Faithful or fanatical?

The topic of today’s column is a tough one to bring up, for fear of being labeled a backwoods, intolerant hick. Nonetheless, given the season and the fact that the presidential campaign is kicking into a higher gear, with predictable pandering to one particular aspect of this theme, I figure it’s time to scribble a few words about the subject.

The subject is religious faith and how it’s depicted today. The latest variation to rouse my ire was yet another quote from the Zogby poll generalizing “blue state” and “red state” attitudes, especially religious attitudes. According to Zogby, I shouldn’t have voted for Gore last election. While I don’t consider myself to be “born again” in the evangelical Christian sense, I do consider myself to be a solid practitioner of my faith. I attend weekly church services, consider prayer to be important, and a lot of that other stuff that folks in the “red state” column believe as well.

Not only that, I know a lot of other liberals who both voted for Gore and strongly believe in social justice issues. I believe that if you were to poke around, you’d find a strong batch of liberal Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists with similar opinions as well.

But that kind of attitude doesn’t play well, apparently. Few people in public life are willing to stand up and defend a life of religious faith in liberal political terms. It seems that if you are a person of strong social justice convictions and liberal political beliefs, then there’s no way you can also espouse them as a liberal politician. If anything, the conservative religious-sorts play this attitude by creating an “us or them” dichotomy, which has led to great losses of integrity in our public political lives.

The only safe place, it seems, for one to express one’s religious faith as motivation for political action is on the right wing – and that is wrong, wrong, wrong. These days, a statesman like former Oregon Republican Senator Mark Hatfield would be condemned by Republican Party hacks as a RINO, “Republican In Name Only,” due to his political opinions driven by a strong personal faith. Claiming religious faith as a liberal Democrat gains little support and much suspicion from party activists.

Many of us of liberal religious persuasions tend to keep our mouths shut because we’re not certain whether we can live up to perceived standards of our beliefs, and don’t want to appear hypocritical like our right-wing brethren. But you know what? Maybe it’s time for folks with liberal religious and political beliefs to speak up about them. Maybe it’s time we changed, because if we don’t, all that gets seen and heard is the intolerant side of faith. Maybe it’s time for us to speak out about how and why the faith we don’t talk about nonetheless shapes how we act and believe, despite the fact that we don’t always live up to it in the way we desire. Maybe it’s time to take our cues from those great African-American warriors against racism like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy and all those other great people and speak from our hearts about how injustice, intolerance and war-mongering are bad and evil things and a violation of all good religious principles, whether those principles arise from the Bible, the Quran, the Torah or other holy texts.

It’s time to speak up and be heard. Let’s take back our faiths from the fanatics. No matter what your faith is, whether Paganism or Catholicism or Islam or Atheism, don’t let the only ones speaking from a standpoint of faith be the conservatives. Liberal believers, arise! You have only the chains of conservatism to toss aside. Take back the standards of belief from those who paint faith in shades of intolerance and bigotry. Speak truth to power and make a difference, not just for our generation but for the future.