February 6, 2010

Clipping the Religious Wings

There are a number of different political groups or labels we hear about in the news as the presidential primaries keep rolling on and if I may, I'd like to share some thoughts surrounding two of the more popular labels that are used to describe the Left Wing and Right Wing as they relate to faith and religion.

The "Evangelical" "Right"
evangelical: "1: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels 2: Protestant 3: emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual 4 a capitalized : of or relating to the Evangelical Church in Germany b often capitalized : of, adhering to, or marked by fundamentalism 5: marked by militant or crusading zeal". (definition from Merriam-Webster online)

Right or Right Wing:
"7 often capitalized a: the part of a legislative chamber located to the right of the presiding officer b: the members of a continental European legislative body occupying the right as a result of holding more conservative political views than other members 8 a often capitalized : individuals professing support of the established order and favoring traditional attitudes and practices and conservative governmental policies b often capitalized : a conservative position". (definition from Merriam-Webster online)

Looking at definitions 1, 2, and 3 I see myself as being described as evangelical but what is scary is how often this group of people can seem rather fundamentalist and I'm not sure I want that guilt by association. In our country, the Right is associated with the Republican party as it is known as the more conservative of the two major political parties but does the label "evangelical right" mean that there aren't or can't be evangelical democrats? Is it a conflict of interests to be a conservative Christian but not a Republican?

The "Religious" "Left"
1: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity 2: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances 3 a: scrupulously and conscientiously faithful b: fervent , zealous". (definition from Merriam-Webster online)

Left or Left Wing:
3 often capitalized a: the part of a legislative chamber located to the left of the presiding officer b: the members of a continental European legislative body occupying the left as a result of holding more radical political views than other members 4 often capitalized a: those professing views usually characterized by desire to reform or overthrow the established order especially in politics and usually advocating change in the name of the greater freedom or well-being of the common man b: a radical as distinguished from a conservative position". (definition from Merriam-Webster online)

I can see myself as being described as religious though I would like to think I have some zeal about my faith I certainly wouldn't call myself, good or bad, a zealot. The Left Wing is considered to be the "wing" of the Democratic party and would be considered liberal compared to the Right. The Religious Left focuses on social issues that concern the poor and oppressed, which as I understand the Gospel, should be the concern of Christians regardless of which "wing" we use to fly our politics with. Does this mean that the "Evangelical Right" doesn't care about the poor or oppressed or social issues that may impact both or either? Is there a difference between being "evangelical" and being "religious"? Are evangelicals not considered religious or vice versa?

I think these are important questions to ask and think about before we claim to favor one "wing" over the other or even worse, claim that the "other wing" has it all wrong, stands for nothing good and shouldn't even consider themselves Christians. Maybe that's why there is so much imbalance in the Church, because we find ourselves trying to fly with only one "wing" and can't figure out why we keep going in circles.


alison said...

This is a topic that really interests me, and though I don't feel I have enough knowledge about politics to come to any real, intelligent conclusion, I thought I'd share my ideas anyway.

I think the obvious problem is that we're trying to see the world in black and white--as if there are only two types of Christians and two political perspectives. For one, it is obvious to see there is much variation among the candidates within each of the two major political parties. Precedent has led us to associate conservative Christians with Republicans, while more liberal, sometimes atheistic individuals are pegged as Democrats. And while it often plays out this way, I definitely don't think it's a conflict of interests to be a conservative Christian but not a Republican. But even with all the definitions you have here, I feel it's hard to define what being "conservative Christian" means. I think society has stereotyped the conservative Christian in terms of social and political issues (anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, anti-stem cell research, etc.). I have a feeling that not ALL conservative Christians have the same views on these issues and others. But at the same time, because this stereotype has been created, I have trouble figuring out where I fit in.

As far as politics go, I am definitely on the liberal side of things, but I still consider myself a Christian. I think a lot of really conservative Christians would tell me that what I think is wrong, but I don't feel that I'm a lesser Christian for planning to vote for a Democrat in the upcoming Presidential Election. But because I'm liberal in terms of social/political issues does that mean that I am also a "liberal Christian"?

I think this dualistic idea has no place in the Church unless it can be clearly defined. Church and State are meant to be separate, and while one's religious beliefs may influence one's political views (or vice versa), are there really only two (and only two) types of Christians?

I'm not sure if I'm really presenting any new ideas here. This may be what you were getting at and I kind of just added on. I think it's funny that our country has stuck with two (dominant) political parties for so long and that the other parties have yet to make their way in, whereas other countries operate on a multi-party system. Again, I don't know enough about politics to know why the two-party system is good, but yeah.

On a random tangent, the word "evangelical" kind of scares me...like you were saying, I think it has been associated with way too much negativity for it to hold any clout...in religion, in politics, anywhere.

Okay, I think that's all I have, though I could probably go on about this forever. I really enjoyed reading your ideas.

alison said...

I'm commenting again...

For my Latin American Lit. class, I read an articule by Octavio Paz, "Mexico and the United States." It detailed several differences between the two countries, and one of the things I found interesting was the different roles religion played in terms of the politics of the two countries. This isn't quite on the same topic as your post, but I really enjoyed this article because it showed how the religious ideologies that the US and Mexico adopted from England and Spain, respectively, influenced the development of these two countries. Obviously religion wasn't the only factor, but it definitely played a significant role.

Not sure exactly how I can relate this to relate this back to the post, other than that religion and politics are always going to be tied together in some capacity. But just because there is a connection, doesn't mean that "conservative" Christians must also have "conservative" political views.

Looking at all your definitions in the original post, I decided to look up "conservative" and found about 10 different definitions from each dictionary featured on dictionary.com. The first definition from American Heritage Dictionary reads, "Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change." This definition, whether applied to one's religious beliefs or one's political leanings, worries me a little bit. Obviously, this may not be the definition that politically or religiously conservative individuals would use to describe their beliefs/views, but for some it probably is. I don't know...I guess it's hard for me to see how one can be conservative in the society we live in right now. I mean, obviously one can make conservative choices based on high moral standards for one's own life, thus "living" conservatively, but in terms of today's political and social issues, the conservative viewpoint tends to be more backward than anything else.

I'd love to hear more of your ideas on this stuff. PLEASE!! =)