Tag Archives: Atheists

How the Left Lost Religion

18 Jan

One day a year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr still dominates the airwaves. Yesterday was his day, and news organizations fill much of the non-prime time with filler of King speeches, interviews and stories. As I drove around yesterday doing my errands, listening to excerpts of King’s addresses on the radio, I was struck once again by his choice of language and tone. Allow me to choose, as representative of much of his oratory, this paragraph from the Presidential Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, on what must have been a sweltering August 16th, 1967:

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol houses a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy and who will walk humbly with his God. Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied. And men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout White Power! — when nobody will shout Black Power!—but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.

This paragraph has it all. An expectation of civil equality. A plea to move past racial divisions to “human power.” A call to stand firm, and an implication that “dissatisfaction” may take some time. And most notable to me, in direct contradiction with today’s America, constant, eloquent, unapologetic Biblical imagery and religious language. This is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, after all. Which made me ask: when did the Left loose its faith?

I seek no self-serving whitewashing of history, and I certainly won’t try to turn an ardent pacifist into a supporter of foreign wars (note to the Pentagon: next MLK Day, crow about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and link it to King’s legacy). The civil rights movement was firmly Liberal, and conservatives were on the wrong side of history. But King’s movement was also a tidal wave of faith with a religious conviction that eventually justice would be done, according to God’s will. It is impossible to escape God in King’s writings and speeches. The Left had no issue with that 40 years ago.

Obviously, much has changed. If I may summarize the current political situation, from a lefty perspective, it would go something like this: smart people are Liberals because they think rationally, and Liberalism is inherently so. Dumb people are conservative and Republican because they are sheeple that believe in God (and guns). Liberals are atheists because believing the earth is 6000 years old is dumb, and Liberals are smart. They have a study to prove it. Smart people don’t need God, they have Humanism and the Flying Spagehtti Monster.

Of all the alignments of ideology with political party in the last forty years, the disappearance of the religious Liberal is one of the least recognized. The Religious Right is famously faithful, conservative, and reliably Republican, in numbers almost as stark as African-Americans are Democratic. In response to this political power, atheists have become more vocal and public, releasing popular books and becoming more fervent, seemingly not only in their nonbelief, but also in their dismissal of the faithful (see: Dumb Sheeple, above).

Yes, most Democratic politicians maintain a faithful public persona. And the African-American civil rights community never left their churches. But increasingly religiousness also cleaves along political boundaries, at least among the leadership, spokespeople, and pundits. Too-Catholic John Kennedy has been replaced by Bill Maher. Liberal Hawks who opposed the Soviet Union because of its godlessness have been replaced with activists equating Muslim and Christian crimes in the spat over the Islamic Cultural Center near the Ground Zero (I’m not trying to argue the merits here, please, only characterize the tone). On issues of prayer in school, the 10 Commandments at courthouses, abortion, etc, the loudest voices could be as easily described as Atheist versus Christian as Left versus Right.

So, I wonder, how do modern Liberals view this icon’s religious faith, now the public preserve of the Right? It is certainly glossed over in polite conversation. Is it an embarrassment? An inconvenience? An allowed imperfection? I am honestly looking forward to the answer in the comments below.