How the Conservative Right Hijacks Religion and Why Democrats Must Challenge Them

By Mike Sosteric, Associate Professor, Sociology, Athabasca University. First published on The Conversation

Democrats are beginning to challenge the Republican grip on the language of religion and faith in the United States. Democrat Sen. Chris Coons, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, recently wrote an essay for The Atlantic, “Democrats Need to Talk About Their Faith.”

This is a bold and necessary move. However, it may come up against scientific and progressive resistance. This resistance is based on the claim that science and religion, or religion and progressive politics, are incompatible.

Scorn for religion can be seen both among some learned atheists or in popular culture. Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins dismissively discusses religion in The God Delusion; comedian, political commentator and talk show host Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous also took a smug and barbed approach and has faced criticisms of liberal Islamophobia.

Arguments voiced by such figures often argue that science is empirical while religion is based on authority, is reactionary and expects you to believe things based on faith, dogma or charismatic authority.

True, some of the faithful eschew empirical reality in favour of blind faith.

But not all scientists reject faith and traditional forms of religion. And not all religion is about blind faith and authority, nor is all human spirituality beyond empirical investigation.

Science and human spirituality are not incompatible. Scientists can, and sometimes do, think about and explore human spirituality in a philosophical and empirical manner.

Spiritual closet

If some scientists seems to accept a relationship between science and human spirituality, they may still be unwilling to discuss it openly. They are, so to speak, in the spiritual closet.

One study of scientists in U.S. universities found that although only a small subset was religious in a traditional sense, many consider themselves spiritual in some way. Their sense of spirituality was congruent with their views about science.

Some psychologists have sought to explore spirituality through empirical investigation. The observable aspect of human spirituality goes by different names. To some, like William James, pioneer of modern psychology and author of the 1880 Principles of Psychology, it is “mystical experience.” To Abraham Maslow, founder of both the humanistic and existential schools of psychology, it is “peak experience.” Addictions specialist and community workerWilliam White calls it “transformational experience.” In my research in the area of the sociology of religion and mystical exerperience, I call it, for agnostic simplicity, connection experience.

‘Connection’ experiences can help heal

Psychologists who have studied connection experience agree it is an observable and consequential thing.

White reviews historical accounts to relay how transformational change — a “process of psychological death and rebirth” — can lead to recovery from alcoholism.

William R. Miller, clinical psychologist and emeritus professor of psychology and psychiatry at University of New Mexico, has researched what he calls “quantum change” — “sudden, dramatic, and enduring transformations that affect a broad range of personal emotion, cognition, and behaviour.”

Big deal if some people have mystical experiences. Why is this relevant?

Conservatives hijack the religious agenda

Connection experiences are important for many reasons, but one in particular stands out.

The political colonization and exploitation of human spirituality is a strategy of conservative elites. Christina Forrester, founder and director of Christian Democrats of America, notes that in the 1980s, political conservatives used people’s authentic spiritual sentiment to create a moral majority of spiritual zealots organized around an opposition to abortion that did not exist in the same way before.

When Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he claimed he loved the Bible but then refused to elaborate when asked about his favourite verses. His supposed love for the Bible may have helped him fool the masses and get him elected. Similarly, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio garners support from conservative Christians by sending out periodic Bible tweets.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi regularly presents himself as a devotee, despite his clear economic conservatism and disdain for the poor.

The conservative right does not own spirituality

Despite scientific evidence and ongoing political relevance, many intellectuals or people affiliated with progressive movements abdicate concern with human spirituality. The irony of the dismissal of spirituality is twofold. For one, it is a losing political strategy.

It allows people like Trump and Modi to exploit human spirituality and manipulate people’s spiritual sensibility, gaining support from the very constituency they will inevitably go on to eviscerate. In addition, the dismissal is itself anti-science and based on a theoretical misunderstanding.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The conservative right has no exclusive claim to human spirituality. In its authentic form, human spirituality is egalitarian, progressive and transformative. For example, many of Jesus’s teachings resonate with socialism: in one story —told in three variants in three books of the Bible — a rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to be perfect. Jesus says, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. We can imagine the impact on people like Trump, Rubio and other economic elites to being confronted with a message like that.

