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Religion and Politics [Jan. 5th, 2008|09:35 pm]
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That's right, two of those old favorite forbidden topics in one post...

Men of faith have made excellent elected persons in this country before...let me start there, because it's true.  Religious faith, in itself, is not a sign of mental instability, stupidity, ignorance, dishonesty, malice, bigotry, or any other impediment to participation in our government.

Religious faith is also not a guarantee of sanity, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, fairmindedness, honesty, goodwill towards all, or any other virtue necessary for governance.

Religious faith can be associated with a deep commitment to the rights and privileges our Constitution grants to all citizens...or it can be associated with a deep commitment to privileging one religion over others, attempting to impose one religion's beliefs and practices on those who do not share the same beliefs or agree with those practices.

Our Constitution is supposed to guarantee religious *freedom*...the right of each citizen to choose the kind, and degree of involvement (from zero to 100%) of religious belief and practice *so long as that practice does not infringe on the rights of those whose beliefs are different.*  The government is forbidden to privilege any one religion--to promote one over the others, to impose on those with different beliefs the rules of any one.  It was intended to be secular, even when the positions of government were held by persons of religious faith--that is the only way to guarantee the rights of all in a society where not all hold the same beliefs.

It was written that way because the men who debated and wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had experienced--or their parents had experienced--religious wars, both in the countries they came from and here as well.  The English Civil War.   The wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation all across Europe.  They knew that unless the Puritans of New England and the Catholics of Maryland and the Dutch Reformed of New York and the Anglicans of Virginia and the Quakers and Calvinists of Pennsylvania agreed to set aside their individual disagreements for the common good--to live and let live--this new nation could not even begin to come together.  Only a secular government--a government that did not sanction any one of them above the others--could work.

Every citizen could believe what he or she chose...but could not impose his or her beliefs on others outside his or her own group.  Where citizens agreed on a policy that might have had its origin in religion (murder is wrong; theft is wrong; etc.)  such laws could be made--because they were not just religious laws, but practical and reasonable rules for living together that atheists, agnostics, and religious believers could all agree on.

But there  are beliefs which, legal in themselves under this protection, unfit someone for public office, especially at the national level. Anyone who sincerely believes that he or she is commanded by their deity to convert others, or impose on others their beliefs and practices, to appeal to or quote their religion's scriptures, runs into a problem the moment he or she is elected to public office, or is appointed as a judge or an officer in the military.  These positions require one to swear, under oath, that the candidate will "uphold and defend" the  Constitution of the United States.  That Constitution includes the proviso that no religion will be established by the state, that no religion will be privileged over another.   And if someone thinks the Constitution is wrong in so saying--believes that his/her religion requires  trying to force the nation to behave according to one religion's rules--then that person cannot take that oath of office honestly. 

Note well:  that  belief is legal--within the private sector.  But it is incompatible with the duty to uphold the Constitution.   The individual who holds such a belief must either choose not to take that oath--not to run for office, not to become a military officer, not to become a judge--or choose to lie, to say the words but intend to undermine the Constitution he or she has just sworn to uphold.

The honest person will see that, and step back.   When a religious zealot does not step back, you know you're looking at a dishonest religious zealot and such persons (however charming, personable, and apparently reasonable in other ways) is a serious, clear, and present danger to the common good of a nation that has stood for religious freedom for over two centuries.

It does not matter what your religious beliefs are.  What matters here is that you grasp the underlying problem:  if someone sincerely and deeply believes that their deity trumps the Constitution, *and* believes that he/she has a duty to convert others and make others conform to his/her beliefs and practices, then he/she cannot be honest when taking the oath of office (or for that matter the commissioning oath of officers in our military.)  Someone cannot at the same time uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution...and be planning to subvert it.

We do not need a religious zealot as President.  I would say the same of *any* religious zealot, but since the country has leaned way over on the side of Christian fundamentalism (a very controlling group of beliefs) in the past >10 years, with the help of the Administration in the past 8, I am particularly concerned that no Christian fundamentalist who thinks he/she  has a mission to turn this into a theocracy be elected this time.

What we need is someone who--whatever their own faith and however they live it--will respect the rights of every individual citizen of every color and every creed (including the creed of disbelief), will not demonize segments of society he/she does not agree with...someone who understands, and will practice, the need to create unity and not division.   Someone who respects the role of religion in peoples' lives, but is committed to a secular government, holding the line against the zealots of every faith.  (And someone who isn't relentlessly anti-intellectual...that would be nice too.  Someone who is willing to learn and can think straight...)

As for me, I'm a Christian...the other kind.  The kind who thinks "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned..." will keep me busy enough to let other people go their own way (unless they don't want to let me go mine, and others go theirs, and in that case...I'm firmly behind the Constitution.)  


