In search of the 'religious left'

Posted: Sep 07, 2000 12:00 AM
Can anyone find the "religious left"? Apparently, the "religious left" does not exist. Once upon a time, liberals quivered at religious pronouncements whether from Southern Republicans, the Christian Coalition, or the Moral Majority -- the so-called "religious right." Why, Vice President Al Gore once suggested that the conservative, religious Republican faction possessed an "extra-chromosome right wing." But then Al Gore picked the devout Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., as his running mate. Now it's hip to be devout. But don't call this the "religious left." In Detroit, before a black congregation, Lieberman said, "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and review the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes." My, my. Close your eyes, and you can almost hear Rev. Pat Robertson. Lieberman also recently said, "We know that the Constitution wisely separates church from state. But remember, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Not freedom from religion." Only a few years ago, President Clinton attacked Christian and conservative broadcasters, "I do not believe that people should be criticized for their religious convictions. But neither do I believe that people can put on the mantle of religion and then justify anything they say or do." Yet Lieberman says, "So let us break through some of the inhibitions that have existed to talk together across the flimsy line of separation of faith: to talk together, to study together, to pray together, and ultimately to sing together his holy name." But the new religionists claim that Lieberman's religiosity does not offend. It's different. For, the senator does not seek to convert. He's nobody's evangelic, claiming, "Embrace my religion or get ready for hell." Unlike the "religious right," Lieberman does not seek to impose his religious values on the rest of us. Lieberman does not suggest that religious beliefs translate into public policy. Oh, no? Lieberman, of course, supports government expansion of health care. On what does he base his proposal? "Isn't Medicare coverage of prescription drugs," Lieberman recently said, "really about the values of the Fifth Commandment -- 'Honor your father and your mother'?" In fact, Lieberman prides himself on the extent to which his religiosity "will enable people, all people who are moved, to feel more free to talk about their faith and about their religion. And I hope that it will reinforce a belief that I feel as strongly about as anything else: that there must be a place for faith in America's public life." If there is such a thing as the "religious left," wouldn't Lieberman be a card-carrying member? In attacking Hollywood, Lieberman said, "Studio bosses mainline murder, mayhem, violence and vulgarity." As a cure, Lieberman suggested that the government determine license renewals based on a station's "moral tone." And what about Vice President Al Gore, who quoted biblical text in addressing the recent annual NAACP convention, "'Yea a man may say thou hast faith and I have works. Show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works.' That is my text for today." Religious left? Indeed, many liberal political leaders come from the church. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Father Robert Drinan, Rev. Benjamin Hooks, to name a few. Same old story -- the media double standard. Some call the '80s the "Me Generation" or the "Decade of Greed." Never mind that the 1990s saw a higher stock market, and a larger gap, according to some, between the rich and the poor. And more mergers and acquisitions occurred in the '90s than in the Gordan Gekko-like '80s. To the media, the NRA equals "lobbyists," while Handgun Control Inc. equals "advocates." But credit the newly religious, emotional toe-tag liberals with consistent inconsistency. Back in December 1999, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush caught heat. To the question, "What philosopher influenced you most?" Bush answered, "Jesus Christ." For many, wrong answer. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said, "This is the era of niche marketing, and Jesus is a niche. Why not use the Son of God to help the Son of Bush appeal to voters? W. is checking Jesus' numbers, and Jesus is polling well in Iowa. Christ, the new wedge issue." But did Hillary Rodham Clinton catch the same reproach when she, too, played the "Jesus card"? Criticizing New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's homeless policy, Hillary Clinton suggested that "baby Jesus" would have been in for a rough time. Baby Jesus? It works like this. In the hands of a liberal, the Bible serves as a mere expression of faith. In the hands of a conservative, the Bible becomes a tool for social control. The mainstream media routinely use the term "religious right." But they couldn't find the "religious left" with a guide dog, a roadmap, and ... a rosary.