Despite all my chest-thumping atheism and snark about certain religious pronouncements and practices, for all my criticisms of the practicioners of hardball gun politics, I groan when I read these now-notorious remarks by Barack Obama at a San Francisco fund-raiser:
...You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations....
I guess it's because, unlike Obama, I grew up practicing a religion in much the same way the people he's talking about practice one -- I was raised in my parents' faith, and nearly all my neighbors shared the same faith -- that I have hard time speaking of "religion" as the problem. That's true even though I've been an atheist for thirty-plus years and even though I don't like a lot of the earthly byproducts of many religious traditions, and am not shy about saying so, here in this blog and in real life.
Nevertheless, I can't see "religion" as nothing but a disease of the desperate -- quite a few religious traditions, yes, but not religion per se. Money got tight at times in my household and in my neighbors', but religion wasn't just a crutch, it was a meaningful part of who they were, and are.
Regarding guns, though you might not know it, I've changed my perspective somewhat over the years, not because of direct experience, but to a considerable extent because of the Internet. Online, I've encountered so many people who talk an NRA-style line on guns but place that point of view in a progressive context that I've had to rethink the stereotypes of my youth.
I still disagree with the notion that widespread gun ownership is our best defense against tyranny, and I don't agree that more guns equal less crime, or (especially because I live in an increasingly safer New York City) that gun control equals high crime, but I want to argue these points, not condescend to those who believe them. I do deeply resent the ability of gun groups to exercise veto power over gun laws that have broad-based popular support and would be constitutional, but I admire the political skills of these groups -- they win because they work harder and really do their homework on the issue that matters to them most. I'm all for loud, nasty arguments on these subjects, but I just don't see being fond of guns as an unhealthy response to hard times.
This is bad. I think John McCain can probably start measuring the White House drapes now.