I listen to a lot of podcasts, mainly because I drive a lot between Spokane and Portland (a 400 mile trip) and like to have intellectually stimulating things to listen to. One podcast that I enjoy is Speaking of Faith, by Krista Tippet and American Public Media. I do not particularly consider myself a religious person, for many reasons. But I enjoy these podcasts, which Tippet describes as “public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas.” They cover a great variety of religions and personalities within the world of faith, and speak of them in a particularly informed, nuanced way.
On my trip back to Portland on Friday, I listened to Tippet’s two part exploration of the faith life of both the left and right wings of the American political system. Both parts were extremely interesting; in fact, I found myself identifying more with the conservative commentator (Rod Dreyer) than the liberal one (Amy Sullivan). Mainly I think this series illustrated to me the main reason that I have ceased identifying as a religious person, as well as my reluctance to declare my political stance to even myself, much less to the world. The conversation on Tippet’s program basically addressed all the people caught in the gray no man’s land in the midst of this country’s two party system: liberals who are evangelical Christians, for example, and conservatives who have values that have traditionally been held as “liberal” views, such as eating sustainably grown food. There was a lot of conversation about the modern American impasse when discussing abortion, and the need for a different kind of dialogue about it so that some sort of progress may be made. They also discussed, in both segments, the idea that Christianity is exclusively the realm of Republicans, and that Republicans are by default, evangelical Christians.
I guess the thing that really resonated for me was the reason that we have a two party political system in American: our thoughts in this country about issues of culture, policy and faith are black and white. The US has a history of trying with all of its might to erase the gray in all issues. Things are one way or another. One of the unfortunate results of this is that many Americans are alienated by this because we do not fit neatly into one of the two boxes. In fact, I would argue that MOST Americans do not fit into the boxes the way we are “supposed” to. And this perception is passed on to the rest of the world, because we perpetuate it. The world perceives us as either super-conservative, uneducated religious fanatics who are rude and self centered, or passive, bleeding-heart activists who are filled with self-loathing over our citizenship. There are very few people who actually fit into these gross stereotypes, of course, but we allow this perception to be perpetuated. Our political system aptly illustrates it, and is part of the machinery that foments anti-American sentiment.
I have said on this blog before that intellect is under attack these days in American politics. I think this is part of the loss of nuance in political discussions. I also think that the attempts of the Republican party to associate themselves in the minds of Americans with evangelical Christianity has driven many more liberal people away from Christianity. It certainly happened that way for me—I have to admit that despite knowing some loving Christian people who do believe in social justice and equality for humans, as a whole I shy away from that faith because of the history and the association that I make with conservative politics.
For those people who wish to see more in-depth discussion of all the aspects of the issues we care about, rather than the sound-bite parsing of the conversation that happens today (yes, I am speaking of the dreaded “MSM” but more of the convenient way that we allow this to occur in our daily lives), I recommend checking out this podcast. Go to www.speakingoffaith.org.