April 24, 2004
For instance, contrary to what this guy seems to think, I’m not even remotely interested in avoiding “offending the right”. Quite the contrary, I’m entirely opposed to the kind of hand-wringing calls for cultural and political “civility” that always seem to presuppose that if the rest of us were just nicer to the wingers and fundamentalists, they’d be nice to us right back. No they wouldn’t. We’re clear on that.
My observations were about dysfunctional interactions between secular and religious people along the left end of the political spectrum. (For the sake of this discussion we will park the many libertarians we love and appreciate over here as well—simple-minded, unitary, and flawed, flawed, flawed! though such a model is.) I have never meant to suggest that (for instance) Air America shouldn’t broadcast snarky comments about religion, or that, should they cease doing so, right-wingers would suddenly start listening to Air America and agreeing with Jeanne Garofalo. Nor am I even remotely, by any stretch of the imagination, interested in living in a culture that doesn’t contain wild works of brilliant anti-religious sentiment like The Life of Brian or the monologues of Lenny Bruce.
My own views about the metaphysical and ontological claims of “religion,” and specifically of the denomination in which I was intermittently raised, are a vexed subject I’m not going to get into, partly because I am vexed by these issues and feel distinctly unequal to to the task of writing about them. I mention this because a certain number of readers seem to have jumped to distinctly mistaken conclusions about what I think in this regard. I’m much surer in my opinions about the recent public and political behavior of that particular denomination’s institutional hierarchy. I think the behavior in question sucks. I think many of those folks are in serious moral and ethical trouble, and should they happen to ask my opinion, I would be happy to provide them with a Things To Do list on which several Action Items would be ranked more highly than lecturing presidential candidates, campaigning against civil rights for gay people, and terrorizing pregnant women.
On another point, when I set out to talk about the way that liberal-slash-progressive people sometimes drive away religious people who would otherwise be their political allies, I should have acknowledged that nominal “Christianity” does indeed dominate mainstream American culture, so much so that non-Christians often feel pretty beaten down by it. In fact, hard though it may seem for some folks to believe, the kinds of Christians I was thinking about tend to themselves feel alienated from the increasingly right-wing tenor of much modern American “Christian” culture. At any rate, I really, really never wanted to cast religious liberals as a class of victims with a claim to some kind of open-ended guilt trip. Obviously, tolerance has to run both ways.
Really, I just think people ought to be more or less decent to one another, or failing that, entertaining about it. I am by temperament a promoter of coalitions and alliances, and in that persona I wince when I see potential allies grinding their heels into one another’s toes. I am also a professional aesthete, and in that capacity I love great flights of anticlerical brilliance while at the same time I wince at the kind of dreary “village atheist” who writes off Dorothy Day and Martin Buber as suckers who weren’t smart like us clever wised-up moderns. But I think this guy pretty much nailed that point. And now I’ve said everything I wanted to say, so I’m going to stop. [09:52 PM]