Some bloggers criticize Sen. Barack Obama for saying that a few folks in the secular world need to tolerate religion in public life. The prolific Frederick Clarkson, over at Talk2Action, objects to this Right lingo from Obama, Wallis, and even Lerner, saying that they lose the frame game by using the secular label, a term that functions as a straw man in political rhetoric.
He is right to point out that the Right has abused liberals as secularists for far too long. But changing the topic, reframing, or saying: “hey, stop, no one here really hates religion” is not the only way. As Mother Jones recently published, the school of framing has its limits. Good frames are hard to come by, and until someone comes up with something better than Lakoff’s “freedom judges,” there are some religious moderates ready to convert progressive ideas into political action.
And the Political Animal blog shows that on this issue, some good progressives fear the frame more than the reality. Kevin Drum writes:
“But the plain fact is that he [Obama] was careful in his speech and also plainly correct: “some” liberals are uncomfortable with any mention of religion in the public square, and he thinks this is too bad. He also recognizes that just saying so isn’t enough.”
“It’s a funny thing. When I post about religion, I usually get two kinds of comments. The first is people telling me that I’m falling into a conservative trap by even entertaining the idea that some liberals are contemptuous toward religion. The second is snarky liberal secularists telling everyone else to take their stupid myths and shove ‘em where the sun don’t shine.”
Attacking our team for using words like “secular” actually undercuts the good side. We need good frames; but we also must have good framers, and the people doing to the talking have to establish their creditability. This sometimes means that we will hear some familiar language.
In fact, what astute folks like Wallis and Obama do is give the growing number of moderate believers room to get progressive without losing their religious bona fides. Now the faithful say, with increasing confidence: If Wallis, Campolo, et al still see room for improvement for the Left, then maybe I can care about the environment, poverty, etc.
Merely fighting the “secular” shibboleth” often works to reinforce its presence in the minds of our opponents. When moving moderate minds, it helps to take control of a familiar term and then wield it for a higher purpose. Perhaps we can reframe not just words but the whole debate, and thereby acclimatize moderates to the heady ideals of progressivism.
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Talk2Action notes evangelical Christians are being offered two free tickets to see Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth.
On the site, Carlos writes:
“The tickets are available at the Inconvenient Christians website. The evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, is also encouraging its readers to go see the movie. It is good to see evangelicals broadening their list of social concerns and this should have political consequences for the Christian Right-Republican alliance.”
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On Saturday, the Dallas Morning News featured Jewish Funds for Justice Jspot as its blog of the week. Showin’ off why they are so good, Jspot investigates a NYTimes article about the Memphis Statue of Liberation Through Christ.
And over at Even the Devils Believe, Catholic blogger Chris reverses the interfaith dialogue and talks about a Jewish situation in Delaware. What a great community; everyone’s watching each others’ religio-political backs.
Blogging about Sen. Obama, Pearlbear gets a mention in Slate. She’s happy.
Not happy, Xpatriated Texan looks at the Republican reaction to the Supreme Court 5-3 decision reining in the Bush Administration on its treatment of the Git-Mo detainees. After hearing McCain’s “expression concern” with the decision, the ex-pat Texan writes, “This is the last scrap of evidence I need to declare John McCain has officially gone over to the dark side.”
At the Christian Alliance for Progress “Community Forum” page, the folks are sick and tired of progressives talking about framing issues without appearing to get anything accomplished. Ding writes:
“as a progressive woman of faith i’d like to see my fellow democrats stand in front of something without flinching when the crap starts to fly. as a progressive woman of faith i’d like to see some policies on the ground that demonstrate our progressive policies are the best for us and this country.
(hello, paid family & medical leave; hello, increasing the eitc; hello, increasing the minimum wage; hello, broadening access to higher education.)”
Taking some time off of politics and reflecting on the holiday, UU minister and blogger Seeking Sophia shares her personal reasons for mostly not enjoying holidays while Time’s Fool reports about the “luxury” of being at a small-town July 4th celebration.
Hitting it big in Dallas, Slate and now, the Catholic League: Over at Street Prophets, Frank declares victory with the news that the Catholic League has mentioned the “Religious Left” as an opponent in its support of government bans on gay marriage.
And finally, Street Prophets has some religious commentary on how a good person should respond to the news of Ken Lays’ death. Commenting, Betty Black shares her first three stages: 1) suicide?; 2) good riddance; 3) damn, he skipped out on justice. But she concludes: “. . . really the tragedy is that such an managerially capable mind was put to such spurious and nefarious use.”
