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February 25, 2007

Sunday Sermonette: Oliver Willis

Oliver Willis:

Imagine if you will, a substantial group of regular churchgoing Christians. They are active in their community, they believe in God and Heaven and Hell. Their entire life is about living up to the Word of God, and when they vote that belief is a driving moral force in how their ballot is cast. These Christians are vital to their party, if they stayed home on election day there's no way the party could win.

Surely these people are part of the "values voters" so often courted by the GOP.

Did I mention that they're black. Because, you see, they're Democrats. They are also the religious left nobody seems to talk about when things flare up in discussions about "the religious left" (And yes, the idea of these mythical Democrats who persecute the religious that nobody can ever name stinks to high heaven).

Read Oliver's whole post on black churches and the religious left.

I'm so sick of hearing people complain about how secular Democrats are driving religious people away from the party with our constant believer-hating invective. a) It's not happening. I'm probably one of the more outspoken atheists you'll meet, but I'm not out evangelizing and even if I were, I wouldn't expect anyone but the rankest crazies interpret my attempts to spread the truth as I understand it to be an attack, as opposed to a little friendly competition. b) Whenever political strategists and pundits fantasize wistfully about the wonderful religious left we'd have if it weren't for anti-clerical maniacs like me, they're ignoring the fact that there's already a a vibrant powerful religious left in this country that's already working side by side with us secular Dems.


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Of course, there are those who attack the progressives/liberals/freethinkers and the Dem party for promoting atheism. Why not, it's a strategy to alienate--or, at the very least, make religious Dems not vote.

But, the issue isn't all that simple. You see, a religious person can understand another one because they both believe in a god. Then you come along and say there's no god, so instinctively people clam up, and many don't accept your thesis that there should be freedom of religion (as much as from it). It's no accident that the majority of Americans would never vote for an atheist! So, it happens that most seculars & atheists have found themselves under the Dem party's umbrella. No, the Dem party is far from being influenced by the non-believers, but simply them being there it creates an association to be exploited by the theocons.

As a secular humanist I think the best tool to understand the world around us is the scientific method, and I can't betray this intellectual honesty when I talk to people who often counter-argue with cititations from a "holy" book. Well, I still think we have an obligation to promote reason, a more rational society, and attack superstition and stone-age biases. The obligation of the progressive theists is to fight to keep their faith from being highjacked by the theocons and the Roves of all stripes.

Great blog you've got here.

My question to the wishy washy moderates is always this:

When was the last time the Atheist Witnesses came trespassing on your property, unannounced and uninvited and beat on your door in order to try and convert you to their way of thinking?

Only the reeeaaaly clueless ones don't get it.

B0ng hitz 4 Jebus

I (heart) Richard Dawkins

Oh, yeah.. Almost forgot, I followed the link from Salon, enjoyed your article. I've put you on my list but I'm not the most errr.. scheduled person if you catch my drift.

Well stated, andros... and I hope that you're as adamant against jet-age biases as well as those from a more distant era, and as willing to grant stone-age insights their due (seeing that the amygdala has brought us all a good long ways, to date).
As one who gave up Catholicism on moral rationalist grounds at 8 or 9 (while continuing to practice as long as myparents fed & housed me), my own vacillating nature, between pantheism and the agnostic dilemma has never ruled out collaborating with those of one Faith or another, when we shared common goals, eg Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pastors for Peace, etc. I would no more feel it necessary to distance myself from these folks than I would from left-handed (ie "sinister") women.
Jonathan, the "Atheist Witnesses" conjecture caused me to laugh out loud! My latest favorite response to the bearers of "The Watchtower" is to show them the frontispiece inside my copy of "Gødel,Escher, Bach"- which has the first verse of Genesis written there, in Aramaic. "This is the Bible", I tell them... "this is how it Really looks!" I get polite smiles, and a slow backing away response at my overt & hearty presentation...

As a Quaker, I've been a religious lefty for years now. And I've never been subject to abuse from any of my atheist friends, even when making bad jokes like "So what do you at atheist meetings--sing old atheist hymns like 'How great Thou aren't'?"

Religious liberals are all over the place. You can find them in every Quaker meeting, UU church, or United Church of Christ congregation, three-quarters of Methodist and Episcopal congregations and about half the Presbyterians, plus virtually every congregation associated with the National Baptist Convention or the Church of God in Christ. And if you leave out the hierarchy, you can find them throughout American Catholicism as well. Nothing about that ought to surprise anybody who has ever read the Sermon on the Mount.

When they buried Robin Cook, the only front bench Labor figure to give up his position to protest Tony Blair's alliance with Bush, he was buried from a cathedral despite the fact that he was an atheist. "Aye, he was." said the bishop officiating, "but he was a Presbyterian atheist."

It seems worth noting that the Black church has been becoming less and less happy with the Democrats. (At least, that is the impression that I'd get from reading the local black newspaper.)

Consider this friendly competion:

Methinks you are over-estimating the impact of religion on black votes. It is true that the strength of the Democratic support in the black community comes from the black church. It is also true that the black religious community is possibly the strongest religious community in America.

But these don't necessarily connect. The black vote for Democrats has less to do with religion than the perception of racial survival. The Democrats are perceived (by both the black and white communities) as being the party that support black causes simply because they are black causes. True or not, the blacks view the Democrats as offering "justice" and Republicans "injustice." (I don't agree, but that's just me.)

