You move me

I’ve been noticing a trend (one that was clearly there already–this is nothing new) among progressives to totally discount religion, often while mocking the religious, as ridiculous, unnecessary, and/or inherently harmful. (I noticed it most recently in this thread about circumcision, which I haven’t jumped into at all because as a dyke I don’t think I really should get any say in anybody’s boyparts.) And I have to say, as a progressive person with some religious tendencies, that strikes me as really sad.

I will totally concede that I have heard some totally wack shit from religious folk, particularly fundamentalists of various stripes. And I know enough about our major world religions to know that many of their core texts reinforce a lot of the patriarchical values cherished historically, which ideally wouldn’t have a place in today’s world. And believe me, having come from a school whose mascot was the Crusader (yes, those Crusades), I’m painfully aware of the myriad ways religions have been used to excuse utterly vile abuse, oppression, and violence.

But knowing all these things, I’m not ready to condemn all religions or all religious people.

Why not? Well, I see some value in a few of the teachings that seem to weave through most faiths: respect for human life, a desire to do good, an aspiration to some kind of higher existence. And because I see so much hope. I see congregations fighting to let women be clergical leaders. I see bishops fighting for marriage equality. I read sermons urging racial equality. So forgive me if I’m not willing to throw all that away.

I guess I just don’t see how it’s helpful to attack the Catholic church when there are Catholics out there working for social justice, or to declare the Muslim religion inherently backward and violent when there are Muslim women promoting feminist causes in the face of incredible opposition. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t call religions and the religious on the kinds of injustice that still persist under the banner of spirituality; we absolutely should. But I really can’t understand what is productive about the current tone of discourse so many progressives seem to enjoy when it comes to matters of faith.

Can anyone enlighten me?


13 Responses to You move me

  1. Myca says:

    I don’t find religion inherently harmful . . . but as a nonreligious person, I make my determination of what is or isn’t harmful based on other criteria, and I don’t consider religion an ‘out’ either.

    In other words, I have my own ethical system, and I don’t consider ‘god told me’ to be a justification for abusive behavior towards other people . . . but I DO consider it a fine justification for other behavior I might consider odd (taking peyote, fasting, prayer, etc).


  2. JackGoff says:

    I’ve been noticing a trend (one that was clearly there already–this is nothing new) among progressives to totally discount religion

    What Myca said. “My religion told me to do X” as an argument is okay up to the point that X becomes something that degrades or hurts someone else. Infant circumcision may be on the lesser side of harm, but it still constitutes a violation of someone else’s bodily autonomy, which is why my ethics are against it.

  3. pandanose says:

    And I have to say I agree with that. Just as “God told me” isn’t a justification for abuse, “God told me not to” shouldn’t be our only deterrant from doing harm to others. I’d like to think a lot of us would still have a problem with murder even if we didn’t have a Commandment against it.

    I guess I just don’t understand why so many people with politics I otherwise generally agree with seem perfectly comfortable saying “Religion X is batshit” and “People who believe in X are crazy,” since they’re also generally upset when other people say “Feminism is batshit” or “People with x orientation or y ethnic background are inferior.”

  4. JackGoff says:

    But knowing all these things, I’m not ready to condemn all religions or all religious people.

    And also, could you please quote where it was said that all religious people should be condemned? I’m not getting that from anyone over at that thread. Sure, there are reactionary non-religious people who are a bit over-the-top with their rhetoric, but I don’t see where they were posting on that thread.

  5. JackGoff says:

    I, thinking about it, did say that

    The burden becomes “is circumcision necessary?”, and, for me, “my religion says yes” is bullshit.

    Which could be taken to mean what you are objecting to, and I’m sorry about my poor wording. I meant that it is bullshit in the given instance, not that “my religion says yes” is always bullshit. Again, sorry about that.

  6. pandanose says:

    Heh. I was still searching the thread when you posted the second time… I should maybe edit the post to clarify that it wasn’t in this particular thread that the tone has been the worst–a lot of comments I’ve read on Pandagon come to mind for that prize. The thread just made me think about it again.
    And Rhus at 92 did say this: “About the religious argument: it could be because I am an agnostic, but I can’t take it seriously. Too many absurd, horrid things have been done in the name of religion, and you don’t even have to be irreligious to agree.”
    I took that to mean that because terrible things have been done in the name of religion, all religious arguments should be discounted. And that’s the kind of sentiment (along with the snarky “Fundies are batshit!” banter) that I find troubling.

  7. 2007archive says:

    An interesting blog indeed!

    As I read your words, I am carefully reminded that at the base of all man’s misguided acts in the name of “religion” lays one truth, the definition of religion. Religion is nothing more than man’s search for God. Like you I have often thought of the despairing acts committed in the name of religion, but it wasn’t until I focused on the definition of religion that I realized imperfect men and women searching for God committed those acts. We must remember, for those of us who believe in a place called heaven, to gain entry, humans must first be sinners, a qualification we come by quite readily.

