Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Reason and Faith

Digby has something worthwhile to say about the place of reason in preserving freedom and equality. I especially like the line: "Religious belief is not subject to compromise and faith is not subject to reason". Digby warns that we should avoid taking the so-called "advice" the Dems are getting from the so-called "religious strategists" or run the risk of "some very unpleasant consequences".
The real problem is that by focusing on religion as being the source of positive values, these new religious left professional strategists are making the Democratic Party as dismissive of reason as the Republicans. That's as bad a long term political strategy as outright hostility to religion would be.

In order to be effective, our politics cannot be faith-based or our enlightenment inspired constitution and its fundamental rationality becomes dangerously superfluous. After all, it is not based upon faith, it is based upon some very simple observations about human nature, power and fundamental human rights which formed a system of government that is designed to allow its citizens a maximum amount of freedom and a maximum amount of equality, two "values" which are constantly in tension and are constantly evolving. Those two basic values have always formed the heart of the political debate in this country and they cannot be reconciled solely by faith. Conscience and morality certainly play the most vital role in our society and for every individual. They inform our beliefs about liberty and equality, but the state itself,made up as it is of flawed human beings, is simply not capable of organizing or acting on that basis, which is why power is divided and deliberation and debate are so highly valued in our constitution. Religious belief is not subject to compromise and faith is not subject to reason, nor should it be. It is something else entirely. [emphasis is mine --bill]


I have no problem with politicians using religious rhetoric to inform voters of their own personal views, but when appeals to positive virtues become exclusively associated with religious values we end up aiding and abetting a whole host of conservative appeals to authority in the process. We must value reason itself, and employ it liberally and respectfully or we are going to find that the epistemic relativism that the right's been so successful with in recent years will have some very unpleasant consequences.

This nation is not going to be prosperous and successful in the future if we fail to properly emphasize the idea that reason is intrinsic to democracy. And we certainly are not going to be able to deal with the complicated challenges we face, like the rise of militant fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation or global warming unless we agree that people who do not subscribe to religion can be trustworthy and that science, analysis and knowledge form as much of a legitimate basis for human progress as religion. The right demagogues these things for the express purpose of advancing their authoritarian agenda and I don't think it's wise for Democrats to allow a new class of "religious strategists" to further empower them in some ill-conceived crusade to gain votes from the least likely people in the nation to vote for them.

If the Democratic party doesn't stand for freedom and equality and the basic rational premise of the constitution then nobody does. The Republicans sold that out when they made their bed with Jerry Falwell, even though they pretended for years that they were the keepers of the flame. I'd hate to see the Democrats capitulate to the same socially regressive forces and empower the opposition in the process.

The religious and secular left have the chance together to make both reasoned and moral arguments for social justice, civil liberties and civil rights based upon our shared liberal values. Our rational and idealistic worldviews are not in tension. There is no purpose to all this pandering to the right except perhap to give a few new strategists an opportunity create a divide where none exists so they might exploit their positions as professional mediators.

Beware the insider religio-political industrial complex. It dishonestly foments this fight with bogus statistics and bad advice. Democrats are making a big mistake if they listen to them. Their political ambition is tragically weakening the one thing that keeps the nation together and keeps the right from hurtling completely out of control --- the US Constitution and a respect for the clear-eyed reason that inspired it. Democracy is not faith based and religion isn't democratic. People need to be reminded of the difference not encouraged to see them as the same thing.


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