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Opinion Piece

The religious left

Originally published in FUSE, May 2010

“Judge not, that you be not judged”

When looking at this statement, which comes from the extremely important collection of Jesus’ sayings, the Sermon on the Mount, it is hard to believe the root Christianity, as well as other religions, have been taken on by so many. Whether it is the Pope spouting anti-queer rhetoric or religious groups campaigning in the US against pro-queer legislation, religion is seen by many as being synonymous with judgementalism and institutionalised oppression. For so many, it is now seen that the religious right is representative as a whole.

It is therefore not surprising that it confuses people when progressive people ‘come out’ as religious. How on earth could someone who is left wing be part of such an oppressive institution; especially if they are queer or a woman? Isn’t there are direct conflict with their progressive nature and their religious beliefs?

What is often forgotten is that although the religious right may get all the attention they are not representative of religion as a whole. In fact, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any of the many other religions, religious left groups exist and are active. In fact, many claim (and are backed up by evidence) that most religious texts are not necessarily conservative in nature, but rather have a strong progressive feel.

For example, there is a strong thread of egalitarianism in the New Testament. The Bible is in many ways dominated by present progressive issues, including pacifism, social justice, racial equity, human rights and importantly the fair spread of wealth. Many also argue that references to conservative issues such as anti-queer or women statements are misinterpreted by conservative and don’t actually exist at all.
With such readings, in mind, well formulated religious left groups have been active for centuries. By focusing on the egalitarian principles of religious texts, these groups have taken a strong social justice stance and are often as pro-queer and as pro women as progressive social groups. Yet, they are often forgotten.

This is largely it is because people in the religious left don’t necessarily organise solely around their religion, but rather with broader social justice groups. This is different to the religious right, who use religion as the sole basis for their conservative arguments. The religious right uses the religion far more than the left simply because progressive issues don’t need religious texts for their arguments. Equality and social justice have simple arguments to back them up, whilst conservative issues need something like the Bible to become relevant, even if what they are claiming is simply false.

Therefore, whilst the social justice movement doesn’t suffer, as they are simply bolstered by the influence of the religious left, the loudness of the right in church creates the perception that we have that religion is automatically conservative. If you are religious you are seen as being clearly anti-queer and anti-women. Quite clearly however, this perception is not accurate. There are many different readings of religious texts and whilst some take a conservative approach, many more focus on the progressive, social justice and egalitarian approaches to texts.

Whilst I am not religious, I have come to learn that being religious does not automatically mean being conservative. Whilst conservative religious leaders may get a lot of the headlines, progressive religious leaders are doing a lot to help progressive causes. Whilst it is important therefore to oppose and fight against many parts of the church, remember it is not religion that is the problem, it is the way conservative religious leaders have interpreted religion and used it to further their conservative cause.

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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