Friday, November 04, 2005

Playing the God Card

First - my disclaimer. I am registered as a Democrat - because I wanted to vote in presidential primaries (otherwise since I first was a voter in DC I might have registered with the DC Statehood Party). I do not think Democrats are a superior party, nor do I think Republicans are intrinsically evil. I tend to end up more on the liberal side (as you may have noticed) so I tend to hold a similar viewpoint on many issues to the Democratic party. I also recognize that our two-party-majority system holds within it a wide range of viewpoints.

I heard Jimmy Carter talking on NPR this morning about the differences between Republicans and Democrats and one of things the interviewer asked him about was the perception that the Republican party is the religious party. Carter said he didn't agree with that perception and moved straight into what he thought the major difference between the two parties (right now) is. However, this is an issue I have spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing, so here we go.

It seems fair to say that people who don't spend a lot of time thinking about politics are aware that the religious right represents (as the name suggests) a conservative viewpoint and that they are active within the Republican party. But very little attention (comparatively, at least) seems to go to the religious left. It is sort of a chicken/egg problem - I don't know if the media doesn't seek out the religious left or if the religious left doesn't seek out the media, but the result is the same. I attended a dinner sponsored by a Democratic women's group where one of the speakers - a reporter for a political magazine - said she was often asked how could she be Christian and a Democrat. Her response was that they are intertwined, she is a Democrat as a result of her religious beliefs.

I think this is more common than the public perception allows for. I think as the Republican party has become more strongly associated with a conservative Christian viewpoint, the Democratic party has tried to distance itself from that. Certainly that would be in part to allow for those who are "spiritual" but not "religious", those who are atheist or agnostic, and those who belong to other faith traditions.

But here comes the question - how do you balance that with recognition that there are many religious people who find themselves in the Democrat camp not out of a subversion or denial of their religious beliefs, but because this is where they as a religious person have found themselves? And how do you acknowledge that without alienating those who got here through different paths - religious or not.

Right now I think what happens is that people stay quiet. Which leads to the perception that they have subdivided themselves - sometime I am religious and other times I am a Democrat. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to start some sort of Democrat church or tent revival. But I think that people are keeping quiet about an important component of themselves. And I think there are others, who may feel they have more in common with the Democratic party, but feel that Democrats don't like religious people.

And part of this concern about mixing too much religion and politics comes from the separation of church and state. And I think Democrats in particular are worried about talking too much about how a spiritual or religiously based desire to change the world informs some of their decisions. And I think part of that is how do you counter the God card. If I am having a debate with someone, political or otherwise, and they say that the basis of their conviction comes from God - it stops the discussion. Because what do I say to that? Your God is wrong? You misunderstood God?

Which may lead us to another division. I think everyone turns to religion for answers. The questions may differ, but in the end we are looking for answers. But some people (and some religious traditions) start from a position that those answers are all - well answered. And some start with the idea that we journey towards a state of goodness (for lack of a real word). And there is plenty in between. So where I'm going with this is that some people think you can't argue because God has spoken and some people think you have to do your best to live what God (or whomever) wants and to figure that out for yourself. So when someone says to me, well that's what God wants or that's what [insert deity here] says, I'm shut down. Even though I personally believe in a higher power who wants me to better the world, I tend not to use the God card because I think there's a lot of gray in how I work towards that goal.

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that everything has gray, but that's what God wants is not a complete argument to me. Because, I have to be able to explain why I feel this is the right choice. Which might lead people to think that my religion doesn't factor into my political decisions, because I don't use it to explain my choices.

So how do I get to a place where I can demonstrate both - at the same time? I don't know. At least not yet.