of religion has been part of the problem. Politics is failing to resolve the big moral issues of our time, or even to seriously address them. And religion has too often been used as a wedge to divide people, rather than as a bridge to bring us together on those most critical questions. I believe (and many people I talk with agree) that politics could and should begin to really deal with the many crises we face. Whenever that happens, social movements often begin to emerge, usually focused on key moral issues. The best social movements always have spiritual foundations, because real change comes with the energy, commitment and hope that powerful faith and spirituality can bring.
(My emphasis)

The way I read that paragraph, it goes like this: Politics can't do, it, and "the misuse of religion" is part of the problem. Again, politics is failing, and religion is too often a wedge. But politics should face these issues. At that point, social movements start. And the only effective social movements will have "faith and spirituality" at their core. How in God's Name does that follow?

This a prime example of what Glenn Greenwald calls "desire (masquerading as belief)."

He then goes on to list a few social movements that he implies would never have succeeded without their religion to provide the "commitment and hope," like the abolition of slavery in the US and Britain, the civil rights movement in the US, the overthrow of communism in Europe, democracies in Latin America, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Dalai Lama keeps hope alive for millions of Tibetans; and, today, how the growing Evangelical and Pentecostal churches of the global South are mobilizing to addresse the injustices of globalization.
What about the good ol' Prohibitionists? Or the Pro-Life movement? They sure have committment. Hell, is this category just "attempts to transform society that have been faith-based?" There are plenty you could pull out and add to Wallis's list that makes the whole "social reform needs religion" thing sound quite equivocal.

The scientific community is largely atheist. Are you saying they have no commitment? No hope? Or is it just that ol' Hitler-y thing where they have the power but not the responsibility?

Wallis's whole point actually seems more susceptible to this criticism ("robots have no ethics") often leveled at scientists. He wants to get the religion machine going, fire it up and start the flame burning for "commitment" (and, in the case of Protestants, "aggression"), but feels that in the past this faith-based commitment got, um, too hot? So just don't run the machine too strong.

History shows that no one - not even Buddhism - can keep the religion machine from runing too hot.

Seems to me that a greater problem than lack of commitment is over-commitment. Witness the US political world right now. It is not for lack of trying that the progressive movement has not been able to avoid the attack on Iraq and keep the government accountable. But there are forces like Bush saying God told him to attack Iraq that yes, perhaps, carry even MORE "commitment." But that level of commitment has another name, and religion generally gets credit for the most ability to inspire it: fanatacism.

I do like to believe the suggestion in the article, that many folks (and there are MANY) who think of themselves as religious, are feeling that their religion is being given a "bad name" and want to reclaim it. Go for it. Christianity is Love. I'll enjoy watching the purging of religious hypocrisy from within in this country.

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