The Religion Question

In recent years, conventional wisdom said that Democrats needed to get religion. As the Republicans steamrolled progressivism with cultural “wedge” issues and well-thumped Bibles, many fingers wagged at the Democrats. They just weren’t religious enough, pundits said. It was no longer good enough for a politician to kiss babies and promise to cut taxes. These days, some said, you have to kiss babies, promise to cut taxes, and witness for Jesus to be politically viable.

After Tuesday — um, maybe not.

Via Daou Report — a Republican County Chairman in Iowa blames the religious Right for Tuesday’s “thumpin’.” Bret Hayworth writes in the Sioux City Journal:

A day after the Democratic sweep of the midterm elections, Woodbury County Republican Chairman Steve Salem had harsh words for his own party, lambasting the influence of the conservative Christian right wing.

Salem said he coined a new phase: “You’ve heard of IslamaFascists — I think we now have Christian fascists. What is the definition of a fascist? Not only do they want to beat you, but they want to destroy you in the process.”

Salem said “if things keep going the way things are going locally and statewide, it is going to be more and more difficult for Republicans to recruit candidates. We have elements of the party who are moral absolutists, who take the approach that if you don’t take my position every step of the way, not only will I not support you, but I will destroy you.” …

… Salem said he’s going public with his views in order to ultimately help the party.

Said Salem, “I think that the Republican Party needs to do a huge self-analysis and determine if we are going to learn from our mistakes or if we are going to repeat the same mistakes, which, if we do, we are going to continue to lose elections. … Personally, I don’t know how we could have done much worse in this election cycle. That should be a wake-up call to this party.”

You can’t blame Mr. Salem for being a bit tense. Last Tuesday Democrats gained control of both Iowa statehouses and kept the governorship as well. It’s been four decades since Dems so totally dominated Iowa state government.

(On the other hand, Georgia grew redder. I would really like to see a state-by-state breakdown of statehouse races, to see which state governments swung into Dem territory and which stayed Republican. Sidney Blumenthal wrote last week that the Republicans are in danger of becoming a southern-based regional party, and I’d like to see if that pattern really is forming.)

According to CNN — although white evangelicals still voted overwhelmingly for Republicans, Catholics, Jews, “other,” and “none” voted for more Democrats than Republicans. I infer from the tables that evangelicals of color must have voted for more Democrats than Republicans also.

Nationwide, the demographic groups still more loyal to Republicans than Dems are white men, people who make more than $100,000 a year, self-identified “conservatives,” people who claim to attend church at least once a week, married people — very narrowly — and white evangelicals. But that’s about it. Kind of a narrow base, I’d say.

And what’s worse for Republicans — James Dobson and some other prominent Christianists of the Right are blasting the GOP. The Associated Press reports

Conservative Christian leader James Dobson accused the Republican Party of abandoning values voters in the midterm elections – and paying the price by losing control of Congress. “What did they do with their power?” Dobson said in a statement. “Very little that values voters care about.”

Finger-pointing abounded in the days after Democrats seized control of Congress after 12 years in the minority. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, issued a statement railing against the Republicans for letting their majorities slip away.

“They consistently ignored the constituency that put them in power until it was late in the game, and then frantically tried to catch up at the last minute,” said Dobson, who argued that religious conservatives ensured GOP wins in 2004. …

… “Without the support of that specific constituency, John Kerry would be president and the Republicans would have fallen into a black hole in ’04,” Dobson said. “In fact, that is where they are headed if they continue to abandon their pro-moral, pro-family and pro-life base. The big tent will turn into a three-ring circus.”

If white evangelicals abandon the GOP — Republicans are screwed.

I’m still suffering brain fuzz from staying up too late Tuesday night, but I’m trying to pull together thoughts on politics and religion going forward. If anyone has any observations on this topic, please add them to the comments.

32 thoughts on “The Religion Question

  1. I think Democrats actually have religion. Caring for the poor, making sure nobody is hungry, trying to make this a better place for everyone without killing or dominating others, practicing honesty and and integrity, essentially love your neighbor. All of this is what Jesus and every spiritual leader worth their salt gave their lives for.

    The so-called religion and “values voters” of Dobson et al. can kiss my ass. Republican Jesus indeed. Not once did Jesus ever mention abortion or homosexuality in the New Testament. He spent a lot of time however talking about how you treat your fellow man, and a great deal of time talking about the Pharisees, the hypocrites who loved money. Democrats would do well to read the words of Jesus in the New Testament and use them against the Dobsonites and his so-called values voters.

