Some musings on fear and the religious left

I was reading a Daily Kos entry by a liberal Protestant (I assume) minister (RevRandy) about a “liberal religious revolution” today, in which he was attempting to rouse liberal members of all religions to take action of some sort. As I told him, I wish him well, but I have my doubts about how much success he and others will have without some major changes on the religious left.

As a Neopagan activist I have watched over four decades of liberal mainstream religionists speaking noble words and expressing (four or more) noble truths, but still not having one-tenth the cultural, political, or economic impact their fundamentalist brethren have.

As I look at the eternal stewpot of hate that is the Middle East, or even just at domestic American events, I find myself wondering where the liberal Jews, Christians, and Muslims are. I know they exist, but their voices all seem terribly muffled (with the major exception of the civil rights movement of the 60s).

Where are the liberal religious PACs and get-out-the-vote efforts electing candidates to federal office, loudly denouncing fundamentalist lies, refusing to allow the Talibaptists and their ilk to represent the only voice of religious or spiritual concern in our nation?

I read about some such folks every now and then, but they are so few, so terribly few.

The only explanation that has come to me over all the years is fear — sensible fear, but fear nonetheless. It’s the fundamentalists and their cohorts, the people with absolute truth claims who live in a black and white world, who have all the guns. Their monopoly on weaponry and other implements of violence, combined with their willingness to use them against those who oppose their theocratic agendas (they shoot doctors, remember, and university professors), is enough to silence loud and persistent opposition from their liberal coreligionists, whether here in the USA or overseas in the Muslim world.

Martin Luthor King and Malcom X knew they were risking their lives to stand up for their religious beliefs, and they paid the price. How many Martins and Malcoms are there now on the religious left to stand up to the snipers, the firebombers, the character assassins (and the literal ones), and the militias on the religious right?

When will the liberal monotheists have the courage to loudly, publically, and repeatedly state that people who believe their scriptures literally, and who believe those scriptures give them the right to kill other people, are insane rather than “misguided”? Because that seems to me to be the meme they should be spreading. When will they (liberal religionists) understand that tolerating bigots is not only intellectually and spiritually bankrupt, but also suicidal?

Their religious opposition consists of people who are crazy, intolerent, and violent. Mere rationality, toleration, and peacefulness won’t stop them. They want an eventual worldwide theocracy, with themselves in charge, starting with the USA and the Middle East, leading to a “glorious” battle of Armageddon in which the “winning” Crusaders or Jihadists will rule over the radioactive ruins. Being sweetly reasonable and talking just to ourselves won’t stop them.

I don’t really know what will. I deeply suspect that monotheism, with the almost inevitible dualism that usually accompanies it, is part of the problem, not part of a solution. The culture wars are between dualists and pluralists, with liberal monotheists stuck uncomfortably in the fuzzy area between.

This may be an an area where liberal Neopagans, Hindus, Voodooists, and Native religionists of many lands may have a role to play in the coming years. We know that the universe can count higher than two, so we’re not necessarily stuck in the mainstream Western culture’s dualist worldview.

Ironically, many leftists who might stumble over this post will probably think that I’m as crazy as the fundamentalists of the religious right, because they’ve decided by their own religious dualism that all religions are insane. That is correct Marxist dogma, but the only variety of Marxist-Lennonism I’m interested in involves Groucho and John.

(This post also posted on my Daily Kos page.)

This entry was originally posted on Sunday, July 30th, 2006 at 12:44 am. The following are the comments originally made:

1. niamh Says:

Perhaps a great deal of the problem lies within the very spirit of liberalism, in most cases. My fellow Liberals have always seemed to me to be less concerned with convincing people that their way is the Correct and Proper Way. I know for myself, that the appealing thing about Liberalism *in general* is the willingness to accord others the right to think for themselves, that there is more than one “right” way, that reason and empathy are valid tools for resolving many issues. The fundamentalist view is concerned, above all things, with converting others to their way of thinking/feeling/acting. If they cannot convince them reasonably to do so, they are perfectly willing to do whatever they must to ensure *cooperation*, even if it means violence. To be frank, I think that frothing at the mouth is far more impressive and convincing to most folks than tolerance. A little fire in the eyes would, I think, do wonders for the leftist argument, but I think that it is a quality lacking in most of the breed. Vicious onemindedness appeals to the lowest common denominator. Reason and emapthy demand restraint and I think that most folks are so comfortable in their own apathy to even bother. Reason and emapthy are the more difficult path. It is oversimplifying, I know, but to me, this is one of the roothairs of the liberal-charisma problem.

Oh my gods, my husband is right. I *am* an elitist!

2. ibonewits Says:

Welcome to the club!

3. sari0009 Says:

Like domestic abuse victims that so many are quick to look down on, populations know fundamentalists/abusers are nuts, often armed, and dangerous but are afraid (and often in denial regarding “flare ups,” and so take a ride on the cycles of violence.

I got out of an abusive marriage when I reached out and many responded with a “we can do this” attitude — and so we developed a plan of escape, complete with contingencies.