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Feeling patriotic this weekend? Take some action to ensure that all of your fellow citizens have equal access to the vote. The Voting Rights Act is among the most successful pieces of civil rights legislation in our nations’ history. It enjoys broad bi-partisan support, but is being held up in the House by a determined group of GOP legislators. Check out this page to see how faith leaders are speaking up to break this Congressional logjam before the VRA can expire. For more info, check out www.renewthevra.org. Happy 4th!
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Apparently some in progressive Blogistan appear troubled by Sen. Obama.
You can see some of that at Hotline where the National Journal catches the confusion; as does MyDD:
Is it Bill Clinton’s fault? Or Lieberman’s? Or is it just common confusion over the demographic, best expressed at Pam’s House Blend whose term slippage in her title “Obama: Dems need to court the fundies” reveals the all too common broad generalization of faith in America?
Pam, what was that AP story title again?
But the most interesting debate occurs over at DailyKos spin off Street Prophets. Because many of the people leaving comments were actually present, and liked it. Chuck Currie posts:
“These days there are a lot of people on the political left who recoil at the mention of religion. Sadly, people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have defined for many what it means to be Christian. Secularists, said Obama, “are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause.”
Here is Sen. Obama the next day, “So my point was that we need to have a more complex, more nuanced conversation about religion. And if we do that, then I think the whole country benefits.”
Oh, wait, a politician calling for nuance, is that how they usually court fundamentalists? See McCain in Lynchberg. By the way, Atrios et al, more nuance and complexity will only help with building a good wall of separation of church and state.
Here is Sen. Obama exhibiting some of that nuance:
“the history of the separation of church and state is what has allowed religious freedom to thrive in this country, and that when we talk about issues, it’s also important for us to recognize that there are folks who are non-believers, who are of different faiths, and we’ve got to translate whatever moral concerns or religious concerns that we have in a universal language that all Americans can talk about.”
Courting Destiny expresses that usual knee-jerk fear, writing, “Take away one little little piece of The First Amendment and the door opens for the entire First Amendment to be looked at and revised. Do most Evangelicals and other church going Americans want The first Amendment to be tampered with (sic)? I doubt it.”
As The Green Knight points out: “What he is doing is talking about long-term strategy for winning and for making positive change in the country.”
And I would add that the political chessboard doesn’t get smaller just because one disdains much of it. Over 250 million Americans believe in God and most of them even affiliate themselves with organized religion. The key to making America better for more people is to capture and control more the rhetorical ground. What Obama articulated is a progressive openness toward religion that will reduce the amount of value language available to the religious Right.
But most importantly, analyzing the rhetoric of Sen. Obama’s speech reveals that some folks are not reading it carefully. Read it again, he is on your side.
In fact, Sen. Obama, who admits to doubt, works to recontextualize the usual shibboleths.
The secular world needs to distinguish between means and ends. Usually, “separation of church and state” is their term, but Obama allows sharp evangelicals to see it as their term as well, raised as an historical wall against majoritarian pressure.
And now to the point that has many Kossacks boiling: “It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God.’”
What Obama is really saying is that kids repeating “under God” is essentially meaningless, which is exactly what a good atheist believes.
Of course the state shouldn’t force us to say what we think is metaphysically meaningless, but on a functional (and tactical) level, the strict separationist actually infuses the phrase with meaning by directly attacking it. Much wiser to treat the term as meaningless, not just believe it. Instead, progressives win when they avoid making symbols out of what the Right can use to appeal to broad swaths of Americana.
Better to argue from the positive, by saying let’s mix mangers, dreidels, and sleighs because we are a diverse people and we respect everyone, etc., rather than pushing no mangers and crosses period. By diffusing the meaning of symbols, progressive pluralism brings the battle to our turf along with a foundation of values which appeals to the other 90% of people. I hate to argue from historical determinism but it is clear that the evangelical mind is opening and finding common ground with the rest of the world. Poverty, AIDS, the environment–if you are not aware of this, read more widely here!
Most of these kids graduating from Wheaton, Azusa, Westmont, BIOLA and Hope are bored with the old fights, and so are a new generation of Catholics. I know because I just sat in a room with several hundred of them, one of whom has been living on the Arizona boarder bringing water to migrants as they cross. She received a lot of applause. She may say “under God” but frankly her actions speak much louder than what those words symbolize to those on the far Right or left. Something is changing in the battle, and real liberal hope–an American government for the common good–just might materialize if we continue to welcome folks like her and Senator Obama into our “Democratic” process.
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