'Cause ya gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith...

Dem presidential hopefuls and their faith gurus:

Burns Strider, one of the Democratic Party’s leading strategists on winning over evangelicals and other values-driven voters, will join Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as she prepares to launch her 2008 presidential campaign.

…Josh Dubois, an aide in his Senate office, is heading Obama’s religious outreach.

…[Kerry] has tapped Shaun Casey, an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, to advise him on religious outreach.

…That three of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination will have aides or advisers specializing in religious outreach is a dramatic change from 2004, when Democratic presidential candidates viewed reaching out to values-voters as a low priority.
Do you think Strider, Dubois, or Casey will be trying to win me over? I deeply value equality for the LGBT community, I deeply value women's reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, I deeply value stem cell research, I deeply value the separation of church and state. I value lots of other things, too, but those seem to be the ones which make me not a "values voter."

As I've said before, the word "values" doesn't mean anything, in and of itself. It's an ethically neutral word. Everyone has values. What matters is not that you have values, but what values you have. Jeffrey Dahmer valued killing people and eating them. George Bush values torturing people. I value not killing people, not eating them, and not torturing them. See? Everyone has values.

And, you know, I think everyone has faith, too. Maybe not religious faith, but that isn't the only kind. I have faith in my fellow humans—and I'm not so sure that particular brand of faith should be so easily disregarded, because, quite frankly, it's a hell of a lot harder than having faith in a god, at least in my experience. The God to whom I was introduced as a child was never deliberately evil or unkind; that God may have been mysterious, but he had a plan—and you knew that everything made sense according to his plan, even if it was inexplicable to you. And there was a reward for having faith in that God. Faith in him was your ticket to eternity in heaven. Faith in him, as far as the reasons he offered, was simple.

Humans, on the other hand, the troublesome shits, conspire not only to test but to betray your faith at every opportunity. Too often evil and unkind, they mostly can't even be bothered to provide a decent reason for their ill behavior. They're unpredictable, nonsensical, irrational, and unreasonable, and there's no promise of a reward for having faith in them. Sometimes, in fact, you get nothing but a smack in the face in exchange for your trust. For your faith.

The difference between faith in a god and faith in humankind is like the difference between dropping money in the canister of a Salvation Army bell-ringer and placing money in the hand of a homeless man. Your SA donation goes to someone you don't know, whom you'll never see, and, although you're not sure how it all works, you trust that your money will help in a productive way. It's an easy trust—the Salvation Army's been there a long time, and they've got a good reputation, and they promise you something for your effort. On the other hand, giving the money directly to someone in need is a dodgier proposition. Maybe he'll lose it, or have it stolen from him, before he gets a chance to buy himself a much-needed sandwich. Maybe he'll use it to buy booze or drugs or cigarettes, though he said he was hungry. Maybe he'll put it on a horse. It's a harder trust—and it's not tax deductible, either.

The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course. There are plenty of people who have faith in a god and faith in humankind. But there are a lot of people who only have faith in a god, because their religion tells them humans aren't worth having faith in. Those tend to be the people who want to legislate morality, because they don't trust people to make good decisions, because they don't even trust themselves. And those are the people who are most often called the "values voters" and to whose religious beliefs the word "faith" has come to refer. It's a terrible thing that the people who have the least faith in their fellow humans have commandeered the term, because, on this earth, humans are the only ones who can feed the hungry, clothe the poor, provide healthcare to the sick and needy, guarantee equality and freedom.

Those of us who have faith in each other value decidedly earthy humanness, with all its flaws and foibles. That doesn't sound particularly inspiring; there are no hymns, no psalms, no Hallelujah chorus for having faith in other people.

But maybe there should be.

Because there are the times when they surprise you, when your audacity of hope (to borrow a turn of phrase from a faithful man) pays off, makes you grin until you are certain your face will crack, or your eyes well with tears, at the wonder of how much overwhelming goodness can be found in we hairless apes. It provides a reward the beautiful magnitude of which is only bestowed because of the risk that things could have—maybe should have—gone so horribly wrong. It's not typical that your faith in people is remunerated by your expectations being exceeded, when they amaze you with the depth of their decency, and its rarity makes such optimism, such faith, difficult. And makes it a faith worth courting, too, even if our values seem a bit grotty and earthbound.

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