Human spirituality cannot be owned by any one political ideology, nor should it be. It is often exploited by conservative actors, but there is healing and progressive potential as well. As long as progressive actors abjure studying religion, reactionary ones will have free hand to misrepresent and exploit it.

Therefore, overcome what University of California at Los Angeles sociologist Linda Brookover Bourque calls a stylized and simplistic understanding of religion. The next time Trump claims he loves the Bible, his hypocritical claims can be silenced by the roar of a truly enlightened progressive collective.

Bernie Sanders Campaign Should Stop The White Women's Privilege Lectures

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast/Photos Getty.  via The Daily Beast

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast/Photos Getty. via The Daily Beast

Last February Jennifer Wright addressed Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders’ problem with women, writing Bernie Sanders’ Sexism Problem for Harper’s Bazaar.

“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.” Vermont Public Radio, Feb. 2019

Many women and people of color view that statement as a reaffirmation of the “let white men rule, we’re better at it” theory of political governance. Wright perfects her roast of Sanders, and I encourage to read her piece, while I pull out a few highlights that still simmer in my conscious as a super active person in the Hillary Clinton campaign.

There was a bit of poetic justice when women who worked for Bernie in his 2016 primary campaign came forward to discuss how they were paid less and experienced sexual harassment. You see, with rare exceptions — finally hiring Symone Sanders who served as his national press secretary until late June 2016 — Bernie couldn’t really find many good women of any skin color to hire at a high level. His campaign was run by white men — a feature that he has fixed in his current 2020 run for the Democratic nomination.

Still, when women working in the field and as organizers complained about both wages and fending off sexual advances from male staffers, Bernie grabbed his mop of white hair and defended his inaction saying initially “I was a little bit busy running around the country”. After all, Bernie Sanders said that “women’s issues were a distraction” and Planned Parenthood — who is getting the crap kicked out of them by the Trump administration — is “the establishment”.

Those same Sanders campaign women going to New New York Times to share their experiences aggravated the hell out of Sanders who doesn’t hesitate to public address controversy most often with a “poor me” song akin to Donald Trump’s.

Sanders Is Old Dog Not Interested In New Tricks

Writing for The Daily Beast, Emily Shugerman’s article ‘Ex-Staffers: Bernie ‘Struggles’ with Women’s issues affirmed the gender gap in Sanders’ socialist brain when the topic is women.

“You can put lipstick on the pig, but in the end the senator is someone who is actually very proud of not changing his ideas,” Sarah Slamen, a Texas organizer and Sanders’ 2016 state campaign coordinator in Louisiana, told The Daily Beast.

“I want to believe that old dogs can learn new tricks, but I don’t see it with this dog,” she added.

If Bernie was female, he would be called a real crybaby. More importantly, Bernie has a serious problem with women supporters and raising money from women as donors. So it shocked me to read his campaign’s complaints about MSNBC and specifically legal analyst Mimi Rocah, a former assistant U.S attorney for the Southern District of New York.

To be clear, Rocah’s comments shocked me in their honesty, but the Sanders’ campaign response went all down hill for a campaign that needs the support of women of every color. This growing Democratic narrative from the black women pundit class that any campaign can fly without white women seems absurd, but politics does strange things to people’s minds.

Bernie Sanders Female Donors July 2019 Second Quarter

Think Elizabeth Warren And Bernie Sanders Are The Same? She Doesn’t.  via Buzzfeed

Think Elizabeth Warren And Bernie Sanders Are The Same? She Doesn’t. via Buzzfeed

First — stats about Bernie’s women donors. OpenSecrets has analyzed the candidates’ fundraising through July. Don’t be confused by Open Secrets publishing a picture of women holding Bernie signs. Senator Sanders is at the bottom of the Democratic pileup, with only 39% of his donors being women in second quarter. Bernie is at the bottom with candidates like Michael Bennett and Pete Buttigieg .

For all the fanfare around Bernie, coupled with his name recognition, the Sanders campaign performs pitifully with women and it will probably cost him the nomination. Actually, Biden’s women donors are only marginally better but his total dollar haul from women is more than double Bernie’s.

