Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Language of the Times II
The Co-Opting of the term Faith
In a nation where religious affiliation is on the wane, now is a good time to look closely at the term faith. In politics, in particular, an increasingly desperate Republican party that has for years girded its loins with the mantle of superior “faith” is now completely losing whatever sense of prudence, decency, or ethics it might have had—if any. And as we watch these Republicans rightfully relinquish their grip on power, we realize that, at some point along the decades-long arc of their rise and fall, the term faith was co-opted. A perfectly useful term that had always been dependent on a definitive modifier (Christian faith, Muslim faith, Jewish faith, etc.) was seized by white male Republicans who branded themselves men of faith, without giving us the faintest idea what that actually meant. “We’re just better than those godless Democrats,” the phrase said. “Just shut up and follow us.” And of course, millions bought into the ruse and did just that, to disastrous effect.
This despite the fact that these supposed “men of faith” were not using the term faith to express their embrace of Christian teachings: of sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, of “thou shall not kill,” “thou shall not steal,” and “honor thy father and mother.” They were not using the term to be inclusive, they were using it to be exclusive—to declare themselves saviors, to apply the salve of justice onto the wounds of shame and fear their followers were suffering: the shame of incurable racism and xenophobia, and the fear of impending poverty slowly descending on their families and communities. And this has always been both the true crime and the genius of the Republican rise: these “men of faith” were never saviors, but were in fact, with their policies of austerity for the deserving poor and prosperity for the undeserving rich, the bringers of shame, and the bringers of poverty.
Which is why this co-opting of the term faith has been so insidious and so evil. It has not only manipulated the religious among us by making them feel special and exclusive, it has diminished the faith we are all at liberty to feel, each and every day, as participants in the American experiment. Because ours is a prosperous nation, founded on and governed by the rule of law, and given to fits of great compassion and ceaseless innovation. There are imperfections, certainly, as there are and will always be in any large human undertaking, but the vast majority of us, as citizens, can have faith, when we rise and go out into the world, in the people around us, in the safety of our streets, in the integrity of our customs and enterprises. Binding the term faith up in a religious context, and particularly, in a right-wing Republican conservative Christian context, in fact, binds all of us by denying us one of the best terms available for our national identify: our relationship to our communities, our system of government, and the public servants we all trust and rely on each and every day. Because, in America, the faith we have in our teachers, first responders, school boards, town and city councils, trash collectors, road workers, postal carriers, and cops on the beat, and, most importantly, the faith we have in each other, is much more important to our social fabric than faith in any unseen deity in the sky.