Melissa Harris-Perry on the role of faith in politics

If you missed Melissa Harris-Perry hosting in Rachel Maddow’s absence last week, you missed out. Good news is there is plenty to see online, like this important examination of faith and politics:

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  • Cat

    A lot of anti-atheist dog whistles combined with a limited, whitewashed view of history, I am unimpressed. You know, I have actually read slave narratives and read the writings of early 20th century black activits. There is plenty of atheism and secularism to be found in those movements as well, in addition to the use of religion to convince black people to be submissive to the violence against them. Prayer and faith as hope is lazy and changes nothing, real change involves work and action.

    Frederik Douglass:

    “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise”

    The views of slaves on religion were not as simple and Christianized as Harris-Perry pretends (I also suggest reading the writings of A. Phillip Randolph and his fellow activists, they are very strongly critical of religion and very pro-reason).

    I am with Marx on this one:

    “It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

    The real answer to oppression is not inaction and empty hope that things will get better (such as faith), it is action and change. Fixing the problems is better than ignoring them. Thin religious veneers to attempt to ignore suffer do nothing but continue the suffering and worsen it, because they feed into that brutal, hateful religious system.

    • Kara

      “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature; the heart of a heartless world; the soul of soulless conditions; it is the opium of the people” .
      Karl Marx
      People of faith are quite active. Remember Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?Religion is imperfect just like any other area of life because people are involved. Non faith based organizations can be just as fraught with hypocracy and stagnation as churches. Unfortunately, the only religious figures that are put in the public eye are fanatics, racists, mysoginists and homophobes. It’s understandable why people are fed up with religion from those standpoints, but it’s important not to throw it all away. Stalin was no relgious fanatic and look at all the damage he did! Don’t get lost in stereotypes.

      • Cat

        “It’s important not to throw it all away” I disagree, wholeheartedly. There is no redeeming value in religion. It is utterly unecessary. It provides nothing that cannot be provided without it, and throws in a huge pile of nasty along with it. The argument that “religion isn’t the only source of evil in the world” fails to refute the position that religion is a source of evil. What you are doing is the equivalent of arguing that sexism is okay because classism also does damage.

        • davenj

          “I disagree, wholeheartedly. There is no redeeming value in religion. It is utterly unecessary. It provides nothing that cannot be provided without it, and throws in a huge pile of nasty along with it.”

          And I disagree. Religion has redeeming value in its ability to provide understanding, solace, comfort, and community, among many other things, to quite a few people. That it is flawed is not an argument for destruction, but reform, in the same way that the flaws in feminism don’t mandate its end.

          You define religion as unnecessary, but those concerned with the extra-universal do not.

          You also fall prey to the same fallacy you criticize. That other things provide the goods that religion can provide is not an argument against religion.

          Finally, while religion has a lot of nasty wrapped into it, the same is true of every human construct or institution. Most everything is a source of evil by your broad definition. What wouldn’t be a source of evil?

          • toongrrl

            I believe it’s FAITH not RELIGION. Religion may be an oppressor for many of us. But to some people, it’s a source of comfort and is about families and communities banding together. However idiotic this may seem to people, but some people need something to practice and believe in. My family is religious and I love them to death. But most of all, most people I know believe ferverently in their deities.

          • Kelsey

            You may feel that you need “faith” in order to feel good about your life, and I completely respect that. But do not tell me that I need “faith” in order to live a life of purpose and happiness. That’s the problem with most theists. They assume that because they are happy with their own spiritual beliefs, that anyone else who lives an alternative lifestyle is somehow less happy or otherwise incapable of being happy. That assumption is competely false.

      • Kelsey

        “Stalin was no relgious fanatic and look at all the damage he did!”

        Yes but Stalin did not do it in the name of atheism, which is the key difference with most other organized religious institutions. I take no issue with those who wish to associate themselves with religion, as long as they do not try to incorporate their religious views into the political sphere. If you’re religion brings you happiness, that’s wonderful, but do not be so arrogant as to tell me that I am not as fulfilled because I choose to live a life based on science and physical proof.

        • Kelsey

          Oops, “your”. Sorry for the typo.

        • Clickety Keys

          Not in the name of atheism, but definitely in the name of something he believed strongly in. Great passion + great power = often abuse.

          • Kelsey

            Yes but toongrrl was attempting to compare destruction done in the name of religion to destruction done by atheists, which isn’t comparable on that level. Simply because a person happens to identify themselves as an atheist, it doesn’t mean their actions are done in the name of their lack of “faith”. Anyone can have a strong belief in anything, but that is not relevant to this particular topic.

  • Kelsey

    I’m so tired of hearing people tell me that I “need” faith. I don’t need faith in order to feel better about my life and humanity as a whole. In fact, if more people shared this cynical view of faith I would argue that the world we live in today would be much better for everyone. This whole video has basically alienated us anti-theists by saying that we are somehow incapable of living a life of purpose because we do not wish to fill the unknown with an invisible higher-power. How insulting.

    • Phoebe Dembs

      I agree wholeheartedly. Why do we need “something bigger” than we are to mobilize us to make change? Talk about lack of faith in human beings…

      • Clickety Keys

        Well, I think everyone does need “something bigger,” but it doesn’t have to be faith. What about community? What about posterity? Making the natural world a better place in which to live is definitely an important purpose.

        • Kelsey

          I wouldn’t say people “need” to have anything bigger than themselves in order to live a life of happiness (by their standards), but I will agree that putting something ahead of yourself is beneficial to our society at-large. However, anti-theists have a problem with faith by the definition of “spirituality”, not just any random thing you may happen to put yourself behind. That is what was being done in the video, hence the unhappy feeedback from us non-theists. You can understand how patronizing that view is to us, I’m sure.

  • Guerric Haché

    Faith in something greater than oneself, and overcoming cynicism, are both possible without believing in stories that have been used to mislead and oppress. The notion that people need religious faith to lead lives of greater purpose is frankly offensive to the strength of the human spirit, and her declaration that evidence alone paints a grim picture tells me she doesn’t understand what evidence actually means. Evidence from the last few decades shows us that we can take control of society and that we *can* fight back against terrible social pressures and extremists of all stripes.

    Describing poverty and violence figures as the only facts and declaring we need faith to believe we can do better is an insult to all the people who *have* done better without faith, who have risen to the challenge and contributed to making the world a better place without couching their efforts in vague metaphysical pronunciations. We don’t need faith, we need only compassion, and anyone who thinks the latter requires the former… well, I wouldn’t want my children to grow up near people who can only feel compassion as long as they believe in fairies.

    If the world is a bad place and we are to fix it, we need to be outraged and offended and driven by horror at the conditions of the world – not to be placated by hopes of a world after death where people get what they deserve, not to be driven to action by the notion that we are constantly being judged, not to be made to believe that somehow, a loving deity will help us make it all better. Making the world better will cost us *our* sweat, blood and tears; let’s not pretend we’ve got a metaphysical safety, because we don’t.

    Reason doesn’t make us into bitter cynics – despair does. And we’ve made so much progress in the last century that, frankly, despair is only for people who *haven’t* looked at the evidence.