    Kurt Vonnegut received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library this year. Sandburg and many of his generation were socialists, and so Vonnegut’s acceptance speech was reprinted here in the Socialist Worker (doesn’t that title sound so 1915?).

    Vonnegut talked a bit about Powers Hapgood, a fellow Hoosier, who (in the paragraphs below) explained why he was a Socialist:

    “…I never met Carl Sandburg, and wish I had. I would have been tongue-tied in the presence of such a national treasure. I did get to know one socialist of his generation, who was Powers Hapgood of Indianapolis. After graduating from Harvard he went to work as a coal miner, urging his working-class brothers to organize, in order to get better pay and safer working conditions. He also led protesters at the execution of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts in 1927.

    “We met in Indianapolis after the end of World War Two, and he had become an official in the CIO. There had been some sort of dust-up on a picket line, and he had just testified about it in court. The judge had interrupted the proceedings to ask Powers Hapgood why, with all his social and economic and educational advantages, he had chosen to lead such a life. And Powers Hapgood replied, “Why, because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.”

    It is high time we lefties reclaimed God from the Republicans. Their small minded focus on gays and abortion, to the exclusion of their overwhelming greed and hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. And it isn’t biblical.

    There’s a part of me that thinks the recent defeat of the Republicans last Tuesday was the result of more than just an enormous outpouring of effort made by people on the left. The constant scandals and exposes, burbling to public awareness in the weeks before the election, one right after the other, just seemed rather divinely orchestrated. I think God and the angelic realm had enough. America still has some good karma going for it.

  2. My belief is that 2004 election win that Bush got was not the result of “value” voters. It was the result of people not willing to pull the plug on Bush in the middle of a war by giving him the benefit of the doubt about Iraq, and that the “value” voters were credited for the victory by Rove as a means to make them feel significant and bring them further into Bush’s camp..I think playing football with Terry Schiavo was a major mistake for Bush and the clowns who wanted to capitalize on Christian values… because real Fundies will tell you that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. All the Fundies I know voiced the same opinion..”Let her go home to be with the Lord.” Bush didn’t seem to grasp that major Christian concept.

  3. Democrats won partly because of gains with Catholic and evangelical voters. You defeat the far right from the center rather than the far left. Voters will reject the hypocritical Republican policies embraced by the religious right and the secular left as well.

  4. I think there are two basic reasons the Democratic party won; one is that people had seen plenty of evidence by now that the GOP is sick and not capable of effective governing, even if you liked what they claim to stand for. The other is that the candidates on the Democratic side showed they were different from Republicans, and Republicans helped them show it by pulling out their usual race and gay baiting, dishonest ads, and general running away from their own records. This is not the Democratic party turning right — and the idea that the ideas shared by the mojority of Americans is “far left” is nonsense, as is the idea that any major Democratic Party members are “far left”.

  5. You might find a book written in the sixties by Theodore White(?) called “The Making of a President” (?) very interesting. (My memory on author and title is, to say the least, sketchy thus the question marks.)

    Although this last election wasn’t for a president, the book offers a lot of insight into the why’s and wherefore’s of how people vote. Foreinstance, the author suggests that Americans don’t vote for a president they vote for a king.

    As to this last election, or any election for that matter, there are probably as many reasons why people vote the way they do as there are people, but in the end most decisions are not from reason but from the gut. I rather think that the Foley and Haggert revelations probably kept a lot of died-in-the-wool “value” voters from not voting at all, and they are an important Repub base simply because they can be counted on to vote..

  6. I am originally from Kansas, a blood red state if there ever was one. This year, for the first time in 145 years, both the State Legislature and the Governor are democratic. Kansas has gone purple. What did it? Kansas is conservative with a church on every corner, but Kansas is also a strong aerospace state with strong unions.
    Many, many workers in Kansas have been put through the wringer since 9/11 with layoffs and downsizing and outsourcing and right-sizing and then a company that had been in the state for a very long time – Boeing, sold out to a Canadian company. There were more layoffs and those who were left were told they had to take a pay cut. Now, Spirit Aviation is hiring again but not always those former workers. Nor are those local companies willing to hire anyone over 30 with experience that could command a higher wage. Kansas went purple because its fed up with NAFTA and the War on the Middle Class.

  7. I don’t think that the Democrats have to become more religious… but they have to become religiously friendly and religiously comfortable.

