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“Letter in response to John Broughton’s critique of Pique”

January 21, 2011

The existence of God is a philosophical position. It makes sense that John Broughton of the group New York Philosophy writes a strongly-worded letter defending the bipartisan nature of non-believers, a term that might equally embrace all atheists, humanists and agnostics. The author of that letter wants to ensure equal play for the politically liberal instead of making such easy mark of the nation’s recent rash of conservative royalty, and I can’t help but agree. In approaching religion as an adopted cultural philosophy and dependent institutions as fundamentally corporate entities, there is little rationale for us to be unwilling to accept a bipartisan criticism of faith-based decision-making in American politics.

The challenge, however, is that the very dependence of modern conservatism on religious narrative (that includes its foundling Tea Party Movement) will always play lead anecdote to the minor indecencies of progressive politics. It seems cumbersome to trot out the Palins and O’Donnells or even cite a teary-eyed Glenn Beck as many of us are familiar with the popularized assault on intelligence inherent in their invocations of Jesus, insults to Islam, and so forth. What is worth exploring, on the other hand, is whether or not it is possible to separate church and the state of conservative values in America.

In defense of equal criticism, the schism of finance versus faith-fiction ought to open the door to straying bankers, managers, tycoons, those who envision a godless empires of limitless irresponsibility for the poor and infirm. It would seem like the perfect fit where a man (and it would be a man) would be able to exercise his already existing position of power with no bureaucratic or social control as if the world were one poorly maintained sweat shop and his castle, a shelter for Porsches.

Not only could this individual see through the facades of the church, but it might even be to his benefit to co-opt it, market it, begin to shift language and play up the part where believers’ understanding could elide with market values. They might buy books that subscribe to aspirational intentions that the market would never let them succeed (Osteen) or spend ample funds they make working menial jobs for the opportunity of a phone-in prayer (Warren). In fact, without the burden of a sensitivity and ethical obligation inspired by greater progressive thinking, a man could employ the masses in their belief systems as if sending workers into a mine with unregulated safety procedures.

By invoking the Tea Party as a “misunderstood” movement is to ignore that its “fiscal policy” is a misappropriation of the idea of financial accountability where the government is somehow evil practitioner and the market moves in (super?)natural harmony.

While it is fair to call into question the insular rants of Richard Dawkins and make light of the foibles frequently found by the liberal spokesfolk (Maddow, Maher, etc.), inherent in the principles embraced by the conservative movement is not only limited government participation but unlimited reliance of the market as the great social balancing sheet guided by a religion that long ago ignored the 100+ references invoked by the prophet Jesus about that giving away all the money thing and embracing the poor.

Progressives should also not get a pass for their insensitivities and errant ways. However, implicit in the acceptance of diversity, attention to working class concerns and commitment to government as a body of regulation established by the people (even if it wasn’t intended that way) is greater care in the ethical treatment of others. Progressives suffer fracturing, and for this, failure to isolate a single message is what undermines much of the success of such a vast and dynamic movement. It also makes hypocrisy complicated since even a progressive such as myself couldn’t give you a standard stump speech about how things should be. Instead, I want to do it by committee and vote and circulate opinions and hug a tree. We have problems, too.

All of this is to say again that discourse about religion is philosophical, and even as non-believers, there is value in it. Since these intellectual pursuits are bipartisan, it is paramount to call into question our own privileging of progressive leaders. As I have tried to illustrate, the inhibitor to establishing such an editorial balance is that the Capitalist romance fundamental to American conservatism yields greater opportunity to highlight the same structural issues that have dissuaded many from faith-based industry (i.e. the church) in the first place. Plus, the jokes about conservatives are just funnier.

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