April brought downpours of mail on two subjects: “Can the Left Get Right With God?” (April 24), articles on religion by Dan Wakefield, Frances Kissling and Michael Lerner; and Philip Weiss’s “My Name Is Rachel Corrie: Too Hot for New York” (April 3), about the cancellation, under pressure, of a play based on Corrie’s journals. Below are some of your letters. –The Editors
HELLO, GOD. IT’S ME, THE LEFT
Frances Kissling’s “Looking for Salvation in All the Wrong Places” was a perfect antidote to the articles surrounding it. Dan Wakefield, in “Taking Back the Faith,” is worried about “the religious right’s theft of the meaning and the message of Christianity” and would apparently be happy to have more elected officials with “a progressive faith perspective.” Michael Lerner, in “Bringing God Into It,” has discovered that “the left’s hostility to religion is one of the main reasons people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off.” Ergo, the left needs to embrace “a set of spiritual values with progressive content.” Kissling, a practicing Catholic, rejects the view that “progressive God-talk is the best way to express moral values.” For Kissling moral, including religious, values are “best protected by a deep ethical commitment to the secular state.” “Legislators need to be asking what the people want and not what God wants.” Amen.
Week after week I search The Nation for some reflection of myself. I found it in Dan Wakefield’s and Michael Lerner’s words. That I am an evangelical Christian is the great conversation stopper of my life, which need not be so. I don’t mind the protests, condescending though they often are, from “atheists,” “secularists,” etc., who in fact I count among my friends. The point is to keep the conversation going and not impoverish intellectual life by separating all public life from religion, which in fact spawned some of the greatest progressive movements our liberal democracy has ever witnessed.
As a committed secular leftist, I agree with Michael Lerner that we on the left should not be embarrassed to “acknowledge and articulate” our values. I am quite happy to acknowledge that my political views are grounded in a belief in the moral equality and dignity of human beings. But I don’t agree that I need to bring God into it–bringing God into it might even be dangerous. Secularism is based on rational standards that are by definition open to criticism and revision in light of new situations or facts. Religion, on the other hand, rests on the unassailable authority of the word of God, an authority that, unlike secular authority, does not admit rational criticism. For this reason, notwithstanding prominent examples to the contrary, religion has mostly been and can be counted on to continue being a force of reaction, not of progress.