My participation in the Secular Social Justice Conference
My good friend and old colleague Dr. Mark Silk calls the end of religious identity politics a couple of weeks after declaring the Religious Right dead. Personally, I think race is trumping (no pun intended) religion this year, but as the natural progression (regression?) of an ideology rooted in white Christian supremacy. He writes:
In a crazy political year, perhaps we have one thing to applaud: the evident end of religious identity politics. Evangelicals have been decidedly lukewarm toward preacher’s kid Ted Cruz and fellow-traveler Rubio, and they showed no interest whatsoever in Mike Huckabee this time around. Jews, so far as we can tell, are not particularly feeling the Bern. And Catholics barely gave Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum the time of day.
I’m not so sure this end is a reason to applaud. The Republican Party is a Christian Party -or a party for certain types of Christians. All the candidates openly praised god, the Christian version of it. While it is true that some candidates were more a part of the Christian/Religious Right than others, at this point in history every potential GOP candidate knows what religious buttons to push.
Since all of them love Jesus, they have to differentiate each other by expressing who they hate the most. The foreign policy proposals of all the GOP candidates are about blowing up anything that is outside of our borders. Only Trump stands out by viciously (and explicitly) attacking and threatening violence against their domestic others: religious minorities, black, brown, red, and yellow, independent women. That’s why Trump is so appealing. And that’s no reason to applaud.
Photo credit: Donald Trump at 2015 CPAC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
I sometimes think that in the minds of conservatives, the best constitutional scholars in this country are not in the Supreme Court, in the halls of our top universities, or in the offices of major legal institutions. The rhetoric about people coming to the United States and immediately gaming the system suggests that in the minds of anti-immigrant conservatives (a Venn diagram that becomes smaller each passing day) our most brilliant legal minds are those who risk life and family to come to undocumented into this country.
Now, a judge thinks that the brilliant legal minds coming to the country includes the thousands of children detained trying to cross the border. According to Judge Jack Weil based in Virginia, children as young as age 3 can be explained our immigration laws and can forgo legal representation.
I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience … They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.
I think that his logic opens wide open the pool of candidates to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But in all seriousness, this is appalling. This is the same logic that condones charging children as adults. Children of color in this country are not allowed to be kids, they are dangerous minds from birth and not worthy of civil or human rights. And yet we ask why Donald Trump is so popular.
A new survey finds, once again, that a majority of Latinos favor abortion rights for women. Unfortunately, the images the media have on Latinos mostly fall into two camps. There are those who think we are all Catholic and who pray for the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe in an hourly basis. Or, thinking that the fastest-growing religion among Latinos is Pentecostalism. Most people are wrong on both assumptions and it matters when it comes to understanding Latinos and abortion rights. A majority of Latinos are in favor of legalized abortion, access to healthcare for women, and other reproductive rights for three reasons: partisanship, religious practice, and growing secularism.
Legal access to abortion is a mainstream position in the Democratic Party and a majority of Latinos identity as Democrats. While there may be pockets of socially conservative Latinos who identify as Democrats, most Latinos agree with their co-partisans as I pointed out a few years ago. Thus, it should be not surprising that a group in which a majority identify with a party where most members approve of legal access to abortion are in favor of a woman’s right to choose.
Of course, abortion and contraception are still banned by the Catholic Church. But PRRI’s Hispanic Values Survey found that Latino Catholics are split on the matter of abortion. It is fair to assume that a majority of Latino Catholics who identify as Democrats are in favor of legal abortion. The same survey find that many Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on many issues. This makes sense because, as I pointed out in my interview in The Ra-Men Podcast earlier this week, there are variations of belief and practice among Latinos, especially Catholics. Many Latinos are Catholic due to tradition or cultural inertia and do not think much of it. They may celebrate Catholic holidays and practice sacraments once in a while, particularly those that are part of life-cycle events such as baptisms and marriages, but not think about the religion and its rules as a matter of everyday decision making. In other words, many Catholic Latinos live very secular lives.
Although Pentecostalism among Latinos makes headlines, the truth is that the fastest-growing “religious” group among Latinos is the nones. Most of the nones are former Catholics who are admitting what has been obvious for a long time. Many Catholics are so by tradition and now feel free to admit what they have felt for a long time. The Latino nones are more liberal on social issues, as nones in general tend to be in American politics. This is confirmed by many polls, including the PRRI and Pew polls linked here.
We try to rationalize why Latinos’ historically conservative attitudes on social issues keep shifting to the left as if the population is predominantly Christian. It is still is, but not to the extent it was a generation ago. The growth of Latino secularism has implications for American politics as candidates and strategists, and the community’s leaders attempt to understand how to harness the power of Latinos’ numbers. As progressives we need to realize that a secular left is slowly forming, that it has the potential of being a multi-racial and multicultural coalition. Most importantly, progressives need to stop pandering with token religious language to a constituency that with each passing day becomes more secular. It is shortsighted, shows a disregard for facts and trends in favor of stereotypes, and it is insulting to those that are a key player in the future of the movement.
