Religious Voices Sing Different Tunes

There’s a central insight that gets lost in those fabricated “wars” on Christmas and the purported victimization of “people of (Christian) faith.”

The really consequential religious battles aren’t those that occur between us secular folks and adherents of various religious communities. They aren’t even the conflicts between followers of different religions.

The real dividing line is between people who look to their religion for guidance about the nature of the good, and those who see in dogma a tool for exercising power and/or asserting superiority.

The religious folks I admire strive to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord” (to appropriate a phrase from Jewish liturgy). These are people who aren’t consumed with moral certainty or pumped up with self-righteousness; they’re people looking for wisdom in managing their relationships to each other and the planet, people who understand that there are many paths to a good life, and many good people on paths different from their own.

Then there are those who use religion primarily to advance their own temporal prospects, and the zealots to whom they appeal– angry, insecure people for whom religion is expressed in fundamentalism and intolerance.

Recently, these two incompatible approaches met in Louisiana. I give you Bobby Jindal and the awesome counter to his blatant politicizing of religion. 

A group of religious leaders has scheduled a prayer rally at Southern University to rival Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s religious gathering — officially called The Response — at LSU.

The prayer rally  at Southern University will take place in the Felton G. Clark Center (Mini Dome) on the same day, Jan. 24, as Jindal’s event at the Peter Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC) on LSU’s campus. The Southern gathering is being called the “Prayer Rally for the Soul of Louisiana.”

Organizers of the Southern event have said they will focus on Louisiana’s mass incarceration rate, Medicaid expansion and the state’s failing education system. The list of issues may be a personal critique of Jindal’s tenure as governor. For example, the governor has consistently refused to accept federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana, even as other Republican governors have done so.

Jindal has come under criticism for holding The Response at a public facility on LSU’s campus. Some question whether the event, which is overtly Christian, should be held in a government building. Other criticism has to do with sponsor for The Response — the American Family Association (AFA) — which holds controversial views about homosexuality, Eric Garner’s death and freedom of speech. An initial prayer guide released for The Response linked the rise of same-sex marriage to Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

If more genuinely religious folks protested the hijacking of religion for political purposes, religion might be more appealing to the growing number of Americans who are throwing the baby of spiritual exploration out with the bathwater of bigotry.


  1. Good points! Many religious advocates use victimization as a tool to recruit empathic people to their side and create an illusion that can be used by others (elected representatives, e.g.) as a wedge to separate their social stratum from others. If they could only constrain themselves. I like the religious people who pray silently, in private and focus on their own spirituality – and leave others to do the same, in whatever form they choose, probably a dinosaur in the 21st century.

  2. The old Yellow Pages listed nearly 12 pages each with 4 columns of churches in the Indpls area and they paid no taxes on that land and as Sheila pointed were reached on roads that we all paid for and the local fire department that we all paid for put out fires if needed. Hardly an attack on Christians.

  3. One of the driving forces that created this nation was dominionism. That is the concept that “Because I am (insert your favorite religion or nationality), I have a right to everything and everybody I see.” The European Church establishment of the 1700’s took this approach to the “New world.” That is why Europeans came in, stole the land and obliterated the people who were already here, to establish their kingdom on Earth.

    The “Establishment” clause of the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment forbids state religion. The Dominionists have fought for two centuries to eliminate that, if not in the document, in the minds of certain people. Many of our laws dealing with personal behavior are based on Christian tenets. Those who think differently often object to being subjected to these restrictions. The constitution supports that objection. The Dominionists try to end run that, and have been unfortunately rather successful.

  4. “Then there are those who use religion primarily to advance their own temporal prospects, and the zealots to whom they appeal– angry, insecure people for whom religion is expressed in fundamentalism and intolerance.”

    This is an excellent description of these judgemental people Sheila. If they would make the effort to think for themselves (and search for the truth), they might have some very different opinions.

    Ignorant and followers – Ugh!!!

  5. Thank you, Sheila, for delineating the difference between thoughtful, caring Christians and the right-wing fundamentalists who have given all Christians a bad name, because there is a difference and it is seldom noted–much to the consternation of those who get lumped in with the haters and loonies.

  6. Wray; and the “Christian” right-wing fundamentalists don’t understand the difference between Muslims and the extremist and terrorist factions. Closed minds, hearts and wallets identify them.

  7. Speaking off the top of my head, no documentation whatsoever, but simply an observation of humankind over a few decades, I notice that when people, any group of people including political and religious groups, feels insecure, feels their grip on the rungs of life’s ladder begin to slip, they tend to become more and more conservative, more intent on conserving what little they have in life.

    This observation is not simply on a national level, but also on a global level. Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists both feel insecure and hence both groups are fighting to keep whatever they hold to be precious and sacred. The more tepid Christians and Muslims are not fighting and simply go their merry ways through life without recognizing that their brothers and sisters in ‘whatever religion’ are increasingly fanatical, increasingly intent on preserving the foundations, the fundamentals of their respective faiths. Fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, always possess a sense of urgency, a need to reassert their beliefs in louder fashion and in more public forums.

  8. Thank you, Sheila! “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their Lord (God)” is IT in a nutshell! All faiths everywhere should strive to live that way. In the last hundred years or more, many have forgotten that simple, beautiful lesson.

  9. Sheila, don’t let a few facts get in the way of a good martyr story confabulated by a few loud voices in the crazy sector who have dirtied the reputations of everyone who identifies with what it means to be a Christian.

  10. This night owl who stands on the periphery of Christianity after having been to more than a few Holy Rodeos with the Christian Cowboys and Cowgirls is not about to articulate what it means to be a Christian in current society. Actually I wouldn’t touch that particular topic with a ten foot pole as I’d only end up stating what I think a Christian should say, should do, and/or should believe. Fortunately that’s outside my realm of authority, not in my job description. Borrowing a classic statement from the National Lampoon’s Radio Hour in the 1970’s, “Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet.”

  11. Barbara: I just wanted you to know I enjoy your comments as much as the Professor’s blog. Just saying…

  12. What does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 This is not just a phrase from Jewish liturgy, it is from the Bible which is the Word of God and a command to every person.

    The American Renewal Project has paid to rent out the PMAC for this prayer rally. The PMAC is rented out for concerts like Garth Brooks. This is not the State of Louisiana santioning a prayer event. I find it intresting how many people are calling to stop this event because they personally do not believe in what it represents. This is called Freedom of Speech aka “The First Amendment” which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.

    I can just imagine the uproar if this was a Gay Pride rally and the conserviatives were trying to deny them acess to the PMAC. Why do liberals get away with trying to shut down consevitives freedom of speech?

  13. He’s talking about LSU arena, yawl. Can’t see why a state college can’t hold a religious convention. KKK is a religion, I say. Let’s have a burn out there.

  14. Barbara
    I meant to post a comment a few days ago when I read this originally, but you should pick up the book The True Believers: Thoughts on the nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. It was written in 1951 but, having read it recently, I was struck by how profoundly accurate Hoffer’s analysis is when applied to our current state of ethnocentric and religious fervor. It’s easily one of the top five books I have ever read and I’m sure you would enjoy it.

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