When the blacks were faced with the issue of gay marriage in the 2004 election, their religious and moral positions were truly tested. The result was one of the largest black Republican votes in many campaign cycles, enough so that Bush was elected again. Not a majority, to be sure, but certainly a noticeable percentage increase.

Put that together with the increasing numbers of blacks switching to the Republicans (small, noticeable, appears to be growing), and the impact is lessening. Add also to that fact that black and white Christians are finally starting to worship in the same churches (finally!), and the strength of the black church is in decline. These two changes probably have more to do with the growing black middle class, which is more comfortable begin middle class than being black. This is a huge issue for blacks, and has been for a long time. Probably worth a post or two.

If this analysis has any validity, then it is the same sort of change that happened to labor unions. Labor unions were and are as rabidly Democrat as black churches (though much less moral than black churches ;).). While the ferver of labor has not slackened in it's loyalty to Dems, their numbers are way, way, way down compared to the 50's-70's. The impact of unions is important in Dem primaries, but not so important in general elections. Much like what appears to be happening to the black church.

Secularists are making it more difficult for the black church to remain Democrats. As the moral positions of the secular wing and the religious wings of the Dems widen, black pastors will have increasing difficulty justifying their support for Dems.

not " begin middle class". should be "being middle class." Danged keyboard.


I don't know if this is true throughout the country, but here in the DC area, there's an interesting political shift taking place in mid to large-sized Black churches.

The current administration has been successfully recruiting leadership in these churches to promote a conservative agenda to their membership. It is a thing of wonder to watch a Black pastor campaigning for the Bush cartel in a predominately Black church.

What is even more astonishing is the chorus of Amens and Hallelujahs that follow--despite the fact that this same demographic suffers horribly at the pleasure of the conservative foreign and domestic agenda.

I wonder if the Democratic leadership realizes that, come 2008, they may not have the support they think they have when it comes to the Black church.

Jonathan: if JWs kocking on your door bothers you so much, move into a doorless bunker. A door is an invitaton to knock.

Let's not forget the liberation theology that runs rampant in the values and mindsets of catholic immigrants from central and south america. Christian Socialism as the late Pope called it and fought against it.

Heaven help Dobson if he wanted to talk about Catholicism with anyone who knew of the work of Archbishop Oscar Romero instead of the catholics he surrounds himself with.

Regarding labor and faith let's not forget the recent passing of Fr. Charles Owen Rice. The man was on the strike line for many a union. Catholic priests are still the choice for labor in most card checks.

"Actually, there is a class war raging in this country, but it is not being waged by the poor, but against them. Those who would deny government relief to the poor but demand they find jobs, when all the jobs are hard to find and decent ones impossible, are waging class war." - Monsignor Charles Owen Rice

It is part of the Republican playbook to try to pry away just enough of the other side's base to give them a slight majority. So yes, Republicans are using the relgious connservatism of black churches to recruit and yes, the fact that fundamentalists and eveanglicals of various races go to thhe same churches has the efffect of turning black voters to the right.

The problem with all the "I never say bad things about religous people" is that it misses the point.

The problem isnn't that Democratic pliticianns or rank and file people drive religious people away. The pproblem is thhat we don't talk about issues in a way thhat brinngs religious people inn. THAT'S the problem.

Too many Democrats think that speaking inn a way that appeal to "values voters" means adopting rightwing-lite positions. It doesn't . It just means openly, clearly, concretely framning our issues as moral rather than practical or special interst pandering, or legal rights.

take health care. the normal way for democrats to talk about it is that people need health care (practical solution to a problem). Then example of children, elderly etc. (that's pushing the "I want for me" button in a certain class of voter.) followed by a statement that people have the right ot access (the legal argument). But suppose that instead the Demo politiciann were to say,"I believe that government has a moral reponsiblity to meet the needs of thhe community annd serve the common good. Healthh care is a moral issue. It is a refelction on our values asa a people if we allow our neighhbors to go without medical care etc etc.

When Democrats fail to frame issues inn moral and values terms OVERTLY the impression is that Democrats donn't care about morals or values. There is absolutely no purpose in shouting "Yes we do!" It has to be made clear in speaches by candidates running for office. Most voters are concrete opperrations thinkers and thhey vote on what they hear, not what we think they should believe about us.

Do that and we can keep our religous voters, pick up inndepenndent religious voters and maybe chip a few off the Republican base.

The notion that Democrats are against religion is a righhtwing lie but it is one that we help promote by the tendency of Demcrats to be adverse to moral framing of issues.

Sorry about the crappy typing.

"When the blacks were faced with the issue of gay marriage in the 2004 election, their religious and moral positions were truly tested. The result was one of the largest black Republican votes in many campaign cycles, enough so that Bush was elected again. Not a majority, to be sure, but certainly a noticeable percentage increase. "

That's meaningless.

It was thought to be likely going into the election, but it did not happen. Kerry received 88% of the black vote to Bush's 11%. In order to win, Kerry would have needed 95% of the black vote in Ohio, which was really not a possibility.

While Bush received more black votes than any Republican in recent history, that is because turnout was so much higher in all catagories than previously. John Kerry received the most black votes of any candidate ever - it doesn't mean much as a statistic.

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