Democrats' religion conundrum

One often-proposed way to square the circle is to hold fast to liberal views but to use more religious language to defend them — to speak, in other words, from the religious left. Plenty of Democrats do this, in fact — Pete Buttigieg did so eloquently at the same town hall where O’Rourke took his controversial stand, talking about how marriage to his husband brought him to a deeper understanding of Christian service, subordinating the self to the needs of another. Is that the model that other Democrats should follow, as commentators like Frank Bruni have suggested?

Perhaps, but I’m not so sure it will help. It’s not obviously a big improvement to move from “religion is benighted and wrong,” to “actually, I’m religious and so I can tell you that your particular religious views are benighted and wrong.” Inasmuch as we share a spiritual vocabulary, religious language can be used to call us to live up to our professed ideals. It’s much harder to use such language against churches themselves as institutions.

What’s required is not just the language of faith but the language of respect, even of profound differences, differences which, from the liberal as well as the conservative perspective, are fundamental and basically moral. It means, ultimately, seeking a truce on at least some fronts in the culture war. Unfortunately, it’s neither easy nor obvious how to do that without devaluing causes that liberals take very seriously indeed.

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