I, among others, was critical of this piece. Stan herself picks out a snippet from The Green Knight:
The reaction of people like these folks and these and many others has been to get organized, tell the story of what's happening, and start to push back. We're having an effect, too; even the media's beginning to find out about it now. And just at that moment -- Stan tells us not to bother. Nice.
But okay, give Stan some credit. She does have some good points, among them that if the progressive faithful ever were to attempt a challenge of the religious right, we'd need our own media empire to push things along. Personally, I think that's a smashing idea. I would happily elbow aside Chuck Currie to get in front the cameras. So that's a good idea.
Cheese and crackers, though. At some points, Stan comes across like one of those clueless dKos diarists who demand that issue X not be ignored any longer, never mind the fifteen posts on that very subject immediately before their own:
It was a modest and, I thought, obvious proposal that I put forward two weeks ago on this page: That liberals give up the notion of creating a cohesive religious left movement that could act as an effective counterforce to the animus of the religious right. Instead, I argued, liberals would do well to claim our own moral agency by virtue of our own humanity and the essential values of liberalism, which encompass the most admirable tenets of the world's great religions.
Great idea, great. Except who exactly is arguing that the religious left mirror the religious right? I've only ever heard the opposite, usually when somebody suspects me of starting to look too much like them conservative Christians. In fact, about the only people who think progressive believers are trying to be the mirror of the Religious Right are media types, who can't quite grasp what it is we're up to. That and secular leftists, who don't really understand how the whole religion thing works. The few, the proud, the prog religion bloggers, we've all drunk deep of the netroots Kool-Aid. I don't know any progressive faithful types who don't think that this is going to be a people-powered revolution. (Oddly enough, it's the clergy who most want to empower the laity. We've got enough on our plates, thank you.)
As for "claiming our own moral agency," what does Stan think has been the point of Protestantism in the past, oh, 500 years or so? Growing disciples who don't need me to tell them how to live their faith is my freaking job.
I think I know what Stan's up to, though. She seems to want progressives to "transcend" religion in favor of universal values:
[A]ccording to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) some 40 percent of people who identified themselves as belonging to a particular denomination or religion did not attend religious services in houses of worship -- nor did anyone in their households. (Because of the way the question was worded, we do not know how many non-churchgoers live in households where others attend religious services.)
That's a lot of people -- people who likely derive their ethics from a particular faith tradition, but who may not respond any better to the words of a religious liberal than they do to a religious righty. But they most likely will respond to ideas of right and wrong, and to language that sets these ideas in grand prose. (See: King James Bible.) If secular liberal politicians would simply engage the better angels of a broad, and often unchurched, electorate, they just might win.
"Grand prose." So people are only involved in the moral life to the extent that the language is purty? This is just absurdly shallow, as is the notion that by speaking on a high, general plain, pols will suddenly capture the "moral values" agenda. Christ! Haven't we had enough of mealy-mouthed politicians trying to speak to everyone, only to end up speaking for no one?
Let me tell you something: morals are a triumph of the specific over the general. The word is derived from the Latin moralis, the ways or customs of a place, after all. To try to rip one's morality out of the context in which it is grown is to strip it of any kind of pungency it might have once had. But locate it in a particular time and location, and it becomes explosive, as with the Cotton Patch Gospel:
"The spiritually humble are God's people,
for they are citizens of his new order.
"They who are deeply concerned are God's people,
for they will see their ideas become reality.
"They who are gentle are his people,
for they will he his partners across the laud.
"They who have an unsatisfied appetite for the right are God's people,
for they will be given plenty to chew on.
"The generous are God's people,
for they will be treated generously.
"Those whose motives are pure are God's people,
for they will have spiritual insight.
"Men of peace and good will are God's people,
for they will be known throughout the land as his children.
"Those who have endured much for what's right are God's people;
they are citizens of his new order.
"You all are God's people when others call you names, and harass you and tell all kinds of false tales on you just because you follow me. Be cheerful and good-humored, because your spiritual advantage is great. For that's the way they treated men of conscience in the past.
Why, when I have something this rich to chew on, would I want bland, tasteless, utterly inoffensive pabulum? I agree that religious language has a tendency to become jargonautic fairly quickly, but the answer to that is not to stop using the language, but to reclaim it. That sort of project doesn't require me to deny who I am, for one thing. For another, it answers this challenge fair and square:
"You all are the earth's salt. But now if you just sit there and don't salt, how will the world ever get salted? You'll be so worthless that you'll be thrown out and trampled on by the rest of society. You all are the world's light; you are a city on a hill that cannot be hid. Have you ever heard of anybody turning on a light and then covering it up? Don't you fix it so that it will light up the whole room? Well then, since you are Gods light which be has turned on, go ahead and shine so clearly that when your conduct is observed it will plainly be the work of your spiritual Father.
There is nothing modest or obvious about trying to take back God talk by being salty - or as I like to think of it, a piss-and-vinegar Christian. Some people don't like it, in fact. They might find it offensive, or scandalous, or stupid, and that's their right. They may not want to make common cause because of it, they might even vote against me should I ever be idiot enough to run for public office. Fine. Their loss. I'm not going to let it slow me down, though. What Stan doesn't get, at heart, is that the renascent progressive faith movement is not about out-organizing the Religious Right. It's not about influence, or lobbying, or effectiveness at the inside game. It's about standing up for what's right, and helping others to do the same, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. But to do that, we have to know what we think is right, name and claim it in all its glorious, troubling specificity - we have be ourselves before we can welcome the other.
So I long for the day when all Americans - atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans - can be themselves. I long for the day when we can all drop the pretense that we have to be the same to be together. I long for the day when we finally figure out that the melting pot sucks, but the hot, fresh gumbo of a thousand flavors is mighty tasty.
I long, above all, for the day when we can be known by what we stood for, specific and spicy and more than anything salty.
piss and vinegar salt where this came from.