The big divide in U.S. religion today

U.S. Catholic bishops have voted 155 to 55 (with 6 abstentions) to deny holy communion to U.S. politicians who support abortion rights. Elected officials who openly support the death penalty will still be allowed to receive communion, even though the church’s catechism states, “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Elected officials who deny climate change will still be able to receive communion, even though Pope Francis has said, “We need to act decisively to put an end to all emissions of greenhouse gases by mid-century at the very latest, and to do even more than that.” This is typical of U.S. religion today.

I have come to believe that the big divide in U.S. religion these days is actually politics, not theology. Do you support the Republican party line, or the Democratic party line? — that’s how the U.S. religious divide is defined. The U.S. Catholic bishops voting to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights, yet taking no action on politicians who support the death penalty, may not seem logically consistent. Nevertheless, their stance is entirely consistent with Republican politics.

I’m pretty sure that Unitarian Universalists suffer from the same problem, on the other side of the political divide. Unitarian Universalism is doing its best to stand up against racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism (to some extent), and other forms of systemic injustice. Classism, however, is mostly dismissed or ignored within Unitarian Universalism. Nor does Unitarian Universalism engage in systematic critique of capitalism. Our stance may not be logically consistent, but it is entirely consistent Democratic politics.

Therefore, fellow Unitarian Universalists, before you speak scornfully of the Catholic bishops, first reflect on how Unitarian Universalism hews so closely to the Democratic party line. Instead of speaking of another religion with scorn, we might instead reflect on the words of a wise ancient Jewish teacher who said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” In other words, I do hope we Unitarian Universalists don’t become merely a special interest group of the Democratic party.

2 thoughts on “The big divide in U.S. religion today”

  1. John, what does seem to be missing from the current religio-political stance of the Democratic Party (and to a large extent the stance of Unitarian Universalism) is a willingness to see that all forms of oppression and exploitation are linked. Both oppression and exploitation must be addressed. I don’t think we’ll be able to seriously address U.S. racism unless we also address exploitation of workers and the commodification of labor. U.S. racism arose as a way to conveniently enslave a whole class of workers; it’s the ultimate commodification of labor, to the point where not just their labor but the persons themselves were turned into commodities. (That should be a cautionary tale to all of us: if capitalism was able to turn some human beings into commodities, it’s still able to turn you and me into commodities.) I’d argue that the Republicans won the 2016 presidential election by appealing to white male working class persons who were feeling exploited, while the Democrats won the 2020 election by appealing to non-white and non-male persons who were oppressed. In other words, both parties relied to some extent on a divide-and-conquer strategy, and so the real system of oppression and exploitation was not threatened. But the only way we can reform what is an essentially oppressive system is to get all those people to realize that they’re being exploited and commodified by the same system. This is one reason I feel closer to Christian socialists than to mainstream Unitarian Universalism today: many Unitarian Universalists (even the ones who claim they’re atheists) still worship the god Mammon, whereas both the Christian socialists and I refuse to bow down to Mammon.

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