Thank you for Eyal Press’s nuanced and deeply informed “In God’s Country” [Nov. 20]. As a longtime Nation subscriber, I’ve always been grateful for your solidly grounded progressive perspectives, but I’ve cringed when religion was discussed in your pages. The writers tended to express a secular worldview unfortunately lacking in understanding of the complexities of religious faith in relation to sociopolitical behavior. I hope this essay signals a change at The Nation on that score.
Much thanks to Eyal Press for his thoughtful article on religion in America, showing complexities within the church often overlooked by the media. While focus groups and the mainstream media search for the ever elusive and blandly centrist “values voter,” people of all different faiths are serving the homeless in soup kitchens, running substance-abuse-recovery programs and marching against the Iraq War. If the Democrats run a proactive and hopeful agenda–one that demonstrates the moral values of peace and compassion–people will show up in 2008 in much greater numbers than this past month.
Jesus was killed in large part for preaching against the Roman Empire–a fact ignored by those invoking God in the service of US interests. Many of us pray and work for a day when the church will be a font of resistance to US military hegemony and free-market globalization. Thank you for paying attention to people of faith fighting the good fight.
Sojourners/Call to Renewal
I suppose someone had to write a “progressives are religious too” piece before election day. Eyal Press did a capable job until he drew a closing argument right out of the religious-right playbook. There has been “no shortage of secular people who have propagated murderous ideas,” Press wrote. “Hitler hardly mentioned God, and Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao never mentioned God at all”–classic misstatements.
Yes, twentieth-century Communism was atheistic. But it’s well recognized that it functioned as an alternative religion, with dogmatic claims about the dictatorship of the proletariat standing in for the afterlife, five-year plans standing in for sacraments, and so on. If anything, the example of Communism proves Sam Harris’s case against religion: the psychological mechanisms that deep faith energizes are so dangerous, they can do great harm even when evoked in a political, rather than supernatural, cause.
Press’s claim about Hitler is simply wrong. Throughout his career Hitler returned to the themes of his Catholicism and his view that he was doing God’s work. “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so,” he told Gen. Gerhart Engel in 1941. In a 1944 speech Hitler said, “I am a pious man and believe that whoever fights bravely in defense of the natural laws framed by God and never capitulates will never be deserted by the lawgiver.” There are many more examples. True, Hitler planned ultimately to syncretize Christianity with pagan elements from Germanic folklore. That might make him a bad Christian or a conflicted pagan–but never a secularist.