    James C. Tanner

    James C. Tanner is a retired entrepreneur, a former special Investigator, and a published writer with an average monthly readership of 12.5 million people.

  8. mo says:

    i fully support each person’s spiritual journey. if said journey includes participation in organized religion, i have respect for such a decision. i think the existance of a *decision* is key, tho, because because when spirituality becomes a passive course of action people tend to forget (or perhaps never realize) why spirituality matters to them. organized religion can offer people the option of being passive about their spirituality but still being part of an active community, which can transition into using this religion and its beliefs as an excuse to do things an individual wants to do anyway. religion then becomes something to hide behind instead of a framework for personal strength. the beef here should be, in my opinion, with people who seek out excuses to do hurtful things and with religious traditions that encourage hate rather than love. organized religion may give people the option of not thinking for themselves, but ultimately, believing that “religion is bad” just reinforces the idea that organized religion is a valid excuse for bahaviors and societal trends which we would like to change.

  9. Rhus says:

    I took that to mean that because terrible things have been done in the name of religion, all religious arguments should be discounted. And that’s the kind of sentiment (along with the snarky “Fundies are batshit!” banter) that I find troubling.

    Well, I’m honestly sorry that I’ve upset you, however slightly. And yet I wouldn’t change a comma of my original statement.

    Let me try to explain. I have a very high degree of respect and admiration for certain religious people, dead and alive. I’d feel an idiot if I didn’t – I certainly am not better or smarter than Bach or certain theologians, for instance.

    I’ll gladly examine under the light of the limited knowledge and beliefs I have any statement coming from a religious person or body. But when the Catholic church, for example, wants to be on some high moral ground or simply demands that we take it at its word because they are putting forward a religious dictate, I won’t accept it. Within the issue we were discussing, I could never accept as valid a simple “but my religion tells me/us so.” This very same argument has served before and now to justify we all know what – therefore, I would totally reject it, since it could also be put to a bad use here. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t have to listen to it. I live among religious people, and they are going to say it, and they have said it. I just answer then that I’m not buying it for said reason. Maybe I could add more reasons, but that one is enough for the purpose.

    Since JackGoff is around, let me take the opportunity to tell you that I have enjoyed very much your contributions in the thread at Feministe and they’ve made me think.

  10. G says:

    Religion does more harm than good. The good that it does is not exclusive to it. If people need a group to find spiritual fellowship, okay. But as has already been said, the moment religion is used to justify an action (good OR bad, I will add), it’s gone rotten. Religion can be a place to find a spiritual home. It should not be a place to find morals. Those you alone must develop if they are to be of any use at all.

  11. alden says:

    it seems to me that there are two things going on which popularize anti-religion-ness. (it’s ok to use two hyphens in the same word, right? ri-gh-t.)
    the first is the fact that we have a wildly unpopular, like, nixonianly unpopular president who is also one of the most closely identified with right-wing christianity. the only dudes who come to mind who can even compete with dubya at all in this realm are carter and coolidge. that’s bound to cause some grumbling, when a nutter president gives a shout out to the big man every time he gets ready to drop bombs on somebody. but the flip side is all the anti-islam racism that’s been stirred up by the war. so all of a sudden it’s become ‘fair and balanced’ for liberals to trash on religion in general- simultaneously (fairly) criticizing the christian right while accepting what the christian right says about islam, and basically equating the two. y’know, saying ‘bush and al sadr our equally dangerous to the planet’ or nonsense like that.

    so mk- i agree with your overall line, but not some of the examples. i mean honestly, the catholic church? seriously- at a certain point it becomes like, ‘don’t throw out apple barrel because there are still a few Good apples left.’ not to talk about particular catholics who are of course entirely admirable, but just look at what that institution is up to and and has always been up to. the church proper has been on the wrong side of almost everything, and when they’re on the right side, (like in that they’re basically always officially against wars) they keep quiet about it. and keep their lamp under a bushel, or whatever. just sayin.

  12. pandanose says:

    Your answer makes sense to me, alden. I hadn’t thought of dubya as a player in this, but it totally makes sense.

    As for the apple barrel- I hear what you’re saying. I do. I guess I’m just wary because I so rarely see people who are able to separate ‘criticism of a religion’ from ‘disdain for people of a religion.’ I mean, you’re totally right that His Holiness has gone totally nutz on various subjects, but I feel like recognizing that fact has led a lot of progressives to be all ‘You’re Catholic? You totally hate everyone! You’re totally insane!’

  13. bluestockingsrs says:

    Thanks for bringing this up, mk.

    I have often said that the reaction I get from progressives when I come out of the closet as a Christian is always more bigoted than when I tell them I am lesbian.

    There was a time when progressives were also people of faith – and that the Christians that agitated for human rights were progressives. Obviously, this is no longer true in modern politics, but dismissing the people who want or need religion in their lives by some stereotype is a problem.

    As someone over at Shakesville said, bigotry is not a progressive value. I am willing to bet that inlcudes religion or the absence of religion as well.

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