Can Secular and Religious Bodies Work together for Progressive Causes?

Can Secular and Religious Bodies Work together for Progressive Causes? June 25, 2014

Over at the SMH, religion journalist Barney Zwartz has an interesting piece on Secular and Religious Progressives Can Work Together.  In it he shows that religious conservatives are on the decline in the US, in terms of both numbers and influence, which has lessons for Australia.

Zwartz gives a good picture of the status quo when he writes: “In the US, according to the Brookings Institute, young adults identify religion with the Republican Party, intolerance and homophobia, and distance themselves. In Australia, the churches are often criticised for demanding special political privileges, such as legal exemptions from discrimination laws, and for blocking gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research, while the clergy sexual abuse crisis has greatly vitiated their moral authority.”

He seems to think, however, that secular progressives and religious progressives can work together for a common good. NB: outside of the USA, most evangelicals are “progressive” in some form compared to US evangelicals on matters like healthcare, gun control, and climate change, etc. Zwartz goes on to add: ” The Brookings Institute says: ‘The single greatest asset of the faith-based movement for economic justice is the work religious people do every day in serving the poor.’ Loose coalitions of secular and religious progressives are already working together, notably on asylum seeker and environmental concerns. Watch this space.”

Sadly, however, I do not share Zwart’s optimism. Many of the secular folks I’ve come across are not remotely interested in courting the support of faith-based voters or faith-based activists for progressive causes. While many might like the idea of diversity and consensus, there is something that they like even more. That is the prospect of utterly annihilating the one demographic that they despise the most, eradicating from the public square the pernicious mass of Catholics, Christians, and Muslims, who, in their view, are singular greatest threat to a diverse, tolerant, pluralistic, and just society. Note the irony, the path to tolerance can only be achieved by crushing religious dissenters! If you look at political groups in Australia like the Left of the ALP, the Greens, and even The Sex Party, none are interested in extending olive branches to any religious group, seeking common ground, or finding ways to co-operate. More salivatingly tantalizing is the prospect of the purification of religious influence from the political landscape, the beatific vision for the government seizure of all faith-based private schools, the apocalyptic termination of even optional religious instruction in pubic schools, the blessed cessation of chaplaincy programs in schools and even in the military, the end of public funding to anyone engaged in theological studies, the glorious cancellation of government programs operated by faith-based charities, the closing of religion departments in secular universities, and the impossibility of working in the public service unless one first takes an oath of loyalty before a 100 foot golden statue of Oprah draped in a rainbow flag and says with hand on one’s heart, “There is no god but pansexuality and Foucault is his prophet.” Hyperbole I know, but I have read enough newspaper articles and collected enough anecdotal evidence to know this: they hate us with a passion!!! The secular progressives are no more going to seek to co-operate with religious folks than the Klu Klux Klan is going to invite a reggae band to perform at their annual fundraiser.

Obviously secularism is a spectrum and ranges from the mild to the militant. While for many folks, religion is not for them, they are not too fussed if others take it up. It is the militant secularists who scare me because the twentieth-century has shown us that atheistic regimes are among the most cruel and brutal in human existence. The most evil deeds are not done by men who believe that what they do is wicked, but by men who believe that what they do is righteous. If someone believes that reducing religious communities to second class status or else eradicating them entirely is the “righteous” thing to do, then we have cause to be afraid. So remember, if a political progressive shakes your hand and thanks you for the good work you’re doing with refugees, just remember, at the back of his or her mind, there is probably the thought, “He seems like such a nice young man, it’ll be a pity to have to throw him to the lions at Taronga zoo one day.”

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