As liberal Democrats are undergoing soul searching after the 2004 election, some are talking about reframing the debate to inject morals into their positions in order to fight the perception that liberals are "anti-morals."We discussed the role of morality in politics (which reminds me of an earlier discussion on wmtc about George Lakoff's ideas.) I was finding it difficult to articulate my problem with approaching politics through morality. Fortunately, G came to my rescue:
For example, they think they should say it is "immoral" to deny access to health care or equal marriage rights in this case. What do you think?
As you know, I do not believe that conservatives have cornered the market on morals.
If the whole political sphere becomes solely about morals, we are all doomed because at the end of the day, morals are entirely subjective. . . .I would also add that sometimes laws must be changed without the support of a majority, in order to build a greater democracy and uphold the promise of the Constitution. For example, the US couldn't wait for the majority of Americans to become comfortable with ending legal racial segregation. (Cross-reference to gay marriage here...)
The law, on the other hand, is objective and is in place to essentially uphold a society's morality.
It's easy when there is an overwhelming majority in favor of one side. Where this becomes sticky is the situation in which certain moral viewpoints are split across a society, and there is no overwhelming majority for any side of the issue. Few will argue that murder is moral, hence the laws against it are not overly contested; however, viewpoints on issues such as gay marriage are pretty evenly split. Which moral view is then upheld in law? In a democratic society, that becomes a tough issue to handle. Can a large enough majority be won over on the issue? Can it be determined that a part of society is wrong on the issue, hence drafting it into law without an overwhelming majority supporting it? If so, how?
Where this becomes dangerous is when leaders invoke their own personal morality into law without consideration for one or either side(s) of the debate - cardinal sin #1 in a democracy.
All this got me thinking about how religion is used, especially how it's being used right now, as neoconservatives claiming religiosity re-fashion our society.
I have known many people who are devoutly religious and also extremely liberal or progressive. The people I'm thinking of are all African-Americans who I've met through my work as a word-processor in law firms for the past 15 years. They are not "casual Christians". Their faith is a major part of their life. They vote Democrat and would probably support a more liberal party if there was one.
The Haven Coalition has had several members who are observant Jews, including two rabbis (one male, one female). Some are lesbians, all are feminists. All are radically pro-choice and pro-equality, that is, they believe people should have equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. (Hint: that means they support gay marriage!)
These are but a few examples from my own life. Historically, we all know about the role religion has played in freedom movements, from the American civil rights movement to Bishop Tutu of South Africa to the liberation theology of Central American priests. I've plugged Jim Wallis's book several times in this blog. Two other books that had a profound influence on me politically were authored by nuns: Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean and No Turning Back by Patricia Hussey and Barbara Ferraro, who resigned from their order over the church's inflexibility on abortion. (Catholics for Free Choice have an excellent website, by the way.)
But as you know, I don't have religion in my life. I was raised as a Jew, and still identify as Jewish as my ethnicity, but I'm an atheist. My activism and worldview don't come through faith. I was raised in a Jewish household that was actively liberal, but politics and religion were not connected, except in the belief that Jews, having been persecuted, should stand beside oppressed people everywhere.
The mainstream media's casting of religion as conservative - and liberalism as anti-religion - is so disturbing, and so outrageously incorrect.