Photo Credit: USC University Church Sign by Jason Eppink (Flickr)
Yes, you read that correctly. Last week David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist, penned a column that I mostly agree with.
He writes about the rise of antipolitics, or a method of wanting and attempting to impose your views about society and policy as if other groups or interests different from your own are not just matters of disagreement, but illegitimate. This antipolitics stands in contrast with politics, or the process of making decisions through public debate and compromise because people acknowledge the existence of varying and often contradictory interests. Eventually, the antipolitics people participate in elections, often with the following consequences, which is my favorite quote of the piece:
“The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.
The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.”
This is why messianic movements are dangerous. A democratic process is imperfect. While victories by the antipolitics fans will not yield the desire results, even if they did it does not mean the culmination of a process or the pinnacle of politics. New problems will arise from the proposed solutions. That is the problem with and the beauty of politics: decisions always have to be made because the conversation never ends.
Even when I agree on these general points about the danger of antipolitics, Brooks still thinks there’s blame to throw around for the left and the right. He’s quite wrong about this. Crazy conspiracy-driven authoritarian lefties are not part of the Democratic Party elite. By contrast, we can find many examples in the right because the Religious Right is the mainstream of the GOP. The day when Lyndon LaRouche and his followers get enough clout in the Democratic Party to influence patform and strategies will be the day when the false equivalency between the crazies in the right and the crazies in the left will stop being false. In the meantime, Mr. Brooks, it is your people who have driven our political process to a standstill.
Photo credits: “Obama’s Plan White Slavery” by Flickr user cometstarmoon
In 1980, white evangelicals switched their allegiance from Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday school, to Ronald Reagan, a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity who had opposed restrictions on gay rights and signed one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws. So why should anyone be surprised that many evangelicals are now supporting a divorced, non-churchgoing media celebrity whose record on the social issues is well to the left of his Republican rivals? –
Last week Public Religion Research Institute published a short report on the religious affiliation of self-identified Democrats and Republicans in states with contests on Super Tuesday (tomorrow).
It is not surprising that the nonreligious comprise a larger portion of the Democratic Party coalition than the Republican’s. According to the data collected for the American Values Atlas, more than 1-in-5 (22 percent) Democrats are nones, but only 1-in-10 Republicans are.
In three states the nones comprise at least 3-in-10 Democrats: Colorado (34 percent), Massachusetts (31 percent), and Minnesota (30 percent). Among Republicans, Alaska has the highest rate of nones in their coalition. One-in-five (20 percent) of Alaska Republicans are nonreligious.
Considering that the PRRI analysis divides the party coalitions in large racial and religious groupings, it is fair to assume that in most of these states the nones represent the largest segment of the Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, contrary to most of those racial/ethnic/religious groups, the nones are not as well organized politically. We do not have a well-organized secular left even though the nones have been consistent supporters of Democratic candidates for nearly 4 decades and were an important part of Barack Obama’s coalition. But until we take party politics seriously, we will not be more than a vote taken for granted but not actively mobilized. The time is due for a powerful and strong Secular Left to serve as an antidote to the damage the Religious Right has done to this country.
Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton facing off in the Democratic debate at St. Anselm College, December 19 2015; Ida Mae Astute ABC News via Flickr.
I started the week commenting on the story of Diego Kal-El Martinez, whose post at Medium narrated his journey away from Catholicism to atheism. On Tuesday I tackled secular politics again by comparing two organizational perspectives: the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association. While the AHA is placing some capital in activities aimed at getting the attention of political elites, the FFRF keeps hoping that the secular messiah will show up and finally represent the interests of secular voters.
For Feature Friday, I linked to Justin Scott’s interview in The Humanist Hour. The Staturday number of the week was the percentage of nones who voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Finally, I quote and link to a post by Latino Decisions’s David Damore explaining why Donald Trump did not win the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses.
Secular Americans want to be taken seriously in the political arena. And for good reason, the nones now rival Catholics as the single largest “religious” group in the country. Our numbers keep growing and we have little to show for it.
Two online pieces last week may me think that the tide may be finally turning. First, a press release by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation announces the (re)launch of their “I’m secular and I Vote” campaign. From the release:
The campaign will include outreach to voters across the nation through FFRF chapters, a national TV ad buy this month focusing on the separation of church and state, paid digital media ads, efforts to mobilize students on college campuses, and coordination with the nation’s other major freethought associations as part of the June 4, 2016 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C.