Like careful gardeners, legacies of activism may have to be passed down through at least several generations of mentors and their students/children — good results may require a combination of a Johnny Appleseed approach and interfaith mentorship programs. Clearly, we need more than one wave of civil rights and other types of activism.

I like Ralph Nader’s Appleseed Foundation but while we need the best minds, we also need to involve and further develop the average person. We have to rethink the nature of common ground. We need a convergence of genius/persistence that’s accessible and put to use. Americans are not getting a sound education in logic and social intelligence in public schools. We’re going to have to supplement school/adult education.

Fundamentalists or other overly religious people engage their kids with books, tapes, games, videos or camp experiences that indoctrinate their children. What are the masses doing to develop socially and intellectually on more of a “platform independent” common ground?

4. sari0009 Says:

I don’t know if reason and empathy need restraint as much as they need direction. With direction, one can be on fire and still have reason and empathy.

This entry was reposted on August 4, 2006 at 1:30pm EDT. My special thanks to Sari for making this possible.

About Isaac Bonewits

World famous (or is that notorious) Druid/Wiccan/Heathen/Santarian author, speaker, pundit, etc. Google me to see what I've been doing with my life and what my friends and enemies think about me.
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6 Responses to Some musings on fear and the religious left

  1. thudfactor says:

    I tend to agree with Niamh; it’s not cowardice, it’s liberalism.

    Liberals are not cowards because they don’t speak up — they often do speak up. They are just not as loud because they cannot speak with one voice for particularly long.

    Fundamentalism gains its political strength from its homogenity. A relatively small number of people sound like a much larger group because they all say the same thing.

    To invoke the overused metaphor, they get to herd sheep; we get to herd cats. That’s a real problem when organizing a political movement.

    The other problem (at least as far as political organizing is concerned) is that we’re more dedicated democracy and civil discource than we are our political priorities. We have to be, because our political priorities are heterogenous and the only way we can get things done is through democracy and civil discourse.

    Fundamentalism, however, is more dedicated to their political priorities. They are happy to dump democracy and civil discourse when those things cease to benefit them. We, on the other hand, say things like “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” and spend our ACLU budget defending Fred Phelps.

    In other words, we’re *constantly* bringing our Chess clocks to knife fights.

    We have to find a way around that, preferably without turning into liberal authoritarianisms like the USSR and China. (Which is what I fear would happen if we just emulated the fundamentalist strategy.)

  2. sari0009 says:

    “They are just not as loud because they cannot speak with one voice for particularly long…They get to herd sheep; we get to herd cats…bringing Chess clocks to knife fights”

    If you believe that those are the options/realities, then people act those out and tend to do so quite diligently — a large-scale binding.

    I see no reason why we can’t use the processes of harmony and discord (democratic debate, discussion, and exploration) constructively and to keep alive certain treasured focal points such as balance of powers, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, civil duties, and civil rights.

  3. EReeQuinn says:

    Calling people on their shit. Most of the religious liberals I’ve met, both in the real and the virtual worlds, need to learn how to do this. They need to learn how to stand up and say, “This thing you are doing is wrong and you must stop it. Or we will stop you.” People did it during the Civil Rights movement era, so we all know it can be done. But a certain amount of backbone is needed. Very few have it.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the power of money. Churches require HUUUUUUUGE amounts of money just to remain standing, never mind become a force for actually doing anything. Especially the protestant ones, as they haven’t hoards of monks and nuns and other half-starved submissives around to do all the maintence. And where’s this money going to come from? Who has enough around that they’re willing to drop it into the bottomless pit of church roof maintence funds? Why, corporations and their executives, but of course. And what kind of religion is attractive to the sort of people who become CEOs and CFOs and the like? Hmmmmmm?


    And we all know how politicians do as they are paid to do. And who’s paying them? Who has the money? Mainline liberal protestant churches and their congregations? Ya think?

    It always comes back to money and who has it.

  4. rosewelsh says:

    Isaac: I may have come upon just what you are looking for. It’s called the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Apparently Rabbi Learner and the rest are VERY serious about making change. Here’s the organization Here is the article that Rabbi Learner wrote after the last presidential election that caught my attention He even has a book out called The Left Hand of God that is supposed to be fantastic and totally outline a plan on how to take back America from the Religious “Reich” (shit! I can’t even write “right”… because they are NOT.) Grrr.

    If you think the organization has merit – please promote it. I do when ever I get a chance, but I’m just one person without a famous name. 🙂 Speaking of BNPs, Starhawk seems to be somewhat involved at least with the Rabbi’s synagog, but I’ve yet to see anything about NSP on her website. I haven’t visited in a few months, but…

    Nevertheless, Rabbi Learner and the organization welcomes people of all faiths. Futhermore, their magazine website even sponsored Brokeback Mountain ads!

    I think you’d really like some of the articles that come out of Tikkun Magazine as well. One that was published on line was written by a man who gave the Dems a hard time about how they didn’t even protest the the stealing of an election (2000 and 2004) but that the Mexicans did. It was very interesting to read.


  5. rosewelsh says:

    Hey! Found the Rabbi talking about his book here in a college lecture

    Oh, btw, he’s such a dude… EVERY single emails I’ve sent to him, he’s replied to with thought.


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