In yesterday’s post, I discussed the question of religion in the political arena… specifically when it comes to Prop 8, and banning same-sex marriage. I discussed the problem of how religion — a belief system based on authority, tradition, and personal feeling, a belief system that’s essentially uninterested in reason or evidence and is often uniquely resistant to it — makes for a frustrating force in politics. Today, I try to answer the question, “So what do we do about it?”
As a pragmatic, political, “what do we do about this/ how do we address this/ how do we organize around it” issue, I’m really not sure where I’m going with this.
As a hard-line atheist, my reflexive response is to say, “What we need to do is to keep working on deconverting believers into non-belief. Religion is a mistaken idea, it’s an idea that does more harm than good, and when religion reveals itself to be this strongly and stubbornly against the cause of social justice, we obviously need to keep working to uproot it from the human mindset.”
But even I have to accept that, as a realistic middle-term strategy for winning same-sex marriage in the next couple/few years, that’s not very practical.
So what do we do about it?
When traditional organized religion — with its unique power to inspire and mobilize, and its unique lack of interest in facts and arguments — gets involved in the political arena, how do you engage with it?
I know we’re not going to reach the hard-core true believers. Pretty much nothing reaches them. But not all believers are hard-core true believers. Not even all people who go to church once a week are hard-core true believers. And yet religion still exerts a powerful effect on their beliefs and action… including their actions in the political arena.
How do we deal with that?
I do think that one step is to light a fire under the churches and other religious organizations who are already (in theory) on our side. We need to get them to speak up much more loudly, and in much larger numbers, about how it’s possible to be a fervent religious believer and still support marriage equality, and how religion is not an acceptable excuse for bigotry. Religious believers need to hear that homophobic bigotry isn’t a requirement for religious faith… and they probably need to hear it from other believers.
We also need to do a better job getting out the message that opposing same-sex marriage is not a First Amendment/ freedom of religion issue. One of the most powerful and most effective lies that the Yes on 8 campaign told was that if same-sex marriage remained legal, churches who refused to perform them would lose their tax-exempt status. We need to remind people that this is bullshit. Religious organizations are perfectly free to perform or reject any marriage they like. Synagogues don’t have to perform interfaith marriage ceremonies (and many of them don’t); the Catholic church doesn’t have to perform weddings for divorced people. And if same-sex marriage is legalized, no religious institution will be forced, by tax law or any other law, to perform same-sex weddings if they don’t want to.
And we need to point out that, in fact, banning same-sex marriage restricts religious freedom… since religious organizations who want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies can’t. Even fervent, hard-core religious believers may feel guilt about infringing on the rights of other churches… even if they don’t feel even a twinge of guilt about infringing on the rights of, you know, actual individual people.
But honestly, I’m not sure how effective any of this is going to be. Because again, it’s all an attempt to apply reason and evidence to a side of humanity that doesn’t find either of those things compelling. I mean, it’s not as if traditional religious believers came to their current conclusions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage through a careful examination of the facts and arguments. I’m highly doubtful that a careful presentation of facts and arguments is going to sway them in the other direction.
So how do we deal with this?
My own long term goal — like, very long term, like maybe a hundred or two years after I die — is to get rid of religion’s power in the political arena by getting rid of religion. My long term goal is to continue to use my powers of persuasion, in tandem with other non-believers, to gradually slide religion out of the human mindset.
But in the meantime, while religion is still here, and is still a powerful political force in this country… what the hell do we do with it?
I honestly have no idea.
I do think part of the solution is to make not just rational arguments, but emotional ones. Keith Olberman’s extremely moving special comment about Prop 8 was a good example of that. We need to talk about/ show images of gay and lesbian couples losing their children, losing their health insurance, losing their shared property when one of them dies, because they can’t be married. We need to talk about/ show images of what Ingrid calls the Brokeback Mountain phenomenon: the way that keeping homosexuality in the closet ruins lives… not just the lives of LGBT people, but the lives of their spouses and families and everyone around them.
We need to talk about/ show images of a lesbian couple — domestic partners even, right here in California — who, when one of them was pregnant and bleeding and having serious trouble with the pregnancy, were not recognized by the hospital as a couple and a family and the mutual parents of the child they were trying to have. (A couple who then drove hours to go to another hospital, with the one woman still bleeding, so they could be together and make decisions together and be treated with respect in a shared medical emergency.)
In other words: We need to make people see the human face of this issue. If we can’t make them see reason and evidence, maybe we can make them feel humanity and compassion.
But that can’t be the only answer. For one thing, traditional religious groups can pull on heartstrings, too. They are surpassing masters at it. The yearning to please the invisible Father in the sky; the fear of strangers who don’t keep our sacred things sacred; the desire to protect our children from blasphemous defilers who would lead them into sin and harm; the terror of permanent burning torture in hell… I could go on and on.
And besides, I just hate it when politics turns into a battle of the heartstrings. Why should public policy be won by the most effective emotional manipulators? Do we want a government of Steven Spielbergs?
It’s kind of driving me nuts. I realize that I’ve raised the alarm here without issuing a specific call to action, and I hate it when people do that. But I’m really stumped on this one. I think this is a big problem, one that reaches past the same-sex marriage question, one that has been mucking up politics for a long time. And it’s going to be much harder to move forward on same-sex marriage — or any gay rights issue, or any issue at all that traditional religious organizations care passionately about — if we don’t come up with a way to address it.
So I’m throwing this out to my readers.
When traditional religious organizations get their teeth into a political issue, and it’s an issue where you think they’re both morally and factually wrong… how do you think we should deal with it?