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[User Picture]From: pixelfish
2008-01-06 04:50 am (UTC)
When I was little, I grew up in "hanging by a thread" land. That is to say, I grew up in Utah, where half the neighbours seemed to think that the Constitution was hanging by a thread and furthermore it was all the fault of the godless, the liberals, and the gays. (Or most, especially the godless, liberal gays.)

So, I'm darkly amused to see so many fundamentalists and deeply religious folk ready to chuck the Constitution under the bus, if it means keeping their guy in power.

Actually, no. Scratch that. Not really amused at all.
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[User Picture]From: dunkelza
2008-01-06 05:20 am (UTC)

Unfortunately, we're doing a piss-poor job of getting people (rich people, poor people, people in-between) to understand the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of American government. :P

I blame myself.
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[User Picture]From: jerusha
2008-01-06 07:44 am (UTC)
Thank you for saying this, so clearly and cogently.

It's not the right format/topic for a "This I Believe" on NPR, really, but I'd love to see this piece get some wider exposure on that sort of scale.
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[User Picture]From: anysia
2008-01-06 09:14 am (UTC)
Hear, hear!

What I don't like, is Christian fundamentalists (re-writers and editors of his words) claiming that the US was founded on Christianity, and is a 'Christian' nation, all the while claiming they are being oppressed and persecuted.

No where in the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, does it lay claim to the US being a Christian nation. Heck, the Treaty of Tripoli comes right out and says the US is not and never has been a Christian nation.

As for me, I'm a Christian...the other kind. The kind who thinks "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned..." will keep me busy enough to let other people go their own way (unless they don't want to let me go mine, and others go theirs, and in that case...I'm firmly behind the Constitution.)

If only there were more of this variety to outnumber the fundies.

Edited at 2008-01-06 09:15 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 03:20 pm (UTC)
There are a lot of Christians who don't like the right-wing/evangelical alliance, but are unwilling to confront it openly for a number of reasons, some theologically tenable and some less...um...respectable. I've met people who said "Well, I don't like what they're doing but I can't say anything in my church because they'll be mad at me..." or "I work for one of them and I'll lose my job..." I've met others who are genuinely convinced that it is wrong to criticize others about religion...that it's as bad to tell a "we have to make everybody like us" evangelical that he's out of line as it would be to lecture a Jew or a Buddhist.

My own opinion is that it's always permissible to critique those who claim to share a label with you...so if someone labels themselves "Christian" then I have a vested interest in how they present the label, since it affects me directly (if people think "Christians believe" or "Christians do" something I don't believe or do, because someone has claimed exclusive right to that mantle, then I get bashed for believing something I don't believe or do. It's happened. And when the list of things I'm supposedly associated with on the basis of my religion gets long enough and includes not just opinions I don't hold but acts I find disgusting and repulsive (such as torture) then it's time to do a little clearing of the air.
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From: beth_bernobich
2008-01-06 01:10 pm (UTC)
Well said. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2008-01-06 01:12 pm (UTC)
This is a beautifully clear and lucid analysis and description of the separation of church and state and how it applies to office holders and military officers.

I'll be linking to this if that's all right.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 03:09 pm (UTC)
Go ahead...it's not behind a lock.

I've taken that oath or a variation of it several times, since I've been both a commissioned officer (USMCR) and an elected official (small-town council.) I took it seriously and with honest intent to do what I promised to do, and from my POV those oaths are still binding even though I'm not in those positions anymore.
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[User Picture]From: wishwords
2008-01-06 01:54 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic post. I hope you don't mind if I link to it from my journal? You've put what I've been thinking, and had not thought of yet, perfectly into words.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 03:10 pm (UTC)
Feel free to link to it.
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[User Picture]From: ellid
2008-01-06 02:17 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful. May I link to the community? We've had many posts about the disastrous religious policies at the Air Force Academy, and this is a wonderful analysis of what the Constitution actually intended.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 03:11 pm (UTC)
Go right ahead. I've heard something about the problems at the Academy--found it appalling.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 03:22 pm (UTC)
Next point: those who wish to link to this, feel free.

However, do not just snag it and copy it somewhere without attribution. Link to it instead, or if you feel you must snag it, put my name and a copyright notice on it. The words in the original post are my words...I do not want to see them elsewhere on the internet masquerading as your words or someone else's words.

Thank you for the courtesy.
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[User Picture]From: silverthorne
2008-01-06 03:41 pm (UTC)
May I link this through my journal? (also--wonderful post)
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[User Picture]From: silverthorne
2008-01-06 03:54 pm (UTC)
...saw the permission post after I asked. And to let you know what I did, it's here.

Hope that's cool with you.
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[User Picture]From: touchstone
2008-01-06 03:45 pm (UTC)
I'm always amused when my friends who are off to my right say 'religious extremism is the biggest danger facing our country today'. Because I think they have a point...if not precisely the one they were intending to make.

