"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Crow

(*Joni Mitchell.  If you don't get that, I can say no more.)

I want to unashamedly steal Pastor Dan's words because I agree with them, and want to expand on them a bit (he mentions he's doing this "Atrios-style," which I'll admit I don't understand.  I was a commenter there when he was a denizen of the Great Orange Satan, but it's been so long since I ventured back to Eschaton I've either forgotten what "style" the place had, or things have changed that much.  Anyway, full disclosure over, on with the news!).  The topic is how Democrats need a "faith outreach...particularly to white and other conservative or moderate religious voters."  The response to that is fairly predictable, but well worth talking about anyway.  Start with the obvious question:

Who is this strategy supposed to reach? Black voters don’t vote on social issues, and white voters who do don’t vote Democratic. Why should Democrats chase a segment of the electorate that’s aging, shrinking, and moving to the right, while ignoring seculars who are younger, growing, and vastly more aligned with party positions? Why should Democrats hedge on positions like abortion or LGBT freedoms that the vast majority of their constituency agree upon in favor of the framing of a tiny minority?
Because, apparently, 30% of the electorate (or GOP voters, or some slice of the U.S. population that may, or may not, be 30% of the actual physical population; it's damned hard to pin that down) now run the country and we all must acknowledge that.  Or at least acknowledge we can't talk to them (well, except for Sarah Silverman, the Trump voter whisperer) because they live in another reality and from there, where the socks go in the dryer and your cat goes when you can't find here (mine goes to talk to Coraline, so maybe in real life all Trump voters have button eyes!  You heard it here first!  It's a needle and thread conspiracy!), they rule the country.  I dunno; somehow "those voters," the ones who vote for a party that is not Democratic (like Alabama voters who will stand by Roy Moore because he has an "R" by his name on the ballot; like most voters in the South, which has been a one-party region since Reconstruction, if not before), will be convinced to vote for Democrats who are not Blue Dogs and who will put Democrats back in power permanently and bring the Millenia (a few decades late, but, hey!) and save us all from ourselves.  Or at least acknowledge they are Trump's base, and that makes them powerful; maybe.  Or something.  It all ultimately comes down to The One who is prophesied to Come and Save Us In Our Darkest Hour.  When actually it all comes down to "if only."  No one ever notes how low voter turnout was in 2016, and "if only" we'd gotten more of those voters to show up, we wouldn't be cringing as the world goes mad across the globe while Trump rages at another black athlete on Presidential Twitter.

Either these are matters of basic liberty or they’re not. How is faith outreach more effective than registering new voters and pushing back on voting restrictions? In what sense did Little Sisters of the Poor have to provide birth control to its nuns?
I mean, yeah.  I have no love for Roy Moore, and would be happy to seem him brought down for being a creep as for being a vicious know-nothing (the former being always more likely than the latter), but must we leap from Roy Moore to declaring Bill Clinton should have resigned and is now a pariah for not having done so?  Michael Tomasky wonders (rightly) why we would want to eat our historical young, and I wonder why the Little Sisters of the Poor matter so much to birth control and Bill Clinton to the image the Democrats want to protect (how many millennial remember Clinton at all?  Some of them weren't born when he left office.).  Is this supposed to appeal to faith-based voters somehow?  Or should we look more skeptically on women who make allegations of sexual harassment, for the sake of a few new voters?

And the list goes on. It seems obvious that Dems should reach out to religious voters, but the more critical that outreach is deemed, the more argle-bargle the reasoning becomes. While faith appeals might help peel off a few members of the Republican base, there’s no evidence that it will lead to a broad Democratic appeal, that it’s any more important than a solid economic platform, a charismatic candidate, or keeping the ferkakte Russians from meddling in American elections.

And by "religious," of course, we mean a certain kind of "religious."  Certainly not the kind identified as supporters of Roy Moore, but close, right?  Not the kind of religious like me, a progressive religious nut with radical ideas about the first being last and the last first, the first of all being last of all and servant of all, the kind who say give Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's, and put the "Christ" back in "Christian."  No, not that kind.  Not the kind that preaches tolerance and love and emphasizes the Beatitudes over the Ten Commandments, Isaiah's holy mountain over Daniel's Armageddon, or who sees in the Revelation to John the ultimate vision of hope and redemption instead of the hope of ultimate slaughter and destruction.  We don't mean that kind, either.  I can cite a number of parables about stewardship ("a solid economic platform") that would do more for people than the gospel of prosperity, but I have a feeling the kind of "religious" being sought would prefer the latter over the former.

Ultimately, any attempt at wooing "religious" voters ends up with the world laundering the church (I'm keeping that metaphor!), rather than the church laundering the world.  We tried it the other way for awhile, and we ended up with corrupt popes and greedy monks (just look to Chaucer, hardly a Reformist in the 14th century; but he knew) and all manner of problems.  We still have it today.  Billy Graham was a toady to the powerful, not a challenge.  Don't get me started on Ralph Reed or the Moral Majority.  We cannot launder the world's dirty linens; it will only put us through the wringer, and what comes out is "Christmas" attached only to secular ends and needs, and Easter that is all about new clothes and another occasion for a big meal before summer cookouts and autumn tailgates.  We are not going to save the world, not by trying to use the world.  And we are not going to be better off by trying to get the world, even so small a part of it as a political party in America, to turn their attention to us.  Heck, we are barely us, anyway.  Our work is elsewhere, and not measured in votes or election ballots or bottom lines on ledger sheets.

Pastor Dan would likely say I go too far, now.  I would likely say we still haven't gone far enough.  That's the kind of religious nut I am.  Certainly not the kind sought out by saviors of the Democratic party.  That's okay.  I'm not trying to save anybody.

I'm just going to add to this the Adam Serwer article at the Atlantic, but add it only by reference.  Read it for yourself, it's well worth the effort.  We're still looking for an excuse for Trump's triumph:  Russian hacking, economic anxiety,

Oh, I'll quote Walker Percy, whom Serwer quotes, because Percy is always quotable:

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He’s not,” Percy said. “He’s not just appealing to the old Klan constituency, he’s appealing to the white middle class. And don’t think that he or somebody like him won’t appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens.”
I don't know if Percy would describe the fundamental problem as original sin, but I'm convinced culture, whether on a national scale or just the locus of a congregation, is as permanent as genetics.  Texas has been a one-party state since Reconstruction, and a conservative one (more so since the '60's than before; call it a backlash, which is what Serwer is describing though he doesn't seem to realize it).  Yet a minor percentage of Texas residents today are "native Texans."  How is it the culture, political and otherwise, remains virtually unchanged despite the radical change in persons making up (and adopting) that culture?

Now you know what you're looking for.


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