Friday, November 12, 2004

Do the Democrats Need to Find God? Better, They Should Offer a Moral, Not Religious, Agenda

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. ... It's a fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what alllows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

-- Barack Obama

That's a Democrat talking. And what he's talking about is our moral compass as Americans.

On election day, 18 million people said that they voted for President Bush because of "moral values." The religious right beat their chest loudly. People like James Dobson and Bob Jones told the president to use his "mandate" -- to ignore the "paganists," and what they saw as a liberal hatred of Christianity itself. They see the president's victory as a victory for Bush's religious beliefs and his faith-based initiatives.

And how wrong they are. For to simply equate "morality" with "religious" or "Christian" is insulting and naive. You can be a regular churchgoer (or synagogue-goer or mosque-goer) and nonetheless lack a moral compass. Dobson preaches hatred toward homosexuals, for example, and Jones enforces separation of the races at his unaccredited university. And you can be an atheist or agnostic -- or just one who doesn't attend religious services regularly, a so-called "secular" American -- and have a wonderful moral being.

There is no American "God." Most certainly, there is no Republican God, and it's insulting when Republican leaders -- Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the rest -- try to pretend that God only shines down on those following some Republican version of "moral values."


And yet, the conservative punditry has tried to explain Bush's re-election -- by the slimmest electoral college margin for an incumbent since 1916 -- as some sort of national verdict of the Democratic Party's need to find God.

But again, this conclusion assumes that if one is religious, they have moral values, and vice versa. The president is a religious man, and no one is denying him his right to religious freedom. But have his policies indicated "moral values"? A strong argument could be made that they have not. And by offering the equation that religious fervor is the same as morality, the religious right has in effect turned a blind eye to the effects of Bush's policies.


Let me offer you two quotes from religious leaders:

Evangelical Pastor Jim Wallis -- editor of Sojourners -- writes that the religious right "fought to keep the focus on gay marriage and abortion. ... But many moderate and progressive Christians disagreed. We insisted that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor. The environment -- protection of God's creation -- is also one of our religious concerns."

"The agenda of the church must always respond faithfully to the Bible's timeless mandate to minister to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast; and to be seekers and makers of peace," said National Council of Churches General Secretary Robert Edgar.

The Jewish organization for women, Hadassah, has written eloquently on a wide range of issues that are part of our moral compass, including health care. "We live in a society that allows people to die because they cannot afford medical care. It’s a little known fact that over 18,000 adults die every year for lack of health insurance. ... The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the money saved by eliminating the administrative waste (and huge profits) of insurance companies would be $200 billion, enough to cover all the uninsured as well as prescription drugs, mental health and long-term care without increasing total health care expenditures."

Please note that during President Bush's first term, five million Americans lost their health insurance. According to the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, Bush's health care plan would barely reverse that trend, and still leave more than 38 million Americans uninsured. Does that define the president's moral values?

Is it moral to allow more children to become impoverished? That's what happened during the first Bush term. That led to the formation of a national network of churches and faith-based organizations, Call to Renewal (, to combat poverty in America. The group says it includes people across the political spectrum, but clearly, it is at odds with the president's policies on poverty.

Is it moral to allow policies that hurt our environment? Knight Ridder compiled 14 pollution-oriented indicators from government and university statistics. Nine of the 14 indicators showed a worsening trend, two showed improvements and three others were unchanged.

Statistics that have worsened:

-- Superfund cleanups of toxic waste fell by 52 percent.
-- Fish-consumption warnings for rivers doubled.
-- Fish-consumption advisories for lakes increased 39 percent.
-- The number of beach closings rose 26 percent.
-- Civil citations issued to polluters fell 57 percent.
-- Criminal pollution prosecutions dropped 17 percent.
-- Asthma attacks increased by 6 percent.
-- There were small increases in global temperatures and unhealthy air days.

In land-use policy under Bush, another 12 indicators reveal record-low additions to national parks, wilderness, wildlife refuges and the endangered species list. The Bush administration also approved 74 percent more permits to drill for oil and gas on public lands in its first three years than were granted in the previous three years.

Bush also has ordered dozens of sweeping changes to existing environmental policies, usually to benefit business interests. He reversed the government's course on global warming, power plant emissions, roadless areas of national forests, environmental law enforcement and agricultural run-off.

Is it moral to deny the poor safe and decent housing? On April 22, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a far-reaching change in its policy for funding “Section 8” housing vouchers. The new HUD policy has resulted in many state and local housing agencies failing to receive sufficient funding to continue supporting all vouchers now in use. Some 2 million poor families are affected.

For example, some agencies are raising rent burdens on low-income families that receive vouchers by reducing the maximum amount of rent a voucher can cover. Other agencies are reducing the number of families assisted, by rescinding vouchers provided to families that are searching for housing but have not yet found a unit to rent with their voucher.


The Democratic Party has a moral responsibility to make their stance on these issues -- poverty, health care, the environment, safe housing for the poor -- clear to all Americans. They need to present those views to help establish that they are the party of "moral values." To concede this to the Republicans is not only politically incorrect -- it's political suicide.

There are countless millions of Americans who are religious. No one wants to demean these people, or to make them feel marginalized. No one wants to deny people religious freedom or fervor. But the Democrats must make it clear that faith alone does not solve our nation's problems. To have "moral values" -- whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent --means to be a generous and responsible society that helps the weak among us. President Bush's policies have done the opposite.


