HBO comedian Bill Maher ran several panels on why it is that Democrats no longer win elections. A panel which included Maher, Sen Sanders, and Andrew Sullivan, had unintentionally given much of the explanation on why Democrats are no longer a winning party in the United States.
Upon hearing Andrew Sullivan’s suggestion that Democrats are losing because religious people feel marginalized and disregarded by the Democratic party, Maher responded:” Honestly, there is no way to talk about religion honestly without mocking it, because it is so f***ing stupid.” While his response earned him a loud laughter from the Lost Angeles audience, it also confirmed one of the reasons Democrats are losing, namely their attitude to religion.
Although recent studies show the number of religious Americans is in general decline, America is still the most religious of all Western countries. A 2016 Gallup poll finds a whopping 89% of American’s believing in God and more than 75% belonging to a particular religion. Those are astonishing numbers. For many of these religious people, religion is a major part of who they are.
And so, for religious people to feel like none of their religious beliefs have a public place in a particular political platform — say nothing of being mocked and looked down at — would dissuade people for that particular party.
If the democratic party would like to rebuild itself and make itself a home to more Americans, it needs to humbly acknowledge that religion does still play a significant role in the lives of Americans and that there is a legitimate and acceptable role for those people — and their opinions — within the realm of the Democratic party. This is not to say Democrats need to become religious, it is, however, saying that they need to create space for religious people in the party.
This divide is evident in a June 10th Pew survey asking Democrats and Republicans about their views of churches and religious institutions in American with 73% of Republicans seeing those as positive and compared to only 50% of Democrats saying the same.
The progressive elements of the Democratic party come in many cases from backgrounds in which religion is not only something that is absent, but it is seen as a negative and backward thing, as evident in the response of Mr. Mahr. Stanford University professor Robert Sapolsky explained to his students that religion is a kind of “organized schizophrenia.”
The anti-religious and condescending rhetoric trickles down from those who are seen or see themselves, as the thought leaders of progressive thinking and the Democratic party to the politicians and the voices of the party. This can be seen in the fierce debate over whether or not to include God in the Democratic platform in 2012, heckling of a preacher during her prayer in 2016, or DNC chair Tom Perez’s statement this past April that people who do not believe in a woman’s right to choose do not have a place in the party.
And so, voters here this tone directed at what is in many cases most precious to them, and vote accordingly. This creates an ironic situation in which all idea and cultures are equal and tolerated, except for the religion practiced by most Americans.
If Democrats who want to move past the regressions of 2016-2017 they need to move beyond dogma and belief systems which preach that religion is primitive and, in the words of Bill Maher “so f***ing stupid,” and begin figuring out how to make space for religious people. Doing this opposite of this drives the community of faith out of the party and leaves a feeling of resentment and bitterness in the air, feelings that have been strongly expressed in the ballots.
If the Democratic party wants to rebuild itself and be able to appeal to as many Americans as possible, they need to create space for differences of opinion — show respect for those opinions — in a public way. Religion is a major part of this. Taking the attitude of Bill Maher of spending hours asking again and again why Democrats are losing and then going on to call religion dirty names, may win Democrats laughter from Los Angeles audiences, but it will also earn them the laughter of their fellow Republicans.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, teacher, and writer, and blogger. He lives with his wife in New York City.