race & religion

Michael Eisenscher meisenscher at igc.apc.org
Tue Jun 9 10:56:42 PDT 1998


You have managed to say far more clearly and persuasively what I have been stumbling around trying to express. Thanks for those thoughtful and insightful commentary.

In solidarity, Michael

At 12:33 PM 6/9/98 -0400, Max Sawicky wrote:

>I hadn't realized that our discussion was contemporaneous
>with a similar debate over a column by Mike Kazin in The
>Nation. People who think this is about whether or not
>the secular left should work with the religious left or
>with "organized religion" are missing the point entirely.
>That the secular left is 'godless' is pretty obvious.
>I posted a flock of examples among our own co-religionists
>here on LBO-talk. People mistake the charge as criticism.
>It isn't. I'm as godless as anyone. What's really in question
>is bigotry towards non-left religious folk (especially white)
>founded on ignorance of religion. Bigotry in this context
>means a belief that religious faith is testament to a person's
>ignorance, prejudice, or negative social role. The fact that
>we single out the religious left for approval is no less
>prejudiced: it simply says we accept you if you buy our
>political views, even though we still think your
>personal faith is a crock.
>Reed's work is discussed at length in the Wills book
>I've mentioned previously. Wills is respectful but
>pretty persuasive, I think, in criticizing Reed, though
>I haven't read Reed.
>Judging the "balance" is daunting, but in any case
>I wouldn't pinpoint the 'comprador' factor so much
>as the basic effect on individual thinking and
>political behavior. The ministers would seem to be
>a reflection of the masses in this context.
>Wills discusses the dilemma of slave owners at the
>dawn of slavery in the U.S.--whether or not to
>convert slaves to Christianity. Failure to do
>so would permit the continuation of non-Christian
>religion, viewed as Satanic by the colonizers, and
>possibly promote rebellion. On the other hand,
>conversion would raise a difficult question for
>the devout colonist: the fundamental humanity
>of the slave, his or her equality in the eyes of
>God. Rebellion--an enterprise fraught with practical
>difficulties, to say the least--is not the initial
>issue so much as elementary social organization,
>political enfranchisement, and social integration.
>Black Christianity afforded its followers a language
>and an institution to pursue these goals. Black
>Christianity clearly had a major impact in politics
>later on, and of course abolitionism was heavily
>grounded in religious faith from the beginning.
>Some people may forget, or be too young to
>remember, that the Jackson campaign in 1984
>(or '88; I forget) was going great guns before
>it broke down in Hymietown, so to speak. Jesse
>was not quite all that he appeared to be. Wills
>presents this process as a major illustration of
>the positive power of Christianity at its best.
>By contrast, Reed's political framework, keeping
>in mind that politics is about persuading and
>mobilizing others, shows up as sterile, narrow,
>impersonal, and marginal by comparison.
>I've noticed a few times people criticize religion
>on the grounds that it focuses people on the next
>life and encourages resignation to this one. This
>fails to recognize some basic differences within
>Christianity, including its most conservative currents.
>I mentioned this before, and let me repeat I'm no
>theological expert, but the religious folks you
>hear most about in politics DO NOT put off all
>hopes for salvation to some removed scenario of
>the Second Coming, Armageddon, etc. Those who do
>are not political. The preoccupations of the active
>people, whether conservative or liberal, black or
>white, are very much on this world. Ultimately,
>we'll be better off for it.
>A stray point: "organized religion" is not the
>object so much as the thinking of religious people.
>A recent paper came up with an interesting finding;
>I think I saw this in the newspaper: mainline
>religions are ALWAYS in decline. The upstart,
>insurgent groups (which have their own evolution
>over time) are the dynamic forces. With time
>these groups become better established and organized,
>accumulate resources, get bureaucratized, develop
>habits of laxity and corruption, and provoke
>rebellion among followers who perceive that
>"first things" are being short-changed. And the
>process starts again. The organized groups have
>resources, but the upstarts have mobilized, highly-
>motivated people. You can decide which you think
>is more important. I go for Door Number 2.

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