Pagan Square Pegs, Religious Liberal Round Holes

Steven Waldman, co-founder of Beliefnet, has written an opinion piece for about the rise of the “religious left”. In it, Waldman gives a brief overview of religious left participants. These include “Bible-thumping liberals”, “Ethnic churchgoers”, “Pious peaceniks”, “Conflicted Catholics”, and finally “Religious feminists”.

“…after years of being fractured and relatively impotent, the religious left now seems organized and energized. Where abortion and gay marriage threatened to divide them a few years ago, opposition to the Iraq war and immigration restrictions now unite them. This is not necessarily good news for secular liberals, who tend to think that all the religious mumbo-jumbo entails a dangerous mixing of church and state. But they may swallow their distaste if they think it will help them win elections.”

But Waldman’s “rah-rah religious liberals” piece leaves many voters out of the mix – specifically religious voters who aren’t Christians, Muslims, or Jews. Even the category of “religious feminists,” which you would think could encompass a few goddess worshippers, is defined solely by feminist Christians. Are Christian feminist voters really a bigger voting bloc than modern Pagans? How do you even quantify which female Christians are “feminist Christians”?

What the Waldman piece doesn’t tell you is that it is a boiled down version of an article he wrote with John Green entitled “The Twelve Tribes of American Politics”. In it he makes clear where Pagans (and Buddhists, Native Americans, Hindus, and other religious minorities) fit in:

“Muslims and other faiths… Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and other smaller groups… 77% of Muslims and others voted for Kerry, making up 4% of his vote, while 23% voted for Bush, accounting for 1% of his total… What they care about: They care more about economics (and are liberal on it) but some (Muslims especially) are conservative on social issues like gay marriage. They oppose the political involvement of religious organizations.”

Apparently, we are lumped into the “Muslims and others.” But maybe we also fit into his “Spiritual but not religious” category:

“Most report spiritual beliefs– 85% believe in God and more than half are sure there is some kind of life after death– but they don’t much like houses of worship or organized religion. They report no formal religious affiliation and a majority report seldom or never attending worship services. 47% are under age 35.”

So Pagans are “ethnic churchgoers”? “Religious feminists”? “Spiritual but not religious” voters? Do Pagan pacifists belong with the “pious peaceniks”, while a pro-gun Asatruar who voted Kerry out of disgust with Bush is an “ethnic” vote? The confusion stems from the political (and religious) punditry’s almost total ignorance of any religion that doesn’t sport a cross on the door. Since Pagans and Hindus and Buddhists didn’t decide the vote in 2004, we don’t matter to the opinion makers.

Why does this matter? Isn’t it all demographic crystal-gazing? It matters because when terms like “religious left” (and “religious right”) become defined as “lefty Jesus vs. righty Jesus” or even “lefty patriarchal sky father vs. righty patriarchal sky father,” then the voices of the faithful who don’t hold those views are shoved out of the big tent. Eventually we will gravitate towards the candidates who will give us the time of day. It could be the Green Party, the Libertarians, or even independent candidates, but it won’t be a religious coalition, however liberal, that doesn’t count minority faiths, yet gets to decide the pressing moral and social issues of the day in bestselling books and television shows.

We’re here, we’re growing fast, and while a majority of us pulled the donkey lever last time around, nothing lasts forever.