Justice and the Religious Right
The Washington Post has a piece today on the rising fortunes of the religious left, but reading the piece I think the authors of the piece have gotten it wrong. The people profiled in the piece aren’t necessarily left, they’re just not part of the religious right, which at this point is a fairly well-defined segment of the population that is better defined by its political goals than its relationship with either God or Christianity.
Being opposed to the political agenda of the religious right does not mean, by default, that you are a lefty; I suspect there are number of people who would classify themselves as conservative and/or Republican who are also squicked out by the religious right. You don’t have to be a heathen liberal to be annoyed with movement that frowns on a vaccine that can help women avoid cervical cancer on the grounds that it may give teenage girls the idea that it’s okay to have sex (because, of course, that’s how young girls think when they think about vaccines). Branding religious people opposed to the religious right’s agenda as “left” is part of that lazy binary thing people here in the US have going, and I suspect that the Washington Post reporters should have been a bit smarter than that.
I don’t see the religious schism as a right/left or conservative/liberal one, anyway. To me, what it appears to be is a schism between those religious people who are concerned with justice, and those who are concerned with power. The contemporary religious right is tremendously politically powerful, but it is almost wholly unconcerned about justice — it has political and social policies that explicitly abandon or punish those who do not share its worldview, and it has a worldview which is not notably compassionate or charitable, so that leaves out quite a lot. Promoting a discriminatory agenda, promoting ignorance in public education and promoting one’s religion above all others in the political arena is not justice in any moral sense of the word.
I think many of the religious people who are rebelling against the religious right’s agenda are doing so because they see the lack of justice in it; a lack of the charity and compassion and love that is explicit in the message of Christianity, for one, and in most other religions as well. And it’s not about political positions, per se. One may believe abortion is wrong, but be opposed to a political agenda that explicitly denies to the poor the access to family planning that the middle and upper classes have as a matter of course. One may believe that homosexuality is morally wrong but be opposed to the political agenda that works to have gay Americans permanently branded as second class citizens.
One may believe that one’s religion is the true path to everlasting redemption but be opposed to the political agenda that promotes the religion (or one particular variant of it) as public policy rather than letting the good works of the religion and those who follow it speak for themselves. One may believe in the presence of God at the creation of all things and oppose the political agenda that would prefer children be uneducated than to learn things that might be at odds with a superficial understanding of the miracle of God’s works. One may believe all the things that those who are in the religious right believe, and also that justice does not include division, discrimination, ignorance and coercion.
One of the great things about American religion in the 20th Century is that it was a critical avenue for justice, most prominently in the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s. Since the 1980s, I think it’s been that the most public face of religion in America has been one that has not been concerned about justice. 25 years is long enough for that particular face. I would be happy to see a different one, and I’m happy that more and more of my religious brothers and sisters seem ready to show it.