This sounds like a beginning of an organizing strategy. However, the final quote by Annie Laurie Gaylor “[m]any [secular voters] appear to be waiting for a candidate who acknowledges them as a group and speaks forcefully about keeping religion out of government,” makes me think that FFRF may be free from religious affiliation but not free from religious thinking. The quote indicates that secular Americans are waiting for a messiah, a “chosen one” politician who will finally pay attention to us.
Luckily, better news come from the American Humanist Association. An article in the Houston Chronicle there’s a brief description of the work done by the Center for Freethought Equality.
[T]he political action arm of [Roy] Speckhardt’s organization [the American Humanist Association], maintains an Internet report card, rating lawmakers’ voting records on humanist issues. Texas congressmen generally rate F’s. It lobbies secret nonbelievers in Congress to “come out of the closet” and, in coming months will make public its endorsements for November’s election.
We need to do more of this elite-level type of politics. And our organizations need to take steps like endorsing candidates and contributing to campaigns. But if we want politicians to listen to us we need to produce our own political class. The secular leadership needs to come up with a game plan to develop candidates. Not just for Congress, but for lower local and state offices, places where future secular members of the national government can be trained in the art of governing. We cannot keep just relying on individual candidates outing themselves as secular and running fringe campaigns (as Libertarians or Greens), then complaining that “we are the most hated group” and that is why we cannot get elected.
Susan Jacoby published an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday titled “Sick and Tired of ‘God Bless America’” where she bemoans the fact that despite being a fast-growing demographic, we the secular still get no respect from politicians. In the piece she asks a question that, well, she doesn’t answer:
The question is not why nonreligious Americans vote for these candidates [who pay lip service to religion] — there is no one on the ballot who full-throatedly endorses nonreligious humanism — but why candidates themselves ignore the growing group of secular voters.
I think I have three answers to the question why candidates ignore secular voters. The first one deals with the strength of secular identity, the second with the intersectional identities of many in the movement, the third is the lack of sophisticated political thinking in the secular community and its organizations.
Although the secular population keeps growing, as Jacoby rightly points out, it seems that most nonreligious Americans do not care much about religion. In other words, among those who identify as nonreligious, being secular is not a very important aspect of their lives. A bit of public opinion polling can help illustrate this point.
In 2012 Public Religion Research Institute, my former employer, released its annual American Values Survey. The 2012 AVS focused on religious change, with an emphasis on Catholics and the unaffiliated (or nones). One of the questions, which is more or less standard in religion studies, is asking the importance of one’s religious identity in our life. The AVS found three different types of religious nones: atheists/agnostics, secular, and a category called “unattached believers.” The latter tend to give more importance to being religious in their life, as 57 percent report that their religious identity is “the most” or “very” important. Among those who identified as secular only 12 percent said this identity is very important.
Self-identified atheists and agnostics are supposed to be the most active in terms of secular identity politics. These are the ones more likely to belong to secular organizations but only 13 percent say that this identity is very important. It is possible that many of these people are very active politically, but their secularism (as an identity) is not political. It is more of a personal choice, like being vegetarian.
It could also be the case, that many secular Americans have intersectional politics. This may be the case with younger cohorts, particularly women and people of color. I participated in the Secular Social Justice Conference earlier this month where I met many secular activists of color who are doing the tough balancing act of being openly secular and working for social justice on issues that are way beyond the sphere of church-state relations. These are people changing what we think of secularism and politics: moving beyond policing Ten Commandments monuments and opening prayers into making the world a better place. In other words, they are practicing their humanism.
But many secular people do not feel they have to bring their secular identity to the fore when doing social justice work. Many are working in political or social justice causes but their secular identity is superseded politically by other identity or identities. They are active politically, they have candidates listening to them, but they are focusing on other issues like when I was working on campaigns with Latino voters.
Finally, the secular movement is in its political infancy. The Religious Right has a 4-decade head start on us. They became a force in American politics not waiting for politicians to listen to them and whining when they don’t. They organized and used the power of their organizations to build an amazing infrastructure of think tanks, political training, and legal work.
They made politicians realize they matter. They didn’t sit around waiting for them to show up. If you do that, you will be irrelevant regardless of how large your presumed constituency is. Politicians don’t do outreach, they look for votes, sure-fire votes. The organizing is ours to do. So far our secular organizations have failed us in that regard. They have not shown the leadership required in the political arena.
There are some exceptions. Jacoby mentions the work of the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy, especially Michael De Dora. He is a great ambassador for politics, but the OPP’s work is primarily lobbying. Also, she calls CFI a think tank, and as much as I like the organization, I don’t think we have real think tanks in the secular world. I know think tanks, having worked for some or other sort for a decade and a half, the secular world is not even close to have the sort of think tank we need. Something like the Heritage Foundation…without the crazy stuff…is more akin to what we need.
There may be other reasons why we are not as strong politically as we should be. These are my three cents. But one thing is clear to me: it is ironic that a movement built on science and reason is waiting for miracles to happen.