Often, religion offers much that progressives need to build movements for change.
One of the great historical strengths of the progressive movement has been its resolute commitment to the separation of church and state. As progressives, we don't want our government influenced by anybody's religious laws. Instead of superstition and mob id, we prefer to have real science, based in real data and real evidence, guiding public policy. Instead of holy wars, othering, and social repression -- the inevitable by-products of theocracy -- we think that drawing from the widest possible range of philosophical traditions makes America smarter, stronger, and more durable over time.
That said: while we all want a government free of religion, there are good reasons that we may not want our own progressive movement to be shorn of every last spiritual impulse. In fact, the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can't easily be replaced with anything else.
Religion has been central to the formation of human communities -- and to how we approach the future -- for as long as homo sapiens has been around. Apart from God-belief (which varies widely between religions), all successful religions thrive and endure because they offer their adherents a variety of effective community-building, social activism, and change management tools that, taken together, make religion quite possibly the most powerful social change technology humans have ever developed.
What does religion offer that progressives need to make our movement work?
First: there's nothing like it if you want to bond a bunch of very diverse people into a tight community of shared meaning and value.
Second, religious narratives center people in the long arc of history, telling them where they came from, who they are, what they are capable of, and what kind of future is possible.
Third, over the course of American history, liberal religious faiths have been the primary promoter of progressive values throughout the culture -- and also the leading institution when it came time to inculcate our progressive sensibilities into the next generation.
Fourth, progressive religion has always been America's most credible and aggressive front-line defender of non-market-based values against the onslaught of capitalism and greed.
Fifth, in a nation where over 90% of everybody has some kind of God-belief -- and the overwhelming majority of them ground their political decisions in that belief -- abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice. For most Americans, our religious worldviews are the epistemological soil in which every other decision we make is rooted -- the basic model of reality that we use to navigate the world. When we stopped engaging people's basic model of moral order, we effectively ceded the entire moral landscape of the nation to our enemies. It was, in retrospect, perhaps the most self-destructive error we've made over the past 40 years (and that's saying something).
Sixth: Progressive faiths, across the board, promote the essential belief that human communities are, in themselves, inherently and intrinsically sacred. In fact, progressive atheists may be surprised to learn that among their more religious brothers and sisters, there's very little agreement about the nature of God -- but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do.
Across all the long centuries of the American progressive movement, we've never launched a successful change wave that didn't draw most of its leadership, its base, and its moral grounding from the country's deep liberal religious tradition.
Our churches and temples have been the fountain, the rock, the mother source of our movement from the very beginning. Progressives of faith have always played a central role in our political victories in the past. It's time to stop imagining that somehow, we're going to take the country back without them now.