« Zell No | Main | Crawl Before You Walk »

Respect Does Not Mean Submission

In the debate among Democrats about how to overcome conservative-bred stereotypes of us as cultural nihilists, there's a persistantly false idea circulating that we have to choose between a "moving to the right" on hot-button cultural issues or just accepting that the hostility of culturally conservative people is the price we pay for doing the right thing. If this truly were the only choice, you could mark me down for the "hang tough and take the heat" position. But it's not the only choice, as I have explained at redundant length in this blog every other day since November 2. Some of the people pushing this false choice are Democrats who (1) don't understand there are people with cultural concerns about the direction of the country who aren't devotees of the theocratic Christian Right; (2) don't really care what "those people" think of us, or (3) persist in the failed strategy of treating cultural issues as phony and changing the subject to more material matters. But the "move right or move on" choice is also being pushed by those on the Right who have their own reasons for pretending they speak for many millions of people who've never heard of James Dobson and would be horrified by the idea of a theocracy. The New Republic's Peter Beinart does a brilliant job in an online piece today in dissecting the Christian Right's claims that respecting their religion means submitting to their point of view. Indeed, he accurately accuses them of the same type of "identity politics" and "political correctness" that the Right has long attacked among those on the Left who argue that respecting who they are means suspending any criticism of what they want to do. Here's a sample: "It's fine if religion influences your moral values. But when you make public arguments, you have to ground them--as much as possible--in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can't persuade other people, and they can't persuade you.... [Harsh] cricitism is not disrespect--and to claim it is undermines democratic debate." I'll go Beinart one better: the Christian Right's effort to make "respect" equal "agreement" is even more deeply disrespectful to people who actually share their religion. I'm a Protestant Christian myself, and read the same Bible that James Dobson reads, and I see no evidence at all that the message (much less the primary message) of Scripture to the faithful of this time is to outlaw abortion and stigmatize gay people. So it really offends me to be told I'm an "anti-Christian bigot" for disagreeing with the Christian Right on such subjects. It behooves Democrats to challenge Christian conservatives for playing identity politics and refusing to engage in civil discourse about the intersection of faith and policy, and to challenge themselves to reject the false choice of disrespect or submission.