Friday, November 05, 2004

You gotta have faith

The terms "values", "morals", "religion" and "faith" have been bandied around a lot in the last few days in response to the Democratic failure at the polls. I think it is long past time that Democrats take a serious look at these issues, but I think there is a real danger of screwing it up if we don't carefully define our terms. I've already seen this in response to some of my postings (both here and over at the DailyKOS) on this subject. Several seem to think those of us who are bringing this up are suggesting that Democrats need to make appeals to the extreme social conservatives by jettisoning the homosexual community and adopting the holy-roller attitude of the more extreme religio-fascists.

That is a misreading of what we are saying, but it is an understandable misreading because of the confusing terminology we are using in this debate. Let's face facts: Democrats aren't very good at this kind of debate, so many of us really don't know what the hell we are talking apart. We are stumbling around in the dark and, until we find the light switch, we are going to be stepping on each other's toes. It behooves us to be forgiving of these early stumbles.

What we need is a roadmap for this debate. We need to understand the landscape. We need to understand just what it is we are talking about.

I made a stab at it in my earlier post on this topic when I tried to define "religion" as distinct from "faith". I also need to lay out my understanding of the concept of "values" and "morals". Here's my initial stab at it:

Religion is a spiritual practice that people participate in to fulfill themselves more completely in their spiritual beliefs. It is the visible manifestation of those spiritual beliefs.

Faith is the the essence of the belief structure that drives people to devote their time to an endeavor when logic fails to give them just cause to continue on. Faith is an element of religion. But religion is not the only practice that requires faith.

Values are those things that we consider important enough to expend a measure of our blood, sweat and tears to defend. They are the actions we consider beneficial to ourselves and to society. Values may be based in a religious belief system, but religion is not a necessary component to having values. Faith, on the other hand, does play a significant role in shaping our values because ultimately it is in faith that we come to believe that our values are correct.

Morals are characteristics that define how we view ourselves in our interacting with our fellow human beings. Religion can sustain our values and our morals. The practice leads to the perfection. But it is, again, faith that ultimately tells us whether our moral character stands up to the test.

I believe that faith is a more valuable frame for this debate than either religion, values or morals. When people get into debates about the latter three, they often end up weighing the worthiness of any individuals belief system based purely on external characteristics. Debates about religion get bogged down in which church people attend, if any. Conversations about values get mired in questions of where people stand on a particular hot-button social issue. Discussions of morality get lost arguments about whether people lead a self-controlled life or a self-indulgent life.

But faith is a unifying frame for discussing all these issues. Regardless of whether you judge another to be wrong in their religious practice, stance on a social issue or how they choose to live their life, the question of faith lies at the heart of all of these debates. Faith is what sustains all of us in our lives.

Faith manages.

I believe that it is a discussion of faith that we should be having. If we can avoid the pitfalls of discussions about religion, values and morals, we can achieve a rapprochement across the cultural divide. We, both right and left, need to understand that the other side does have a faith that isn't just programmed by religious superiors (in the case of the right) or is more than a self-indulgent, "do what thou wilt", casual lifestyle (in the case of the left). We, both right and left, need to understand that the other side's faith may be the result of more than just a robotic surrender of will (in the case of the right) or a lazy, undisciplined, f*ck-it-all surrender to the vagaries of life (in the case of the left). We, both right and left, need to understand that the other side may have actually given some thought to what they believe in and that that belief is sincere and heartfelt.

I have faith that we can bridge this divide.

And those who seek to exploit that divide for their own short-term gain are the people who are truly faithless.


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