    John Kerry brought up the two great commandments in the one debate, to love god, and to love one’s neighbor, saying we haven’t been doing enough of that. That’s a good, solid, Christian position to take. I’ll note he *also* said that he appreciated a Native American blessing given to him.

    Too often, too many liberal folks view religion as inherently negative. That’s a terrible mistake, both pragmatically and objectively. It’s not religion that makes religious assholes into assholes; it’s the assholery that makes them into assholes.

    Recognizing religion as being neutral (or better), and realizing that it’s insanely important to a lot of people, and respecting the good parts of it, is a much better strategy than trying to court the hardcore fundamentalists.

  8. There was a bit of team jumping that went on. Players that might normally wear red uniforms are wearing blue – partly to increase their chances at a winning season, though some were drafted. Some learned the hard way that a coach leading prayers in the locker room doesn’t necessarily translate into sportsmanship or competency, let alone winning. And the more discerning praying fans were sick of being made fools of, and switched loyalties, at least until their team begins to win again. Unfortunately, you still have those who will paint their faces no matter how poorly their team does – living to wildly celebrate the rare score because it’s their team.

    End of football analogy.

  9. Off topic, but this one’s a laugh…

    LOS ANGELES – The Democratic congressman who will investigate the Bush administration’s running of the government says there are so many areas of possible wrongdoing, his biggest problem will be deciding which ones to pursue

    Now Waxman will be the decider…. 🙂

  10. Remembering the jump to Frame, and to self examine the religious quote: “values” after the 2004 loss…I wondered exactly the same thing you did–in your intitiating string–now that the Centrists are credited with this critical win.

    Fact is The Republican Party represents the financials inteterests of about 5 million people.

    They have deceived and divided the other 293 Million of us to garner our votes. Church going Christians are just the largest demographic group. PERIOD.

    I hope to start a blog in the next 10 days, to explore these and other issues further.

    Today Henry Waxman said that he didn’t know where to begin. In his monumental task he deserves (1) our deep and thought filled support, (2) the prayers of those of us who pray (3) and all of the resources he might needs.

    And in as far as I might pray: I would pray that what he finds is not as bad as it might seem…because most important of all must be the task to rebuild the damage done to our country and her people.


  11. I saw a bumper sticker that will hopefully catch on.

    “Who would Jesus torture?”

    The question needs to be asked – from the bottom up. This is the kind of trickle-up revolution that’s so powerful.

    Off topic but worth a smile is a second bumper sticker.

    I’m bipartisan.
    I’ll hug your Elephant if
    You kiss my ass.

  12. Last Tuesday Democrats gained control of both Iowa statehouses and kept the governorship as well. It’s been four decades since Dems so totally dominated Iowa state government.

    (On the other hand, Georgia grew redder. I would really like to see a state-by-state breakdown of statehouse races, to see which state governments swung into Dem territory and which stayed Republican.

    I haven’t seen a state breakdown, but I spent a lot of time in Iowa and Georgia–they’re not comparable. Iowa has a brain and a heart; Georgia does not. Religion in Georgia trumps everything, every time. That’s not the case in Iowa. I hate to generalize, but if you were a known atheist (or non-christian) bleeding to death by the side of the road, you’d stand a way, way, way better chance of surviving (and not having passersby celebrate over your corpse) if that road was in Iowa.

  13. The only lesson is be true to yourself. If you’re a religious person and if your faith informs your politics (but does not overcome the power of reason and data) then don’t be afraid to say so. If it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to say that to and talk about how everyone can get behind your platform for helping and strengthening the people.

    If you talk openly and honestly about what you really believe then then it will go over well.

  14. The AP quote of Dobson illuminates for me why the religious right went astray. Dobson just plain admits that he’s interested in manipulating politicians instead of leading his flock.
    If Dobson had to do forty days being tempted in the wilderness, he’d be keen on securing a ‘winning’ quid pro quo with the devil.

  15. I greatly enjoyed the comments here. Miner Dan, I’d like to read your blog when it is available.
    Entrails, as a recent immigrant to Georgia, I’d have to say there are all kinds here. But even though I’ve never been to Iowa, the Iowans I’ve met have seemed to be a lot more open minded than many Georgians I know, who are just plain uncomfortable with anything contradictory to their church upbringing.

