Michael Eisenscher meisenscher at
Tue Jun 2 14:18:10 PDT 1998


For the record, I am and have always been an atheist. I began working with elements of the religious community during the 1960s in the civil rights and anti-war movements. It's easy for lots of "revolutionaries" to dismiss religion as "the opiate of the people" while completely ignoring power as the opiate of the bureaucrats and revolutionary leaders or dogmatism as the opiate of the Left, etc.

In other words, we all live in glass houses. I would rather avoid getting into a pissing match about whose crimes were the most horrendous, those of the inquisition of the medieval ages, the Crusades, and the "conquest" of the Americas, or those committed in the name of the proletarian revolution.

Ecumenism does not mean ignoring or glossing over violations of human rights in an opportunistic effort to maintain alliances or working relationships. It seeks to find common interests approached perhaps from different directions between those who may disagree on other issues and who many not entirely agree on long-term objectives but whose common ground is substantial enough to permit working together on the struggles and issues about which they can find some room for agreement. Ecumenism is also another way of say "tolerance" for differences and testing one's own belief systems against those of others by paying close attention to what others do believe as opposed to characterizations or caricatures of their beliefs. Ecumenism is also the way to create space for dialog.

If the Left (broadly defined) has any hope of bringing about revolutionary change (or even radical reform), it had better learn to stop talking to itself and learn how to have dialog with those who do not necessarily accept all of our assumptions or analysis. That requires listening more the proselytizing, engaging in respectful discussion, and allowing for the possibility that we can actually learn something from others whose world view or theology we do not embrace.

I don't expect to have someone whose beliefs include opposition to abortion to abandon that view because of some argument I can make, but if we have a relationship in which we work together, for example. on low-income housing, or against racism, I may be able over time to get them to accept that those who don't agree with them should not be subject to their belief system against their will through a Constitutional Amendment to ban all abortion, even though they may initially be attracted to that view. It is only in that relationship of mutual respect on some areas of agreement that I will have access to them for a dialog about the things about which we disagree. Were I to see them only through their "abortion is murder" lens, there'd be no dialog at all, not to mention any work together on other issues.

In solidarity, Michael

At 12:46 PM 6/2/98 -0400, Doug Henwood wrote:
>Michael Eisenscher wrote:
>>Perhaps we of the Left might benefit from a bit more ecumenism in our
>>approach to the religious movements that we have heretofore dismissed as
>>hopelessly reactionary.
>I've certainly softened towards religious people over the years - there are
>lots of fine people doing good stuff politically because they think God
>told them too. But can we still say that religion is a crock? That it is an
>invented solace for the pains of the world ("sad men made angels of the
>sun," as Wallace Stevens said)? That it's encouraged people to horrible
>acts of hate and violence over the centuries? That it's helped construct
>and enforce the subordination of women? How far does this ecumenism go?

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