Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RELIGION AND LIBERALS....Today in the LA Times, John Bunzel joins Amy Sullivan in wondering whether we atheist types are good for the Democratic party:

Millions of Americans do not believe in God. They do not invest moral authority in a transcendent source such as the Bible, or deal in absolutes of right and wrong, or divide the world into simplistic categories of good and evil.

Such people, and I include myself among them, have tended to find themselves more comfortable in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party, where a marked strain of Christian fundamentalism runs strong.

I sometimes wonder, though, whether we nonbelievers are good for the party.

Except in weak moments, I agree with him. There are some issues, such as decent treatment of gays or the teaching of evolution, that are important in their own right and should be pursued regardless of whether they hurt the party. But on the other side of that coin are the many, many other issues that while generating an enormous amount of heat and light are simply not very important.

I include here things such as Ten Commandments monuments, the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, creche scenes at city hall, Bible study classes on public property, prayers at graduation ceremonies, and on and on and on, world without end.

If I were a judge and one of these cases came before me, I'd rule against the religious display if that's what the law directed me to do. And there's nothing we can do to stop individuals from bringing suits on these matters.

But the rest of us don't have to support them. We don't have to encourage the idea that liberals are flatly opposed to any public religious display, even those that we know in our hearts are basically innocuous. And let's face it: a big rock with the Ten Commandments on it is basically innocuous unless you're just aching for a fight.

And there's more. If we had all just left Judge Roy Moore alone when he hung his original handcarved Ten Commandments plaque in his Etowah County courtroom, he never would have been elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in the first place. And who knows: if Alabamians hadn't already been pumped full of righteous fury over Roy's Rock last month, maybe Bob Riley would have had a better chance of appealing to the better side of Christianity and getting his tax plan passed. That would have been a real gain for liberal principles.

If a bailiff asks me to place my hand on a Bible, or my city councilman votes to spend a thousand bucks on a Christmas display you know what? It's just not that big a deal. Fighting trivia like this really does nothing for any important liberal principle, but it does have one important consequence: it makes a lot of religious Americans mad as hell at liberals and determined to fight us to the death.

Fighting genuine religious intolerance is a fight worth fighting, but fighting the day-to-day symbolism just isn't. We should knock it off.

POSTSCRIPT: Elsewhere in the LA Times, Alan Dershowitz disagrees, spending his valuable time writing an op-ed that asks, "Can anything be more un-American" than the Ten Commandments? In a technical academic sense, maybe he's right and we liberals can all cackle to ourselves over his witticisms and trenchant social commentary. He really showed them! But honestly, what's the point of shoving this kind of stuff in people's faces? Don't we have bigger battles to fight?

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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