How Conservative Religion Makes the Right Politically Stronger
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Our way of handling disgrace is demonstrably much more damaging, both to our own fallen angels and to the movement as a whole. If someone on our side is tarred -- even if we all know the smear is completely unjust and undeserved -- we will not defend the accused. Instead, we'll close ranks and jettison them before anybody else has a chance to. And over and over, we lose incredibly valuable and talented people this way -- people we've invested a lot of capital in raising up to leadership, and whose future contributions to the movement are forever lost to us when this happens.
As long as we're so willing to off our own disgraced members, the right wing will always have an edge on us. They can take shots at our leaders and organizations (ACORN? Van Jones? Anthony Weiner?), and consistently score fatal hits, because we will reliably join them in putting their targets out of our misery. But because they have a theology that enjoins them to protect and forgive their own, they get to redeem their own disgraced people (David Vitter? Newt Gingrich?), and keep their talent in circulation. On their side, these hits are seldom fatal. They don't lose their stars very often.
We could do with our own universally accepted rituals of repentance and redemption -- a known, established path that lets our good people make their amends and put their mistakes behind them, and enables us to acknowledge both flaws and growth in each other with grace and mercy. If someone has done their penance, there will be room again for them in our circle. And our refusal to turn on each other will also do wonders for our overall level of community trust.
Coming together for love and community, not just work
Religion is a potent social technology -- and its greatest strength is not about theology, but rather in its ability to knit people together in tight, close communities of trust, commitment, care and meaning. And regular observance of shared rituals is central to this power. Religious conservatives attend services at least once a week (in some churches, they go twice) to affirm their commitment to their shared values, celebrate and mourn the passages of life, and connect with each other not as workers and warriors, but as human beings.
Those rituals are social superglue. They build trust that extends outward into everything else these communities do. They inspire and engage people's hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits, offer incredible healing and solace when things go wrong, and provide a ready-made outlet for celebration and re-commitment to doing even more when things go right.
The rituals that make community are simple, powerful, essentially human, and independent of any theology. Sitting down together to share a good meal. (In my long experience, there's far more likely to be large quantities of good food at a conservative gathering than a progressive one. Eating together is vastly big mojo, and we often shortchange this.) Raising voices together in song, poetry, or a shared creed. Being present with each other to mark the passages of life -- birth, marriage, parenthood, retirement, and loss. Gatherings that are about joy, play, sensual pleasure, and relaxation. Other gatherings that give us safe places to struggle among trusted friends with the things that are hardest and darkest within ourselves.