Before continuing, be sure to first watch this clip from last Friday’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell guest hosted by Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. The clip itself provided impetus for the writing of this post and will give ample context.
While the majority of the time I find myself onside with Prof. Harris-Perry, I fear that in this particular instance I must vehemently disagree with the Prof. In the clip referenced above, Prof. Harris-Perry appears to suggest that the progressive movement use religion as a tool in advocating for their polices thereby tapping into the religious fervor currently dominated by the Republican party. In support of this notion, Prof. Harris-Perry references a handful of examples from the last two centuries which benefited to an extent from religious arguments.
To be sure, religion plays a role in the daily lives of a majority of Americans, however religious arguments cannot and most importantly should not be used as a basis for ideas or policy proscription within the progressive movement. There are a number of holes in Prof. Harris-Perry’s thesis, most notable of which perhaps being her call to use the various faith traditions within the progressive movement as a foundation upon which the movement should build. The trouble with this is which faith tradition do you use exactly? Religions are inherently contradictory with each other and in many cases internally as well. The Christian’s just god is not the same as the Muslim’s just god which is not the same as the Jewish just god. Basing ideas or policy proscriptions within the progressive movement on any religious notions would do nothing more than create division, I would think that would be self evident. Indeed, if it is unity you seek, religion should be cast out of the question entirely replaced by the knowledge of the common bonds we all share, not only as citizens of our country but as brothers and sisters within the greater human society as a whole.
Of course, such things do not come easily, but that does not imply that we have no recourse but to turn to religion for inspiration. Far from it indeed, the philosophies of Enlightened Self-Interest and Humanism are more than sufficient in their robustness and universality to provide the foundation Prof. Harris-Perry seeks. I personally believe that it is these guiding lights to which the progressive movement should turn. But I digress as that is a debate for another day. In addition to the already noted divisive nature of religious foundations one should also take notice of one very specific growing trend in the United States: we’re becoming less religious.
In 2008 survey appeared documenting the increasing social secularization of the United States. I would postulate that the liberal religious among the progressive movement don’t much care for religious rhetoric in the political environment and those religious that do tend to lean Republican anyways. Combine that with the increasing secularization of the US and I can only see the use of religion within the progressive movement as a hindrance to the cause not a boon. We as progressives must leave religion in politics to the GOP as that is the dead end road leading to irrelevance. Instead, we should look to the future, find unifying principals (whether the ones I noted earlier or others) that are inclusive not divisive and build upon that creating an increasingly broad coalition of liberal religious and non religious alike. It is with that coalition that the progressive movement stands the best chance of prospering, as opposed to the alternative proposed by Prof. Harris-Perry which due to its divisive nature would prevent that coalition from forming in the first place.