  16. A correction to my earlier comment. Kansas’ state legislature remains overwhelmingly Republican. However, Kansas did vote the anti-abortion Republican Attorney General out of office and Kansas did vote the anti-evolution school board members off the board. Kansas has moderated its view point and I do think its because of globalization and the inroads it has made into daily lives vis-a-vis the loss of both blue and white collar jobs. A very enlightening book that outlines the current thinking in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas is Crunchy Cons.

  17. I watched on C-Span Viguerie, Bosell, and two other evangelicals I don’t need to remember DISTANCING THEMSELVES FROM BUSH ET.AL. That is what they were doing. All these so-called “Christian leaders” are desperately trying evade any blame for our national nightmare. They blather the old Republican mantra: we were betrayed!! Betrayed! Boo hoo. It’s not our fault!!” This is so no blame falls on them. These are deeply deluded people. They frighten me with their false ideas of themselves and of government.

  18. Not too much to add to the comments, besides “hear, hear!” to moonbat (I have added the Sermon on the Mount to comments before, in these blogs myself).

    Part of the issue is what you mean by “religion” (and in Dobson’s case, “values”– a characteristically more aggressive choice of terms, emptying the Other of not only G*d but even any sense of decency). Back in the 1950s (I think) a Christian theologian (I think it was the German-born Reinhold Niebuhr) coined the term “civil religion” to denote the form of a traditional religion that has been manipulated into a religion that in effect deifies the state and its interests.

    The Religious Right has done that with Christianity (and been doing that for at least 30 years): Bibles with American flags on the cover, “Liberty University”, and so forth. It’s not a particularly new idea: Hitler had a version of it, and I think you can see the biblical prophets, particularly Amos and Jeremiah, dealing with it as well.

    Niebuhr’s point was that civil religion is a form of idolatry, of course; and ironically his original target back in the ’50s was the old mainline churches and their more or less cozy identification with the American status quo of the Eisehower era– not paying much attention to racism, for instance.

    Where does this leave us? Hmm. I guess first of all to realize that there is a capacity for religious self-criticism in Christianity (as in Judaism– and other religions, too, I am sure, but I can speak with more familiarity). The hacks who lead the Religious Right make stuff up about as much as the Neo-cons do. I always tell my students (I teach biblical studies) that “faith” always includes some exercise of “reason”–if only so you an tell (“discern”) the false prophets from those who might be true ones.

    OK, I guess I did add my $.50. Sorry if I went on!

  19. What I find significant about the election is not that this group or that group switched a couple of percentage points. What is significant is that it happened EVERYWHERE (except some places in the south).

    If this was a tide, it was shallow, but it covered miles and miles. The margins are thin and delicate and can easily be reversed if the Dems don’t come through — which IMO means acting like adults and not like spoiled vengeful children, as the Rep’s have done for the last 4 years.

  20. Religion has no more of a place in democratic politics than astrology or witchcraft, although any of them can work pretty well as a basis for monarchies or empires.

  21. Great comment’s all!
    Good luck, MinorDan. Send us the link when you’re ready.

    For the first time in 14 years, I have hope. HOPE!
    Isn’t that great! HOPE!!!
    The Democrat’s are about hope. The Republican’s can’t abide hope. There is no “hope” with them. They are Calvinist’s at heart. What is, is what is, and you can’t change it… And don’t spend any money trying!

    I was 5 when John was shot. I was 10, and very politically aware, when Martin and Bobby were assassinated.
    When JFK was killed, the whole nation cried; people of all political and religious affiliations. Why? Because he had offered us hope for a better future. And he, and it, was killed. When MLK was killed, most of the nation cried again – for the same reason. And when RFK was killed, it seemed that all hope was lost.
    At 10, I thought I had lost my hope. And any religious feelings I had. God and hope were torn away – no, shot away, from me in 1968. Shot away…

    But my hope hadn’t really died. There was a little ember left and I felt it in the Nixon impeachment. The ember of hope turned into a small flame in 1976. But the healing flame of hope had barely started,when it was doused by Reagan.
    NO HOPE: 1980 to 1992.

    Then – HOPE! “The Man from Hope!” But the Right saw the hope and immediately crushed “The Man from Hope;” his hope; and our hope. Calvinism (Republicanism) offers no hope. What is, is what is, and you can’t change it… And don’t spend any money trying! There is no hope with them. Like the sign above the Gates of Hell in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ “Abandon HOPE all ye who enter here!” That should be the Republican motto.

