Wednesday, August 27, 2014
What's Wrong with this Picture?
The picture is explained by this article by Tobin Grant at Religion News Service, and is based on data from the Pew Research Group. It is a graph showing the relative positions of religions and denominations on the pressing political and social issues of the day.
What's wrong with it? Aside from the fact we call ourselves Unitarian Universalists, not "Unitarians". Other groups have names larger than their circles, so why not us?
I don't doubt that Pew Research has the best data around on religion, denominations, beliefs among the laity than anyone.
But they just have accepted rightwing tropes about politics. And because they do, how they place religious denominations isn't useful in the context of the actual political struggles of the coming day.
First of all, who says that the most important ideological division in the country is between big and small government? Just about every committed rightwing commentator and every shallow minded mainstream centrist. That should tell us something.
"Small government" as an ideology has a history in the United States. Supposedly, it is one of the guiding principles of the US Constitution, and that is partly true. The Constitution is a compromise document that creates the strongest possible national government that would not have the power to interfere with the institution of slavery in those states that wanted to preserve it. If you do a clause by clause analysis of the Constitution, you can see that while it creates a new national government, that government was structurally prevented from interfering with slavery. "Limited or Small Government" is the ideological window dressing for preventing the US government from acting on behalf of African Americans.
Small Government is still the principle by which federal action on behalf of African Americans is opposed. Conservatives are not against strong and powerful governments that act on behalf of white people, or against black people. Many conservatives, it appears, are all right with the police having the power to summarily execute suspected black criminals in the streets. A huge military, OK! Torture, OK! Corporate Welfare, OK! Food Stamps? No, we need small, limited government!
So, what is wrong with this picture? The horizontal axis is mis-named. It should be Anti-Institutional Racism on the Left and Pro-Institutional Racism on the Right. Some of the denominations might have be moved. Many would be stay the same. But it is true that the predominately black denominations would stay close to where they are now.
This is an important change in language. Nothing is more mystifying about our political debates as the obscuring of the role of race in political ideology. This re-naming of conservatism to an abstract, ahistoric principle hides where people are on the real issues of the day. The most important ideological conflict in the United States is now, and has always been, over whether African Americans and other non-White people have a full and equal place in the United States. If they are, then the government has to be committed to their welfare. Are we a multi-racial democracy, or is the US a white peoples' nation with non-whites in a permanently subordinate status?
When people say that they are in favor of helping the black poor, but just not with the government, they are saying that an abstract principle is of higher value than black poor people. It's a rationalization.
What else is wrong with this picture? The vertical axis (protection of morality) is equally premised on a rightwing, conservative bias. Is stealing from the poor through usurious interest rates moral? Is causing the death of innocent civilians in war moral? Is a minimum wage that is less than a living wage moral? Are CEO salaries hundreds of times greater than the average worker's wage moral? In this chart, one gets the idea that morality is just sexuality and marriage, in other words, patriarchical morality. So, the real axis is Pro-Patriarchy at the top and Anti-Patriarchy at the bottom.
But that would only rename what is there. When consider the morality of economics and social arrangements, the real division is whether the a church's moral stance declares the individual moral duty to go along with oppression, or to challenge it. Or, does the church really favor the full flowering of the human being, or try to tame it for the benefit of others.
To be useful, a chart should where denominations and religions are in relationship to the power structures in this country at this time. Because the future will be the history of those struggles.