Tuesday, February 05, 2008

In Which Nicholas Kristof Misses the Point

Mmmm, generally like Kristof's writing, and he's done a yeoman's job of keeping the atrocities of Darfur and Afghanistan, particularly those committed against women, on the radar screens of American readers. His Sunday column just hit the Daily Star today, and I have a bit of a bone to pick with him.
Scorning people for their faith is intrinsically repugnant, and in this case it also betrays a profound misunderstanding of how far evangelicals have moved over the last decade. Today, conservative Christian churches do superb work on poverty, AIDS, sex trafficking, climate change, prison abuses, malaria and genocide in Darfur.

Bleeding-heart liberals could accomplish far more if they reached out to build common cause with bleeding-heart conservatives. And the Democratic presidential candidate (particularly if it’s Mr. Obama, to whom evangelicals have been startlingly receptive) has a real chance this year of winning large numbers of evangelical voters.

This is a reiteration of the argument that's been simmering among bloggers in the Seed science writers group for the past year-plus, that people in the non-evangelical (well, non-theist, actually) world need to reach out to religious people gently and respectfully when trying to circumvent the imposition of a particular brand of religion on the political and legal umbrella we're all obliged to stand under.

Kristof isn't blind to the warts of fundamentalism, citing "typically conservative views on taxes, health care or Iraq" as well as pointing out that "moralizing blowhards showed more compassion for embryonic stem cells than for the poor or the sick." But he argues that the work of groups like Doctors Without Borders, Catholic aid groups, and innumerable small independent churches are the new face of religious conservatism, which liberals should now welcome rather than regard warily with a jaundiced eye.

It’s certainly fair to criticize Catholic leaders and other conservative Christians for their hostility toward condoms, a policy that has gravely undermined the fight against AIDS in Africa. But while robust criticism is fair, scorn is not...

We can disagree sharply with their politics, but to mock them underscores our own ignorance and prejudice.

I don't see many--or any, really--liberals mocking or scorning religious aid workers who help the poor and oppressed in this country or abroad by living the gospel's directive to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and comfort the ill and imprisoned. As long as no strings of conversion are attached to that help, hey, go for it and good on you.

Our scorn is reserved for those who use their faith as a convenient excuse to deny civil equality, physical autonomy, economic equity, and intellectual independence to people who do not share their beliefs. For those who find belief and the bible an acceptable substitute for critical thought and hard data. For those who would use religion as a cudgel to bash public policy into a crude semblance of the legalistic passages of their scripture that retains none of the references to humility, service, and love, but conveniently reinforces their self-image as the righteous, sole arbiters of morality and possessors of absolute truth. For those who judge and condemn the specks in other people's eyes while sporting beams in their own big enough to build seven crosses times seven on Calvary.

Those are the people we mock and scorn, Nick. Not those who serve and let live, but those who would compel the whole world to live as they would have us live.

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