The Common Good

Another look at the values debate

Date: July 31, 2006
A cynical attitude about the religious right is no longer a luxury that politically conscious and morally sensitive people such as progressives can afford.

Many of the manifestations of concern expressed by the religious right stem from genuine, personal, and moral convictions.

For example, some people have real concerns about the morality of homosexuality and some just don't like it.

Such people cling to denominations that focus prominently on Paul's texts against homosexuality.

But these adherents will rightly point out that homosexuality is not the only message of modernity or secularism their church preaches against.

They put vast sums of money into their churches and are proud of them.

I know of one small church with fewer than 200 members who raise $ 300 to 350 thousand dollars a year to support the church its staff and their programs.

I don't know about your circumstances, but in the county that church is in, that is real money.

Why do people put such significant amounts of money into their churches?

I think it is that, like the rest of us, church-going people want to live good lives, have nice homes, raise their children to be good people and not feel defensive in the workplace, the market, entertainment venues or in schools.

The rise of the religious right is the quest of a segment of our population to achieve these goals.

My personal disagreement with the religious right is that rather than conducting this struggle in the political arena or in the forum of ideas, they enlist God to their side and claim God's authority as the basis of their own prejudices.

Their sense of outrage and their demand for fundamental changes in our public values is threatening the historical religious and secular compromise our ancestors made to assure that values could be discussed without arousing religious chauvinism.

The compromise among the previous generations of Americans was that religious values would be left out of public discourse and that public discourse would honor the underlying humanistic values compatible with religion.

This compromise has protected the independence from government of religious denominations and maintained the basis of religious and philosophical freedom that non-religious people have in our country today.

The religious right today feels this compromise has introduced humanist values that are not compatible with religion, hence our values debate. They assail these values under the name of "secular humanism."

For religious people, the value placed on our religious freedom is a matter of great importance, and the protection of that freedom should be a primary concern.

Secular humanism, the underlying core values that we profess as Americans and as religious people, cannot be branded evil and our national discourse cannot be channeled exclusively into sundry and divisive sectarian categories.

Secularists and humanists have the same right to freedom and to life that religious people have. Their values and aspirations should not be labeled categorically bad and outlawed by religious people no matter how strenuously they disagree with them.

Secular humanism is a contemporary reflection of the essential and honorable common language of values that we all share.

In many critical respects, in assailing secular humanism, the Religious Right is imperiling the tried and true model for assuring religious freedom.

Nevertheless, I can't be cynical or dismissive in dealing with the Christian Right; they are too virtuous, too sincere and too committed.

Sometimes a resolution of an issue with the Religious Right is just a matter of political muscle, but political muscle is only an expedient, as the Religious Right is adaptable and persistent.

We progressives must devise ways to include the positive attributes of the Christian Right into our discourse. The Religious Right's insistence on faithfulness, loyalty, concern for others and respect for individual rights are key values to us all.

It is not only the fundamentalist, Pentecostal, evangelical and conservative Christians who make up the Christian segment of the Religious Right who insist upon these values.

As one can see from the large number of labels needed to embrace them all the Religious Right is a significant portion of the population and an increasing proportion of the well organized, well-funded and responsive church-attending segment of this country.

We cannot co-opt or marginalize the religious right.

It is time to accept them and to start working with them to solve our common problems.

For religious progressives, I suggest the book GOD'S POLITICS, by Jim Wallis. If you are moved by the book contacting Sojourners at may provide a useful resource in ordering one's thoughts and contacting like-minded people.

For non-Christians and straight up secularists, I ask forbearance and patience. I know from personal experience that many of the Christians who may seem antagonistic are concerned, loving people who genuinely fear for your immortal souls.

There must be some way for all of us, approaching each other from such divergent positions, but with such manifest good will, to reason together.

We Americans cannot afford any longer to continue to stand across an ideological chasm shouting at each other. We progressives of all persuasions must move out and engage our fellow human beings in constructive dialog and constructive work.