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Adele Stan, Dreams, and Waiting for Godot

July 12, 2006, 5:44 pm | Posted by FPL

There’s an interesting piece from Adele Stan on the American Prospect’s website right now. With Beckett’s centenary upon us, the Godot reference is appreciated and most appropriate. She’s not particularly sanguine (to say the least) about the prospects of a cohesive ‘Religious Left’ emerging to vanquish the Religious Right on a religio-political field of battle. Thank goodness. The best part about her argument isn’t that she thinks it won’t happen, but that she thinks it shouldn’t. As she puts it:

In seeking to create a counterpart to the religious right, we tried to force our values through a narrow hole. In essence, we bought into the religious authoritarianism of the right, inferring that moral authority proceeds only from religion. In this, we have sold ourselves short.

It’s a tricky project that many of us are working on right now: asserting clearly and confidently the moral and ethical values that motivate our political positions for the common good, without slipping into the sanctimonious self-righteous sermonizing that characterizes so many leaders of the Religious Right. The fear of making such mistakes is no doubt why some progressives (both secular and religious) have been very nervous about things like Sen. Obama’s recent address.

The next step in the argument, which her piece only begins to tackle, is to talk about what that positive engagement between faith communities and the political process around common good values might look like. While no one wants to turn into the Religious Right, there may be room for more substantive contributions from progressive faith leaders than Stan realizes. If she really means that recent events “kill off the dream of a religious left in America,” I’d have to differ strongly. They only point more clearly to what that community ought to look like to embody its own dreams and aspirations.

Groups like Sojourners and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are reaching increasingly impressive numbers for their national conferences. Others like Faithful America and the Interfaith Alliance are using cutting edge technologies to increase the impact of their advocacy. Collaborative efforts between secular and sacred around the budget, immigration, and the Voting Rights Act are showing leaders that their impact is increased through cooperation.

Stan is right that these religious voices can only be a part of the broader ethical foundation in which progressives ground their dream of a diverse, just, and free America. Each of these examples demonstrates the potential for progressive faith leaders to strike the balance between strength and humility and do justice to our proud legacy of social action in this country.

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3 Responses to “Adele Stan, Dreams, and Waiting for Godot”

  1. It seems to me that non-religious and interfaith progressives could agree that morals aren’t necessarily grounded in belief, but are rather communicated via religion in significant ways.

    It is not an issue of foundation, but one of interpretive community.

    Like the conversation between the priest and the atheistic doctor in Camus’ The Plague (Buckley, I’ll see your Irish nationalism and raise you a pied-noir absurdest), it is not the metaphysical reasoning, but the action that proves the morality.

    Thus, is truth, justice, and beauty grounded in belief or embodied by it?

  2. David Buckley says:

    Hmm, if I catch your drift, my West Coast intellectual, I think I disagree. One assumption shared by many who like Obama have started to explain openly the values foundations for their politics is this: we need to say why we believe what we believe, NOT just embody it in our actions. In the face of constant critique from the Religious Right that one is a God-hating heathen, it’s unrealistic to think that the public will accurately perceive the values that give rise to your actions unless you communicate those in some more explicit way (ie giving a speech about them). It could be noted that Camus’ Doctor wasn’t running for office…

  3. Hi, David.

    I thought Adele Stan was talking about the schism (is she overstating?) in the Episcopalian Church over appointing gay Bishops. I read her main point as being that the religious left won’t have the impact it would like if it winds up splitting off from the mainstream church.

    It seems true to me that the success of the religious right has less to do with the particulars of their rhetoric than with the number of people they can reach and mobilize. To emerge from the lunatic fringe to the mainstream, the various parties of the religious right needed to do a lot of hard coalition building and come up with a platform that many leaders could support and communicate to their congregations.

    That work is for us on the left still to do. I hope I am not out of place as a Jew commenting on Christian affairs – but it seems to me the task is to continue to make the moral and religious case for gay rights, and for other progressive issues, within the church.

    The Archbishop’s proposal may be a step in the conservative direction, but it doesn’t close the debate, does it? And with Katharine Jefferts Schori in a leadership role, the American church is in a good position to engage the dialogue constructively.

    Again, I hope I’m not presuming… but as an outsider, it seems to me the more progressive branches of the church should resist the temptation to go their own way, and instead return to the scriptural drawing board, to figure out how to persuade the main body to modify its views.

    If you succeed – you’ll have a church with tremendous reach and influence in support of gay rights. And perhaps more important, you’ll have a widely accepted religious interpretation that undergirds this position.