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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Reclaiming 'Religion'

There has been recent talk in the New York Times and other liberal arenas about a Democratic resurgence in 2006. Will they win two seats, five seats, ten seats, lose seats? No one can say for sure. I say, let's not talk predictions but rather strategy. To this end, I wish to send out a call to any and all who consider themselves liberals or Democrats: stop running away from the term 'religion' and start reclaiming it.

That's right, 'religion,' -- you know, that word liberals cringe at. What many forget is that the term need not be associated with conservatives or with Christianity. It is, in fact, a multi-faceted term with about as many meanings as there are scholars who study it. Yet in our modern American discourse, it has acquired a much more narrow meaning.

So what exactly is this current meaning and how is it being used? We need look no further than a current phrase used to describe a heated debate in our 'culture war,' that of the issueof 'religion in public life.' Yet is it really more religion that is wanted? Are Republican senators clamoring for more New Agers to meditate on their front lawns? Clearly not. If we're going to make progress, we need to talk honestly; this is not an argument for more of all religions in public life but, rather, a movement by a specific religion (Christianity), and specific groups of that religion (conservative/evangelicals), to have their voices heard.

In pushing these far right agendas, what then comes to fall under 'religion' are not only religious beliefs, but also contentious social ones. Yet Democrats, although they desire a society with legal abortions and gay rights, continue to allow what they consider social issues to be argued as religious beliefs. In doing so, Democrats hurt themselves twice; their positions come to be seen as anti-religious and they allow social agendas presented as 'religion' a privileged position that is undeserved. You can argue against ideas, but you can't argue against faith.

What are Democrats to do? Are they supposed to go running into churches with their rhetoric of reason and try to talk believers out of their beliefs? No! Rather, they need to stop allowing the emblem 'religion' to stand for a specific Christian agenda and start insisting that the discussion be framed accurately. To achieve this, Democrats must address the terms currently placed under the umbrella of religion by name, craft new or newly phrased positions on these issues (i.e. abortion as "legal but rare"), and finally begin mapping onto the term 'religion' convictions and values that their constituencies will not run away from. Maybe then there will truly be more religion in public life.