Bernie Sanders fundraising with women donors.png

Like it not, the Sanders campaign has a woman problem, and the Bernie team accuses MSNBC and other media — not Bernie himself — of cultivating it. Since I remember well Senator Sanders being the darling of MSNBC in 2016, far more than HIllary, I find this story pretty intriguing from the Bernie camp. Perhaps the MSNBC team has sobered up a bit now that Trump is president.

I have observed Bernie being very confrontational with MSNBC reporters and anchors, and nothing prepared me for Mimi Rocha’s personal critique of Sanders during a segment with 8-10 am weekends host David Gura, saying that Bernie makes her “skin crawl” and that he’s not a “pro-woman candidate.”

Clearly Rocha is a legal analyst and not a political pundit. Hearing Rocha’s words, I was like "Holy mother of the goddess!!!" To be clear, I think Bernie would sell out women's reproductive health in a minute for new union rights, let's say. I don't trust him further than I can throw a high heel. Still, Rocah's candor took my breath away.

“Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl,” Rocah started when discussing the lineup for the upcoming Democratic debate in Detroit, where Sanders will share a stage with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “I can’t even identify for you what exactly it is. But I see him as sort of a not pro-woman candidate,” she continued. "So, having the two of them there—like, I don’t understand young women who support him. And I’m hoping having him next to her will help highlight that.”

The Sanders campaign was furious, and The Daily Beast details their response to Rocha’s comments in an article saying tensions between Sanders and MSNBC are boiling over.

“It takes a certain kind of woman to ignore that education, healthcare, and the economy are women’s issues too. #privilegedmuch? This is not what intersectional feminism looks like. It’s corporate feminism at its finest. Full stop,” Sanders’ national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray wrote on Twitter.

“Here we go again.. It is so belittling to constantly tell young women that they HAVE TO vote for someone JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE A WOMAN. Mam, we have brains, we're voting on policy and a candidates vision + work, not their sex. This is #WhiteFeminism at its finest,” Belén Sisa, Sanders’ Latino press secretary, tweeted.

The article is interesting but Bernie's problems are not because of MSNBC.

Bernie's problems are 1) we don't believe that he can achieve significant goals, based on his pitiful decades long lack of legislation in Congress and lack of a strong network among colleagues. His record pales next to Elizabeth Warren's who runs circles around him intellectually and as a policy whip who literally invented the Consumer Protection Bureau and then dealt with Republicans refusing to give her the permanent job.

Did Elizabeth Warren cry boo hoo like Bernie? Nope, she persisted on behalf of American consumers.

And 2) we prefer a younger, calmer, candidate than Bernie Sanders. Beyond that, some of have long memories and with so many great Democratic candidates, there's no need to work through my issues with Bernie and his ruthless supporters, which are totally of Bernie's making.

Given the success of Elizabeth Warren with women generally and much more successfully with women of color than Bernie, the white women are corporate feminists, not intersectional feminists, actually falls on deaf ears. In the age of Trump white women Democrats are tired of being yelled at by Sanders camp women of every color.

Women's Suffrage Leaders Left Out Black Women  via Teen Vogue

Women's Suffrage Leaders Left Out Black Women via Teen Vogue

To be honest, the wounds are so deep among women post 2016 election and then the fighting with the Women’s March founders (who have been unusually quiet this summer — thankfully), we’ve learned to just let the Bernie women’s condemnations of us evaporate.

If Bernie gets the nomination, we will vote for him. But we’re 95% certain that won’t happen, although the anti-white women arguments certainly won’t cease in the ultra progressive wing of the party. Bernie has a terrible time making alliances and solid relationships with other politicos, so the way his representatives speak to possible supporters and donors should not surprise us.

Turner and Bernie's other women could have properly called Rocah out, as she stunned even me with her candor. But when you drag white feminism into the conversation, I remind you not to get your gander up, Berner ladies. We white lades you detest so much have other candidates who are happy to have our support and money. I'm just tone deaf to the white women bs from Berners and refuse to relive the utter hell of 2016 first with Bernie and then with Trump. My conscience is clear, and that’s the final word. Kiss, kiss, Nina. ~ Anne