Liberals are overlooking a major political ally: Yes, there’s a religious left!

It's one thing to attack the religious right -- but another to condemn the religious. A vital warning for liberals

Topics: The Left, Liberals, Progressives, Editor's Picks, Religion, Religious Right, Christian Conservatives, Christianity, Atheists,

Liberals are overlooking a major political ally: Yes, there's a religious left! Rev. Al Sharpton(Credit: MSNBC)

An umbrella group of expressly non-religious organizations, such as the recently CPAC-banned American Atheists, released a report card for Congress last week, grading senators and representatives on their record of keeping church and state separate. Predictably, the group, called the Secular Coalition for America, did not rate America’s legislators high, with over half netting F’s. The breakdown of the lucky few who managed to score A’s was telling: All were Democrats.

If the SCA hadn’t released the rubric it used – that is, its analysis of specific pieces of legislation – most would still likely accept the outcome of its scoring, as we’re used to warily monitoring the machinations of the so-called religious right. But the SCA did release its rubric, and therefore its logic is open to inquiry, and it’s not nearly so sound or clear-cut as the simple metric of a report card might suggest.

One of the bills a legislator would need to sponsor in order to score a 100 percent, for instance, was a resolution to create a national “Darwin Day” celebrating Charles Darwin and “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.” Another was the “Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” which would amend the existing “Public Health Service Act” to protect the right to conscientious abstention to healthcare providers who, for moral reasons, object to performing abortion or similar medical procedures. At first glance, both of these seem like fairly reasonable items to include on the SCA’s report card; after all, both have to do with particular worldviews and moral schemas. On second glance, however, it becomes unclear what either piece of legislation has to do with the stated purpose of the SCA report card: that is, to monitor the tendency of politicians to blur distinctions between church and state.

A healthy respect for Charles Darwin isn’t exclusive to atheists, for example. A number of Christian churches – including the Roman Catholic, United Methodist and the Church of England – have shown a great deal of amenability to the theory of evolution, and are never the institutions to object to its teaching. As for the role of scientific inquiry in the “betterment of humanity,” it’s absurd and insulting to imagine only non-religious people to be interested in the improvement of human life through scientific progress.

It’s even more bizarre to try to work out exactly what that would have to do with the separation of church and state, unless it would be necessary for the SCA that a legislator vote in favor of literally everything that did not compromise the separation of church and state in order to score a 100 percent, rather than simply refusing to vote for things that would compromise that separation. Under a metric that silly, a legislator could refuse to sponsor “National Everyone Is Now a Christian Day” and also refuse to sponsor “National Bert and Ernie Day” and still fail to score an A merely because Bert and Ernie don’t compromise the separation of church and state and thus, like Charles Darwin, necessarily belong in the orbit of legislation by some strange metric.

The same story applies to the bill that would protect rights of conscience. First, a person can conscientiously object to a practice without any involvement in religion whatsoever. Second, the act would signal the government’s refusal to act upon individuals who, for reasons of conscience, did not want to perform a particular service. In that sense it’s a clear-cut push for neutrality: Abortion and other objectionable procedures will remain legal, it’s just that people who disagree with them will be able to abjure without consequence. This is a retreat of religion from the public sphere into the private, not an example of the state confirming a particular set of necessarily religious beliefs by enacting the beliefs themselves.

What can account for this weird selection of principles? The surrounding issues help explain: Along with legislation that really does expressly concern government money going to religious institutions and practices – such as the expansion of various chaplaincies and the promotion of prayer at school board meetings – there are numerous pieces of legislation surrounding sex education, same-sex marriage and abortion/contraception.

So while some of these issues really are manifestations of a slippage of power and funds between the institutions of church and state, others are rather merely instances of government operating with Christian ethics, which is just as odious to the SCA. When focused as a contestation of power between secular ethics and ethics that find their origin in Christian thought, it’s easy to see how the Darwin Day and Health Care Conscience Rights Act found their way into the SCA’s rubric: Both are symbolic of the ongoing struggle for cultural authority between secular and religious frameworks.

That the only A-scoring legislators were Democrats is key here: The constituency that would most like to see religious ethics disappear from the cultural landscape mostly align themselves to the left of the political spectrum. That the SCA willingly aligns itself with symbolic legislation that takes a shot at religion writ large could, however, ultimately damage the prospects of the left as a coalition. The reality is that leftist religious people – even Christian leftists – exist, and are a willing political resource for those who can see past an aversion to religion itself in the interest of bettering our politics.

According to recent Pew polling, the death penalty, ever a right-wing standby, is undergoing a diminishment in support: yet while 55 percent of unaffiliated voters support the death penalty, only 37 percent of Hispanic Catholics do, and a mere 33 percent of black protestants. Pew data also reveals that while 76 percent of unaffiliated adults believe that human beings have evolved over time, a slightly larger 78 percent of white mainline Protestants believe evolution has taken place in humans. On the topic of assisted suicide, an issue of admitted importance to the SCA, majorities of both white mainline Protestants and white Catholics believe individuals have the right to seek medically assisted suicide in cases of extraordinary pain and/or incurable illness. All of these issues can be stacked against a backdrop of long-standing leftist tendencies among, say, black Protestants and Catholic workers’ movements. It is simply not the case that religious, even committedly and strongly religious, must mean right-wing.

It may well be the reality that the SCA and organizations of a similar aim object purely to the idea of the supernatural (in which case they would have to expel the agnostics in their ranks who permit the possibility of such a thing) and intend to nudge religion out of the public sphere for that reason alone. But based on the issues that appear meaningful to the SCA and the side they fall out on, it seems there’s rather a political agenda tied up in their secularism, and it’s a decidedly leftist one.

While it may be appealing to push back hard against the religious right in order to make de facto political gains in a leftist agenda, doing so ham-fistedly deprives the religious left and the secular left of a well-deserved coalition through which to achieve, of all things, the betterment of humanity. It may be quite a task for organizations like the SCA to warm up to the idea of the religious left, but it also may be a wise strategy toward furthering left goals.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...