    IN 2000, Gore offered hope, again. And they lied, cheated, misdirected and stole to crush him and any hope. Instead of electing a man with hope, they cheated to give us a man who was hopeless.

    I still have to work to keep my hope alive. So do you. But we’re not Calvinist’s. We can hope. We have hope. Tuesday gave it to us. We can feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it. Please let us touch it.
    We will now have to focus the rest of our lives to maintain that hope. For us. For our children. For the world.
    That’s what America offered my family when they were in camps in Europe during WWII – HOPE. We can’t let hem kill our hope for the future!!! We need to work to make the world feel that we offer it hope again.
    We must die for hope. For, without hope, we are automaton’s in a pre-ordained Calvinist world. And I can think of no more frightening thing…

  22. “very little the voters cared about”
    Me thinks Dr. Dobson got this wrong.

    Americans saw what our lives would be like under Religious Right “christian” rule and said a VERY BIG, no thanks!!!!

  23. Religion has no more of a place in democratic politics than astrology or witchcraft, although any of them can work pretty well as a basis for monarchies or empires.

    Comment by Joe — November 11, 2006 @ 11:48 am

    You know, Joe, that is a rather intolerant point of view. Sort of like the inverse of stuff that Katherine Harris said. The French Revolution and Napoleon showed that secularism works just fine for monarchies and empires.

  24. Chi Tom:

    May I propose my version of what Joe may be concerned about?

    I have no problem with someone proposing action based on their religious beliefs, but they must be able to justify it to me on a non-religious basis. Whatever their religion teaches about action X is immaterial to me and for them to claim that they need provide no other reason beyond their faith is presumptuous.

    A good example of this is Martin Luther King. His civil rights movement may have been based on religious thinking, but he made a powerful non-religious appeal to a general sense of justice.

  25. As an experiment I’ve been posting at a right wing evangelical blog that admitted “liberal” comments – with a Joe Scarborough style persona (disgruntled republican). No swearing, no flaming, high speed connection. Just opinions about why Casey was preferred over Santorum, Webb over Allen, how spirituality and power don’t mix, why David Kuo was right, etc.. Mostly garnered from Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, occasionally Lou Dobbs.

    (PDQ1 at World Mag Blog)

    Posting comments has been become more and more difficult – but with no problems at all the other blogs I visit. Time outs. Error after error. Today I think I’ve finally been banned – no access to comments. IMO, these people are frightened by any new or contrary idea and common sense. They don’t mind the crackpot liberal, but insight for the purpose of getting to deeper truths really seems to scare them.

    Also IMO, it’s a matter of time before the echo chamber set is seen by virtually all Americans as foolish kooks.

  26. wmr: I couldn’t agree more, thank you. Communists and certain Christian groups collaborated in resisting apartheid in So. Africa, too, for example.

    I have few sympathies with religion that tends to theocracy– though even there, one could have a democratic political structure within the system. But in a religiously (and non-religiously) pluralistic society such as the US has been from the beginning, a theocratic vision (despite the plain vanilla “in God we trust” stuff) can’t really be accommodated.

    The dilemma is that for liberal Christians like myself, we can’t say anymore that our religion is simply a private, inward affair: that is the way that long tolerated racial and economic injustice, imperialism, and so forth. MLK is indeed a model for us, of both the passion for justice and also non-sectarian bridge-building, as is Gandhi who came before him.

    Of course that is to say there is “a place in democratic politics” for religion (that is for a religious people [demos]). Religious, sectarian domination, a la Dobson, no.

  27. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the formation of a third party based on fundamentalist Christianity. The evangelicals have been betrayed, several I know personally have told me Bush used Christianity as a mask, and they are pretty pissed.
    The basis of the religious party will be intolerance of “Godless men” (infidels), gays, Muslims, the U.N., the “Hollywood Elite”,abortion, illegal aliens,worship of the military, and total support of Israel ( not out of love, but due to end times prophesy).
    The right has done them wrong, and the left is way too tolerant (wanting to kill babies and all).
    The new party will rise before the ’08 election.
    If I’m wrong, I’ll eat a bug….

  28. freD,
    The school system in his home town needs to reevaluate/fire its English Department.
    Other than that, he’s quite a catch – for a Neanderthal woman!

    I’m sorry, I apologize to all Neanderthal’s…

    If you want to see a picture of him, he’s 2nd from the left on the human evolution chart.

    Even Leaky’s “Lucy” wouldn’t take this imbecile as her mate. She was too advanced for him.

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