Blogger Mez said...

Can I draw your attention to this short piece by a religious thinker & writer from the UK in the first half of the last century?

NOTE that of course this is not "Democrat" as in the US political party, but "An adherent or advocate of democracy, or government by the people."

PDF file:

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest real claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.
-- C.S. Lewis (1946) "A Reply to Professor Haldane" in "Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories".

A couple of other links:
Mentioned in "Danny's Blog Cabin",
May 26, 2004
Church and State: Keep Them Separated
(Article from a June 2004 church newsletter commenting on CS Lewis' statement, and the current situation.)

Also in (in comments by bellatrys -- www.livejournal/users/bellatrys, but I haven't found where it is in that blog)

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your discussion that morals and religious following are not equals. Because someone goes to church does not make him moral. And following the teachings of God, much of which is interpreted by man, is not, in itself moral. This is why most wars are begun and fought over religion in one form or another.

Let me say I do not like George Bush. However, I disagree when you try to lay out "evidence" that Bush is immoral--typical left spin. I have no interest in debating each issue here since i am sure true debate will be lost in such a far left crowd. I would say that you can choose any leader of any democratic/republican form of government and pull apart his record to spin "immorality". You see, there is one comparison that is difficult to weigh against morality. It is called politics-the idea that you will make decisions based on limited resources that will never make everyone happy or satisfied. Would you claim Bush is immoral because he "let" 911 occur? Or that past presidents were immoral for setting the stage for it to occur. You can argue all you want about policies but Bush has done nothing immoral(unless you are in the camp that believes he intentionally lied about the evidence to go into iraq)from this vantage point. Politics means choosing. You may not like his choices but I believe what most liked about Bush's moral compass is that he comes across as as a man with integrity-stands by his choices-whether you agree with him or not. You may think his choices lead to terrible results; that is why we have elections to rid ourselves of such leaders. And whether you or I like it, the public chose to give him four more years.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robertson, Jones, Dobson, et al. are not leaders in the Republican party. They may be leaders in their own churches, but do not control the political strings of the Republican party. Generally I find your writing to be thought provoking, so I have to assume that you lumped them into the GOP leadership because they are so easily made out to be bogeymen. The reality is that there are a broad diversity of thoughts, ideas, morals, and values in each party, but the moonbats keep trying to paint the GOP into this lunatic fringe minority. Best of luck. Maybe you will be more successful next election cycle.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's really naive to suggest that people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and more recently, James Dobson, don't have a significant role in the Republican party.

When all we hear is that the Karl Rove strategy was centered on turning out the religious right -- increasing the vote totals from "the base" -- what do you think that means? The GOP relied on the churches to get out the vote. Doesn't it make sense that the church would want something in return -- such as more money for faith-based initiatives, more anti-gay measures, more anti-abortion measures, etc.

David wasn't trying to create "bogeyman." He makes a very reasonable point: There is no Republican God. The GOP has tried to create that message, and the Democrats need to fight back by showing that they are the ones who support moral issues, such as generosity and taking care of the poor and the infirmed.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the Wall Street Journal:

Evangelical Christians made a big difference on Election Day, providing crucial support for President Bush. Now they face the challenge of using their political clout to achieve success in Washington, not just at the polls.

Evangelical leaders say that among their top priorities are new limits on abortion, a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and the appointment of conservative judges to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And this, from Slate:

(N)o one helped Bush win more than Dr. James Dobson. Forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who in their dotage have marginalized themselves with gaffes (this week Robertson referred to potential Supreme Court nominee Miguel Estrada as "Erik Estrada"). Forget Ralph Reed, now enriching himself as a lobbyist-operative, leaving the Christian Coalition a shell of its former self. Forget Gary Bauer, now known chiefly as a failed presidential candidate who tumbled off a stage while flipping pancakes. Dobson is now America's most influential evangelical leader, with a following reportedly greater than that of either Falwell or Robertson at his peak.

Dobson earned the title. He proselytized hard for Bush this last year, organizing huge stadium rallies and using his radio program to warn his 7 million American listeners that not to vote would be a sin. Dobson may have delivered Bush his victories in Ohio and Florida.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please, please ... continue to focus your efforts on your flawed philosophy of why you lost. Feel free to blame it on evangelic Christians, Republican bigotry, what have you ...

In the end, all you are doing is ignoring the fact that your set of ideals was less appealling to the American public than was that of your opponent. Fashion it however you would like, it will not change the result.

Also, simply attempting to claim a moral position will not change the lack of moral position that has been historically held by your party.

12:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is making excuses for why Kerry lost the election. That's not the point.

The analysis is simple: Democrats shouldn't become faux Republicans to appease the religious right. But they should advocate issues they care about -- their "moral compass" -- or risk conceding "moral values" to the Republicans. The right isn't very interested in the environment, or issues of equality. The Democrats are.

What isn't being said here, though, is how scary people like Dobson and Jones are. It amazes me that literally millions of people respect and repeat the hatred spewing from these religious "leaders." Dobson and Jones say things about gays, blacks, Jews, and even women, that many people consider a perversion of the teachings of the Bible, perhaps comparable to the way Al Qaeda has perverted teachings of the Koran.

1:40 AM  

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