A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sometimes it's tempting to look at the secularity of other western nations as a sign of advancement. The amount of religiosity in the US seems to translate into attacks on the sciences, in particular evolution, attacks on gay and lesbians, and lends itself to active support of warmaking. And yet such a conclusion fails to draw a distinction between diffferent forms of religiosity in this country, collapsing evangelical protestantism with the term religion.

It also doesn't address the vacuum which the collapse of traditional religion in these western nations have created. Before religion was typically moderate to liberal, state bodies from the Anglicans in the UK to the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia. With the loss of these church's hold in society, we've had a brief summer of what some call "secularism" but nature abhoring a vacuum means that other things are starting to fill in this whole, illiberal ideologies which threaten the very things we may admire in such countries.

Partly it's a question of whether such nations have a compelling liberal vision from which questions of ultimacy might be raised. Without one, other groups promoting an illiberal framework will come in to provide answers. Some are looking at the west's inability to respond to the rise of radical Islam as an example, but another is the rise and exportation of evangelical protestantism and the US culture war model to other nations.

In the Britian some rightwing Tories have looked to the successes of the religious right and the GOP in the US as an inspiration and a framework based on "traditionalist notions of the church, patriotism and family values" from which they can find an indentity and perhaps make inroads in the country. In New Zealand, the Labour government's support of civil unions has produced a social conservative backlash, which the previously moderate National Party is trying to exploit by moving right on these social issues.

US evangelical groups from Focus on the Family to Campus Crusade, have done cross border work, in helping evangelicals in Canada create a social, political, and religious atmosphere which mirrors the US's religious right. "U.S. evangelicals have helped create a Republican Christianity in Canada". With rising evangelical numbers and increased visibility of social issues, the Conservative Party has moved rightward to exploit this change.

And in Australia, their last election, mirrored what happened in the US. The discovery of an army of evangelicals and social conservatives that came out in significant numbers to re-elect the right of center government. The values debates, the debates about abortion, increasing opposition to gay and lesbian rights, and an increase in evangelical church numbers in the country. And increasingly through out Europe, a more conservative Catholicism has broadened it's assault on reproductive and women's rights.

The collapse of the mainline and of any overarching liberal vision in which questions of meaning and ultimacy can have a place to be worked out in the end has not provided the grounds for secularity at all. Rather it has provided a door by which fundamentalisms of the right, whether protestant, catholic, or muslim, have been able to come in and exploit. The decision by some on the left to attack or court religion fails to address why a liberal framework has collapsed and what might be done about it. It's a conversation which needs to begin.


At 11:03 PM , Blogger greg said...

Nice insight, Dwight. Western liberals were apparently a little too quick to declare victory and go home. Still, reaction is as much a part (maybe a bigger part?) of human social evolution as progress. Many people before us have lived through times like these - now it's our turn.

At 4:45 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

In the UK, the 3 main political parties are right-wing, at least in an economic sense: see http://www.digitalronin.f2s.com/politicalcompass/extremeright.php.
Personally I'm quite disgusted at how the liberal democrats have moved towards the right as well; the Greens are a bunch of hippy loonies with the occasional good thought (by accident rather than design). Only per-country minor parties that never stand a chance of getting in power in Westminster are sensible.

The real question is how to persuade people to actually vote for them...

At 8:54 AM , Blogger Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

The collapse...has not provided the grounds for secularity at all

Surely you were not hoping it would; Or am I misunderstanding what you mean by secularity?

...fundamentalisms of the right

What would you say are the fundamentalisms of the left? Not being snarky, I really want to know what you think.

why a liberal framework has collapsed and what might be done about it

I think it is premature to mourn "the collapse of the liberal vision." If liberalism were dead we would be debating whether to allow divorce, instead of whether to allow gay marriage; But for the sake of argument, I will say liberalism is collapsing because it was built on human institutions and was devoted to providing for human needs.

Liberal ideology seems to focus on what we have, rather than on what are; As if everything would be jolly if we could just find the optimal distribution of stuff. The vacuum you speak of came from feeding the body instead of the soul.

I'm really struck by your last paragraph. I'll have to give it some thought.

Tom Harrison

At 11:06 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

If fundamentalist means intolerant, certainly there are people on the left who fit the bill. And yes there are plenty of liberals and yes elections can still be won and evidence of activism is still around.

What I was trying to get at was the loss of a liberal framework, that is, a story we tell ourselves...one where issues such as the meaning of life, what are we, where are we going, a vision of society, what is of value and why is largely gone.

Socialism used to provide such a story in Europe and in the US maybe until the 50s a vision of a rational social democratic society did as well, but this and any ism on the left no longer is able to do so. We have instead interest group politics and a privatization of ultimate questions.

I think that collapse coincides the (not sure what came first really) with the decline of the mainline protestant church in these countries. Some on the left celebrate this, in a post modern age asking for a "grand narrative" is an illicit move. But my assertion is that people are meaning seekers, looking for a coherent vision of life.

For the left to deny the importance of such a vision or attempts to privatize such ultimacy questions doesn't solve the problem, it increases it...people look elsewhere for this, and thus illiberal ideologies come in to fill the void...which is why the one genuine movement in the US today along these lines is the religious right.

What I'm suggesting is that a liberal vision (whether theistic or not, I'm not trying to describe a set of political positions but an overall vision of life in this world) needs to happen, needs to feed the soul so to speak, and that attempts to privatize or mimic religion is somewhat a surface response to the situation we face.

I can imagine the British elections were a bit painful for that...people sometimes asked my views on the election and while years past I would have instinctively hoped for a Labour win, the political spectrum seems to have been messed up (and then there's the question of the war)

True...I suppose every time has it's trials, our age being no different.

At 3:06 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

Quoth Dwight:

> people sometimes asked my views on the election and while years past I would have instinctively hoped for a Labour win, the political spectrum seems to have been messed up

Hmmm. Yes, in the 80s/90s Labour swung massively across the spectrum from left to right, as part of a conscious drive to market themselves to the masses. In the process, anything good they stood for has been lost. They stand for all the 1984-esque control that we dislike seeing in the US, with their RIP Bill (failure to disclose encryption key => 2yrs in jail), and ID cards (that won't actually prevent any specific incident but are good because everyone wants to pay the government £100 stupidity-tax, don't they?), and so on; they also operate by proposing a Bill i ludicrously generalised terms and letting the opposing parties do their work to sanitize it, but that never seems to be done to completion. The LibDems impressed me, and frequently still do, being on the side of the people - except that after the last election, I heard Charles Kennedy saying they wanted to appeal to the population more, so I guess we can expect them to go downhill on policies *again*.


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