February 12, 2006

Religion and progressive values

An excellent short essay on William Jennings Bryan. Note that by 'short' I don't mean 'short for a blog entry', I mean 'short for an essay'.

There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the Democratic Party desperately needs to return to the rhetoric and commitments of progressive values to be truly viable as a political party. I also accept as empirically evident that, in order to speak to most Americans, much of this rhetoric ought to be cast in the language of religion. Thus, we ought to see the Democratic Party embracing the 'next William Jennings Bryan' and 'next Martin Luther King', powerful activists and orators who openly ground their progressive values in their faith, and therefore speak to their sisters and brothers in faith of the progressive values they ought to hold.

But do William Jennings Bryan and Martin Luther King have to be the only models progressives embrace as the representatives of the values we hold to the greater public? I argue that this is not so.

Consider the Declaration of Independence, and the Preamble in particular (this goes from the 'When in the Course of human Events' bit, up to the long list of 'HE has ...' indictments). A creator is mentioned as the ultimate source of the 'certain unalienable Rights' King George is being charged with violating -- but the creator is not much more than mentioned, and then only this one time. Yet this was a powerful, radical document for its time. Striking the largely formalistic phrase 'by their CREATOR', we have a secular text that speaks resoundingly of deep values. More contemporaneously, spend some time at Pandagon or feministblogs.org; the progressive blogosphere is vibrant, full of voices of all religious persuasions.

What progressives need are powerful voices of values from diverse backgrounds -- some who speak the language of faith, and some who find their commitments in more humanist or rationalist sources. And these voices must come together, to make it clear that what binds us as progressives is a commitment to improving the here-and-now, and we can embrace each other and work side by side regardless of whether we do so as a display of agape or out of duty to improve the lives of our fellow rational beings.

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