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19.9.02

Our Secularist Democratic Party

Anyone who has followed American politics over the past decade cannot help but feel some concern about the supposed fundamentalist Christian threat to democratic civility, pluralism, and tolerance. At the very least, the attentive citizen would find it hard not to regard the cultural and political positions of fundamentalists as outside the mainstream, given the volume of media stories that have conveyed this point. At the same time, the media's obsession with politicized fundamentalism distracts public attention from the changing role of religion in political life today. ... The media mistakenly frames cultural conflict since the 1970s as entirely the result of fundamentalist revanchism. In so doing, the media ignores the growing influence of secularists in the Democratic party and obfuscates how their worldview is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditionalist outlook.


This is a very long, but interesting article pointing out the importance of secularism as a cultural and political force in America today. In some ways it rings true as as point worth making. In many places I notice that there's a strong current of antagonism toward "fundamentalists," a sort of stereotype of a Bible-thumping Christian conservative. In circles that have few people of strong Christian faith, fundamentalists are seen as the premier threat to their preferred way of life in the same way that those fundamentalists raise the specter of the secular threat to traditional culture (and there's truth in both sides' assessments of the situation, as well as in each of their assumptions that they defend the views of the middle while the other is a fringe group). But this trend gets little attention as a social phenomenon. Just like white is not a race and male is not a gender, secular is not seen as a religio-cultural position.

However, the article overlooks several points in its attempt to present the Secular Left as a mirror image of the Religious Right. First is the question of leadership. It's clear that not only are fundamentalists a key voting bloc for the Republicans, but they also furnish much of its leadership and policy direction. However, secularists -- while voting consistently Democratic -- do not have a comparable position of leadership in the party. Most Democratic politicians profess religious faith, as evidenced by the reaction to the Pledge ruling. The rise of the Green Party further testifies to the frustration of secularists with their inability to drive the Democratic truck. Further, they don't frame their identity in terms of their secularness. The lack of God in their worldview does not define it the way the presence of God defines fundamentalism. Their shared cultural values brings them together, not their secularism.

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