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How Conservative Religion Makes the Right Politically Stronger

We may not share their theology, but right-wing religion teaches powerful lessons on courage, confidence and foresight that we could stand to learn.

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I'd gently suggest that there are authentically progressive, non-theistic ways of tapping into that deep spiritual conviction, raising our own sense of trust in the righteousness of our vision, and finding regular sources of sanctuary and restoration. And that it would be good for us to start exploring ways to do this.

We might, for example, make telling pieces of our own glorious history a regular feature of all of our gatherings. We could make a bigger ritual out of invoking the achievements of our progressive forebears, the noble example of the lives they lived, and the ways in which they altered the course of American history. These stories ground us in our own progressive identity, forge us into a community, reaffirm our shared vision, and rouse our courage. We are capable of everything Mother Jones and Martin Luther King Jr. were. Our enemies are no more dangerous or implacable now than the segregationists, the robber barons, the slaveowners, or the royalists were back then. We don't know for sure if God is for us or against us, but we do know, with certainty, that "the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice." And we are the ones in our generation who have been entrusted with the sacred task of bending it a little further. History, at least, is on our side.

Being accountable to God, and nobody else

Which brings us to another, closely related item: Religious conservatives are highly motivated by the sense that, today and every day until the end of time, they're ultimately accountable to God for how things on earth turn out. The fear of failing the test before St. Peter -- and again on Judgment Day -- gives their temporal efforts a sense of urgency and commitment to the cause that we progressives sometimes have a very hard time mustering.

At the same time -- perhaps paradoxically -- believing that the only consequence that matters will be deferred until after death makes it easier to let go of the day-to-day ebb and flow of one's fortunes here on earth. Conservative Christians believe that they are in this world, but not of it; and therefore, it's a sin to worry too much about what goes on here. And they certainly don't care much about what people outside their own tribe think about them. (Inside the tribe, they care very much.) God's judgment is the only one that matters in the end; here on earth, persecution is just the clearest possible sign that you're doing the right thing. This ability to disengage can be a profound source of peace and courage.

Progressives, on the other hand, worry a lot about this world. We have to: we believe that we are directly accountable to history and our grandkids for what happens on our watch. There is no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness or born-again do-overs if we screw it up. And that, frankly, makes us a little tense. We think we should control everything, and take it out on each other when we can't. They know they can't, and let God handle the rest. And that ability to let go of what they can't control very often makes them easier to be around, and far less likely to take out their frustrations on each other.

Recognizing your special destiny in the eternal human story

All three major monotheisms have a linear view of human history as an ever-progressing struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. This narrative gives every succeeding generation an ever-more-important role on the front lines of the Ultimate Cosmic Battle (the final scene of which is always viewed as possibly happening Any Day Now).

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