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Good religion vs bad religion

A little background on this post...I was having a discussion (on Twitter) with the prominent religious journalism website GetReligion over the weekend. It analyzes the way reporters handle religion, faith-related news, and generally write about believers. Specifically, Terry Mattingly had a podcast interview where he was trying to explain that, no, the press doesn't hate religion and religious people. But he does think that the press feels there is "good" and "bad" religion. I'll let you head over there if you want more info. In a nutshell, his point is largely one about eternal truths. Religious conservatives tend to believe in unchanging absolutes while religious progressives tend to believe in doctrine which changes over time. And they see the unchanging absolutes camp as "crazy."

It actually wasn't a bad analysis. Though my comment to them on Twitter was that I'd go a little further. What role does the above have on public life? Terry's point was that newsrooms, particularly, are filled with secular types and religious progressives but almost no orthodox believers of any faith. Which brings a lack of attention, understanding, or outright hostility. I don't deny this, but my question in return was about the neutral space of society and culture. Seculars and religious progressives find themselves in a more natural alliance because--I would argue--they better fit the multicultural, pluralist place we all have to live.

We had Mennonites on the brain...they wondered about the military; I was thinking more about how we really don't care much what the Amish do. There is nothing wrong with unchanging, eternal truth or religious absolutes per se. Do I, personally, think God left a static revelation that we're forced to interpret 2000 years later? No. I don't think we should interpret the Constitution according to the intent of the Framers either. We interpret the Bible for today. But aside from personal feelings, the problem with religious conservatives is that they then try to seek influence and political orientation according to it. Not that religious progressives aren't doing the same thing. Secularists have ethical positions, too. But religious progressives and secularists tend to also bring in other philosophical and legal positions and realize that they cannot appeal to one value system. Political arguments have to work across cultures. That's one reason religious conservatives tend to be marginalized is that sometimes (frequently? usually?) their rationale only works within their faith/absolute. I suppose you could even argue that it's not utilitarian enough for the modern world. Should it be? Again, we don't complain about the Amish because the Amish aren't trying to run our government.

Obviously, the hot topic this weekend was the new law in Indiana. Place your scare quotes where you like. Is it about "religious freedom?" "Anti-gay?" Who is being discriminated against? I saw one article today that tossed out the word "pluralism" in terms of liberals not being very pluralist in letting Christians be anti-gay! That word doesn't quite mean what the author is trying to make it mean. What we're really talking about here is a kind of inclusive ask from Indiana where the new law wants to carve out a space for the religious to be free from the normal set of expectations for the rest of us. Which is fine if you want to not send your kids to school when they're 15 because they need to do farm work instead. It's different when you operate a public-facing business and want to not serve some customers. That's not the expectation customers have...if I walk into your business, you will not refuse to serve me for some arbitrary/biased reason such as my skin color, gender, religion, sexual preferences, marital status, etc..

Not to mention the religiously difficult question here of whether the right to refuse gays is a valid religious position at all. So many (yes, religiously conservative) churches maintain that their Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong. Of course, Jesus said nothing on this topic. He hung out with prostitutes. We're taught to love our neighbor. It depends how you read the Bible--literally? Mythically? Historically? But if one can make the case of it being un-Christian, it gives the Indiana lawmakers very little to stand on. Misguided religious position. Definitely wrong position from the secular point of view. It's no wonder they're backpedaling on the mistake and there was a backlash.

The whole subject is something to keep in mind, however, as we have a national debate about Islam to abortion. Could journalists be a little better about how they cover the "crazy" absolutes of religious conservatives? Yes. We could all show some understanding when it comes to the beliefs of others. But a point I've made to the GetReligion folks is that journalists don't have a duty to report both sides of a story if one side is clearly not in line with the majority of readership or that secular, religious progressive point of view. You don't need to go to the ends of the earth to get the quote from the bigoted pastor when we all know there are bigoted pastors. He does not have a place in a story about the legal battle over gay marriage though.

Good religion and bad religion do exist. And the standard isn't "my beliefs good, your beliefs bad." We can judge a religion--and, yes, dismiss it--by the fruits. How is your religion interacting with non-believers or people from other faiths? How is it trying to influence the conversation politically? If a faith is going to be active on the neutral ground of the public marketplace, it must play by those rules. And you cannot expect your religion's rules to be the ones everybody else plays by. That goes for ISIS, Christians, or atheists.

Afterall, God has no religion.

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