The Conversation We Should Be Having
I recently participated in a conversation with liberal clergy from three of the four Abrahamic faiths. Baha’i was not represented because, as I was told privately, it would upset the imam and preclude his participation in the conversation. [So much for being liberal.] The question before us was how we go about reconciling the liberal and conservative factions of our respective religions, and bring unity to the Abrahamic community in general.
I remained silent as my colleagues each presented their religions as bastions of love and liberalism. I remained silent as they spoke about the power of love to transform those who voted for Donald Trump. I remained silent as they took refuge in the liberal delusion that illiberals would become liberals if only they heard the good news of liberalism. My intent was to remain silent throughout the conversation, and then go home. Unfortunately, someone noticed, and asked me to comment.
I should have said, “I think my colleagues are doing a wonderful job, and would prefer to listen to them rather than echo what they are saying so eloquently.” I should have said that. Unfortunately, I said this instead:
While I applaud the eloquence and good intensions of my colleagues, they are blind to their own confirmation bias: because they are liberals, they assume that the only authentic version of their respective religions is the liberal version. This is nonsense.
Jews I know who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they trusted him to uphold their Jewish values and put an end to the notion of a Palestinian State side by side the State of Israel. Christians I know who voted for Mr. Trump did so because they trusted him to uphold their Christian values and make abortion illegal again. Muslims I know who voted for Mr. Trump… actually I don’t know any Muslims who voted for Mr. Trump, but my point is this: those who voted for Mr. Trump didn’t vote against their values and religion, but for them. They did so because neither they nor their religions are liberal.
My colleagues, like liberals in general, are blinding themselves to the shadow side of religion, and the dark side of God and humanity. The racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia we attribute to Mr. Trump and his followers has its ancient roots and many of its contemporary branches in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. To pretend otherwise is to be complicit in the very evils we decry.
We are at war with illiberalism: illiberal religions, illiberal democracies, and illiberal ideologies. And to imagine that making room in our synagogues, churches, and mosques for those who hold racist, misogynist, homophobic, and xenophobic views will cause them to drop these views in favor of our views is absurd. We must take a stand against their values, argue our position against their position, confront evil wherever we find it, and hope not to change those whom we oppose, but to exhaust them; not to transform them into liberals like ourselves, but to make them and their illiberalism politically, socially, and religiously irrelevant. If we want to talk about how we can do this—then we are engaging in a conversation worth having. Otherwise we are wasting our time.