Friday, November 19, 2004


There used to be two things people advised you not to discuss, politics and religion, because talking about either usually leads to disagreement. In today's world, that advice can be whittled down to just one thing you shouldn't discuss, because politics and religion have become so interchangeable it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Right after the recent election, as Democrats were mourning, and before they decided to recount the Ohio votes, many political pundits said that the Democratic Party simply had to become more religious in order to win an election. They were, in effect, to take the platform of "morality and family values" away from the Republicans and claim it as their own.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being "religious" if you are sincere, but donning the cloak of religious belief to win an election seems to me to be very wrong. In the first place, not all Republican behavior is exactly the kind of action described in the Good Book, so the theory that Republicans have a stranglehold on religion in this country, while the Democrats are found lacking, strikes me as being rather foolish. I don't know who first started calling the Republicans "God's Party", but I feel quite sure it wasn't God. I'm almost positive God is politically neutral.

However, it could be pointed out that Jesus was definitely a liberal. He did walk among the poor, giving comfort, and went just as freely among the sick and the disfigured. Even leprosy did not frighten him away. He preached love, kindness and equality for all men...and women, if his treatment of Mary Magdalene is considered.

After saying that, I should explain that I am in favor of all religion staying far away from government. I say this because I once lived in a house where there was a Catholic family on one side, a Baptist family living just to the rear, and an atheist living on the other side. Down the road, there was a Mormon family. These neighbors tolerated each other well, but tended to preach their respective religions at every opportunity. The atheist affirmed his disbelief of any deity. The Mormon lady felt it her duty to convert everyone within speaking distance. The Baptist lady followed suit. And the Catholics refrained from preaching, but maintained a respectful and rather disapproving distance from the whole affair.

Yet, while this went on, there was no greater group of people when it came to neighborly assistance. If there was anything anyone needed, those neighbors were right there, willing to provide money, food, babysitting or any other kind of help.

It has occurred to me that this small neighborhood I once lived in was a miniscule version of America, divided, diverse, yet willing to band together in any emergency. Thus has this country survived and grown in glory throughout the years, despite setbacks, by allowing each person to choose his own Faith, but asking for benevolence in any time of need.

During World War II, men of every faith went to war to fight the enemy. No one cared what religion you were in that foxhole. If you prayed, it was your business. If you didn't, that was your business, too. It was a mutual effort, a banding together of Americans toward a common goal.

Today, we don't seem to have a common goal. Half the country approves the war in Iraq and considers it a war on terror. Half the country disapproves, suspects the President's motives, and deplores the loss of life. Half the country approves the slashing of governmental programs, privatizing of Social Security, tax cuts for the wealthy. Half shake their heads in dismay, predicting privation and disaster.

And this division is enhanced by the religious overtones humming around every issue, like a pesky fly too quick to hold still and be swatted. To Democrats, it is ironic to have a President who hawks war and claims to pray to God for approval. To Republicans, it is felt this man was sent by God to bring about their political agenda. Few people can discuss the differences calmly. It is a soul-searching, gut-wrenching difference in American ideology. It brings out the worst in all of us.

It seems clear that Republicans equate morality with sexual behavior, that they consider themselves on some kind of a Crusade to not only change America into their idea of a moral nation, but to reach out and force the world to embrace what they call "Democracy". Many of the Christian Right believe they are fighting for the return of Biblical lands to the Jewish people, and that they will then see the Second Coming of Christ and enjoy the pleasures of paradise. This growing movement is so firmly entrenched it has threatened the freedom of the airways to show programs with graphic content, to fear the wrath of the FCC, if the Religious Right should complain.

This places other people in a strange predicament. If they criticize this movement, which to many people is reminiscent of Cotton Mather's assault on witches, or Rush Limbaugh's tirades, they feel vaguely guilty, as though they are attacking Christianity. However, I think we should keep in mind that being religious does not necessarily mean becoming irrational. If you believe that children watching soldiers and bombs and missiles are as traumatized and perhaps more traumatized than those who watch a racy commercial, this is an opinion you are allowed to have, and does not mean you are an immoral sinner doomed to Hell for all eternity.

Radical religion frightens me, just as cults like Manson's or Jim Jones' frighten me. I believe people who are too fervent in their beliefs, too sure that their way is the Only Way, are dangerous. I cannot criticize anyone's faith, but I can certainly criticize their politics. When their faith and their politics are one and the same and affect MY life, this gives me the right to complain. I do not want a puritanical, witchhunting America, nor do I want a depraved and indecent America. Surely, somewhere, there is a reasonable path to follow that will let us cease being the Divided States of America and allow us to become United again.