Closing the piety gap

By James Traub

By Salon Staff
Published August 18, 2000 7:58PM (EDT)

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James Traub's essay is typical of "naive lefties'" discomfort with the influence of religion on political life. As someone who is currently engaged in a comparative study of the influence of religious values on public policy worldwide, I have noticed that it is only in the West -- with its almost theological absoluteness on the "separation between church and state" -- that this discomfort is apparent.

The impression one may get from global politics of the '80s and '90s is that religion is an exclusive province of conservatives who favor hate, intolerance, apathy to poverty, and the wealthy. The Gore-Lieberman ticket (or the Baptist-Jewish ticket) can play a large role in providing religious artillery to liberals on the election battlefield. It is religious to end poverty, discrimination and unemployment; it is religious to promote education and rehabilitation over incarceration; and it is religious to chasten the use of money in politics.

As Traub acknowledges, religion did play a positive role in the civil rights struggle in the '60s. In other parts of the world, it has motivated people to fight for freedom from colonialism, provided the important justification for wealth distribution and helped bring down tyrants.

Let's not dis religion -- and those liberal politicians who bring it into the public sphere.

-- Thomas Uthup, Ph.D.
Institute of Global Cultural Studies
Binghamton University

James Traub spends the first portion of his article lauding the linkage between his Reform Jewish upbringing and social justice. He mentions modern Catholic theology's attentiveness to the needy. He concludes that the best thing for America would be for Gore to nominate an atheist.

Well, he has his wish partially fulfilled. Ralph Nader is running for president. Yet somehow, Nader seems by far the most zealous and inflexible of the bunch.

-- Andrew Berman

For anyone who is concerned about the dominance of religious morality issues in our public debate, we might be more concerned about the Dems than the Repubs this time. George Bush and Dick Cheney are country club conservatives, amoral to the core. Neither one of them has a truly religious bone in their bodies. Ironically, both Gore and Lieberman are both very religious, for real. And with the typical Democratic tendency to overcompensate for a perceived weakness, the Dems are likely to really hammer this morality crap for four years. I suspect Bush will largely leave it alone in his actual governance of state, much as he has seemed to do in Texas, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

We are probably going to see an African/Native/Latin/female/(insert minority group here) president before we even see an atheist veep in America, never mind an atheist president. It's sad when a presidential candidate can get away with redefining what the Constitution means (to quote Gore: "Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion") without as much as a hiccup from the media.

-- Name Withheld

Salon Staff

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