I don't think it's impossible for someone who feels a religious call to spreading their faith to honestly uphold the Constitution in office, though, if they just chose the right approach. Someone who committed to the 'lead by example' method of conversion, say, would be okay - someone who didn't use the power of their position to push their beliefs onto people, but did use the visibility of their position to give an example of their beliefs in action.

Of course, one of the pre-requisites for that would be someone whose religious beliefs lead them to do positive things. If would-be leaders who are open about their religion focused more on the things YOU mentioned ("feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned...") and less on identifying and punishing 'sinners', we probably wouldn't even be HAVING this conversation.

(Sorry for the repost; minor edits)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 04:09 pm (UTC)
You're right about that. I've been reading a book by Michael Benedikt called "God Is the Good We Do," about what he calls "the theology of theopraxy." Can't say I'm 100% in agreement with everything but I do think more emphasis on doing the good, instead of attacking the presumed bad, would make a huge difference, including in the psyches of those who are doing the blaming/shaming/naming thing.

I once--only once alas--was confronted by someone who sneeringly said "Oh, I suppose you're one of those do-gooder types" and I said "You would prefer me to be a do-badder?" and watched the jaw drop. Please, please, PLEASE let something like that happen again...it was such FUN.

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From: sunfell
2008-01-06 04:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you for an this insightful and clear post. I am glad to see someone addressing things I've been thinking about for years, but have been unable to articulate as well.

This post deserves wide distribution.
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[User Picture]From: elanorgardner
2008-01-06 04:36 pm (UTC)
As you probably know, there is only one kind of true Christianity -- the other kind. Anyone who understands the history of the church and of the Christian religion knows that most of those claiming LOUDLY to be Christians are actually Christ's "Pharisees" -- prancing about raking in money, trodding on the poor, and condemning the homosexual. These are the ones that Christ, in His own words, condemned. These are the ones who have played fast and loose with the context of their "scriptures" and twisted the words of the Christ into something unrecognizable to Him. (Quoting chapter and verse would take too long here.) The problem is that the true Christians -- those really following the words of the Christ -- are meek, merciful peacemakers -- very unlikely to take on the false "christians" in a toe to toe battle, preferring to passively resist. What they forget is that Christ DID wade in and muss up the moneychangers in the temple with physical force, to keep the false religion from committing sacrilege in the very face of the true.

So, not only do we have to worry about someone attempting to subvert the Constitution as you mention and turn the US into a theocracy, we have to realize they are doing it with a false, made-up religion as well -- so, a theocracy founded on a false god. Sounds a bit apocalyptic...

Thanks for this. Very insightful.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 05:08 pm (UTC)
Well...I'm not exactly the meek and mild version. And have realized that it's time for me to say a loud "AHEM!" intead of "AMEN!" to what the right-wing/evangelicals are calling the will of God. So I'm saying it. Here and elsewhere.

OTOH, given my personality I have to keep the curb rein in touch or I could become just as judgmental and self-serving as the other side. Many have been gulled by their leaders...for generations they've been taught wrong and they do not know better. Yes, true, they've hobbled the schools that could have taught them logic and rhetoric and science...but again, they were taught to do so. They're not entirely innocent of self-deception and collaboration, but they're not entirely evil, either. (About some of their leaders I have other opinions...greed, dishonesty, lust for power, delight in condemnation...)

I watched a PBS show that had footage of a "tea" given in support of Mike Huckabee in South Carolina...lovely (expensive) home, table of mostly homemade delicacies, well-dressed ladies standing around chatting, who when interviewed said things like "Well, you know we're all believers--we all put God first--we're pro-Life and staunch Republicans..." I am sure these ladies actually do contribute some to their communities (this kind of older woman always does, basically)...they will send some food to the local food pantry, and give their old clothes to Goodwill or another charity; they will donate to the local symphony society and the Red Cross, and some of them may even volunteer. But in that stately home with the high=ceilinged rooms and the vast dining table covered with old lace and silver (some of it clearly over 100 years old) and abundant expensive food, the women all wearing upscale clothes of the St. John Knits variety...it's hard to believe that God comes before a good hairdresser, the right clothes, and the silver that was buried during the Civil War.

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[User Picture]From: roseross
2008-01-06 04:49 pm (UTC)
You should consider submitting this to Common Dreams. Their audience would be appreciative of the article. http://www.commondreams.org/
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[User Picture]From: ubiquitousadh
2008-01-06 04:56 pm (UTC)
If only the kind of Christian you are was running for or in office. I've been following some of our latest in House endeavors and am a bit appalled. Nice post, friend of mine linked it. Probably going to link to it myself.

"...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." - The Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams, 2nd president of the US.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2008-01-06 05:21 pm (UTC)
And the Constitution points out that treaties have the force of law.

But we don't teach real history in most public schools these days. Too controversial. (How can you have a republic without controversy? Only by making it not a republic...)
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