A week ago, in DeanFest, Day 3, I wrote up the final installment of Demetrius and my experiences at DemocracyFest 2005 in Austin, Texas. This diary is different from the previous ones, in that the focus is not on our experiences and interactions, but on the information that was presented at the "Religion, Democracy, and the Common Good" forum I attended Saturday morning.
From the program for DemocracyFest 2005, here is the description of the forum.
Religion, Democracy, and the Common Good: How the left can reclaim a moral foundation. Panel will include Dr. Davidson Loehr, Unitarian Universalist minister and author of the forthcoming book America, Fascism, and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher; Dr. Paul Woodruff, the Darrell K. Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society at the University of Texas and author of Reverence: Renewing A Forgotten Virtue and First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea; Andy Hernández, executive director of the 21st Century Leadership Center at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and co-author of the Almanac of Latino Politics 2002-2004; and scholar and educator Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, who has spoken and written extensively on feminist theology, Asian American women, and peace and justice issues. Moderated by Glenn Smith, founder of DriveDemocracy.org and author of The Politics of Deceit.
The following comes from the notes I took at the event.
Rita Nakashima Brock was the first to speak, and I think she was the one who resonated the most with me. She was the on I specifically wanted to speak with immediately after the forum, but there were other people talking to her and I did not get the chance. Unfortunately, as since she was first to speak, and I had not yet hit my eventual cruising speed as far as note-taking, I only have a few sketchy statements from her talk.
Brock said that when we avoid faith talk so as not to offend, we end up with a feeling of sameness, which makes us feel unimportant…like cogs in a machine. We then retreat to the spheres of consumerism and small relationships. What’s missing is a sense of agency, and she said that small, local groups are where we can regain our sense of agency, and live out our core values. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock started her group, Faith Voices, on November 3, 2004, as a vehicle for people of faith who were horrified by the results of the election, so that they could channel those feelings in a positive way rather than giving in to despair.In addition to her acknowledgement of the importance of a sense of agency, another statement that really struck a chord for me was this:
“The secular left needs to see us as partners on the same journey.”
The Rev. Davidson Loehr was the next to speak. He said that in recent decades, liberals have lost the vocabulary of patriotism and nationalism. They also lost a religious vocabulary and God language, which he owes to the fact that we no longer have a “critter”. Critter? I figured out soon enough that Loehr was speaking here of the notion of a personal God, one who intervenes in our lives, with whom we can have a relationship. According to him, it seems, we, as modern liberals are now “over” that notion. I imagined that there were people in the audience for whom such an attitude didn’t sit too well. He went on to say that “God talk is a way of speaking about issues we think are important.” The left had also lost, according to Loehr, the vocabulary of morality and personal responsibility.
He described the “salvation story” of the left in the past. It went like this:
-Pick a group for which to speak
-Shine a spotlight on that group
-Assume they are grateful so they we can feel virtuous
We lost permission to speak for one group after another, women, African Americans, and so forth, because these people did not want to be spoken of as victims. We then invented “token victim groups” to speak for, and this was the political correctness movement.
Wrapping up, he said that in a vacuum, plutocracy, fundamentalism, and a “command and control” government will thrive, which will keep the masses disempowered and disinterested. It is therefore in our interest to avoid such a vacuum, and to do so, liberals are going to need to become more adept at using the language of high moral values and ideals.
The following is from the notes I took when presenter Andrew Hernandez was speaking. According to my page of speaker bios, he is the executive director of the 21st Century Leadership Center at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He also said in his presentation that he is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church.
Exit polling indicated that in the 2004 election, 22% of those polled said that they cast their ballots based on “moral values”. But, presented with that same question in 1996, 40% answered “moral values”. In 2004, here are some of the other answers, and the percentage of people who chose them:
Hernandez said that gay marriage and abortion are more cultural values than they are religious and that “precampaign dispositions determined this election”. He also said that “Moral values is code word for the way they were going to vote anyway.”
He also noted that Bush picked up most in white moderate Catholics, Latino Protestants, and Traditional Christians, but that these groups were specifically targeted by the Bush campaign. He concluded, then, that their votes were more a matter of mobilization than people changing their minds.
Hernandez also told us that White males are now a block vote for the Republican party, because they believe it protects their interests. Married White women are also voting Republican, and they view White males as the the group that suffers the most discrimination today.
On another note, Hernandez told us that formation of religious identity and political identity go together. Therefore, we need to get to people before these identities are crystallized.
When speaking to people who identify as Christian, we will be more successful if we use their language. By way of example, he told us that the Bible speaks against rich people 96 times, but against gay people only a handful of times. Hernandez concluded that if we’re not afraid to use that language, we’ll win every time.
The final speaker was Paul Woodruff, an ethicist. He started by discussing the ethical implications of winning and losing elections. Winning can have bad ethical results, he said, making people less likely to make good decisions, since they believe they can do no wrong.
Hubris, according to Woodruff, is one of the greatest moral dangers we face today. The opposite of hubris is not humility, but reverence. He said that reverence is not essentially a religious word. It simply means recognizing thatyou are not a god–you are fallible–and having a sense of awe at the transcendent.
As a Vietnam veteran, Woodruff stated that nationalism and patriotism were painful topics for him–it was painful for him to look at the flag when he came back. He said that we need to make the distinction between this country that we love and the policies and administration that we don’t. But, the ideals which formed this country, we must continue to speak for and stand for.
Morality in principle is not divisive. Justice in a reverent form is not divisive, rather, it brings us together. Justice is not a zero sum game. According to Woodruff, the “haves” are being harmed by their privileges, and would benefit by moving towards greater equality. He also stated that “by the people” is not the same as majority rule. In conclusion, he told us that the only way we can think of ourselves as a people is to cultivate a harmonious way of accomodating our differences.