Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Religion and politics

Mike the Mad Biologist has a way of asking the important questions. Today he asks Can Feingold Be a Good Catholic?:
Clearly, the citizens of the state of Wisconsin think his being a 'bad' Catholic is not a problem. Since Feingold is Jewish, and therefore does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I think I'm on pretty firm ground in saying that he would not be, in fact, a good Catholic.

While I'm being a wiseass regarding Feingold, I think the question does demonstrate just how stupid the "he's a bad [fill in your religion here]" arguments are. As I said before, the self-inflicted Democratic angst over religion is just silly: the Democrats are playing right into the hands of the Republicans. The response should simply be, "So-and-so isn't a good Christian/Catholic either, and he seems to be doing a good job according to his constituents."
This is all part of an ongoing razing of Steve Waldman's asinine comments on Democrats and religion. I've seen people argue that we're all atheists or agnostics, from the right angle. I don't believe in Odin, that is a god I don't think exists. Senator Feingold and Pat Robertson are also atheists in the same way.

What do we look for in a politician discussing religion? Surely doctrinal agreement shouldn't be the standard. That would be fruitless, since we're all religious minorities. Waldman cites this study in complaining about the disproportionate influence of "seculars" on Democratic politics. Indeed, Democrats get a disproportionate share of seculars, and Republicans get a disproportionate share of the Religious Right and of "Traditional Christians." The largest demographic group in the total population represents a mere 15%.

It's also worth noting that, as with the MyDD poll, Democrats are more fragmented than Republicans. The two groups named above are the only ones where Republicans have a clear advantage (even Evangelicals are fairly evenly split), but Democrats have the edge among the Religious Left, Seculars, and Black Protestants. Each group has distinct concerns, and speaking clearly on the details of religious matters to each group will sound very different. "Traditional Christians" and the Religious Right share concerns about gay marriage and abortion, and share a broad theological framework that a candidate can tap into.

The Religious Left has a very liberal theology, with high support for a woman's personal right to choose and for civil unions or gay marriage. Black Protestants tend to oppose both. The Religious Left and Seculars both "oppose the political involvement of religious organizations," while Black Protestants are "quite comfortable with the political involvement of religious organizations."

Cutting that Gordian knot requires that Democrats distinguish between the values that they hold and the religious context that each person might have. I share fundamental values with a wide range of people across the religious spectrum, from atheists to committed theists in many denominations. So does Russ Feingold. The fact that we differ on some particular point of doctrine doesn't matter, because we're promoting a common good. People can worry about transubstantiation on their own time, in public life, we have bigger problems to address.