#4 Step away from the Burning Bush
History lesson: in 1620 the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The primary reason for them leaving their homeland for this new world was officially described as "religious freedom." The Pilgrims didn't want to belong to the Church of England. England didn't want any other religions in its country. Faced with persecution, the Pilgrims hopped aboard the Mayflower and eventually reached what is present day Massachusetts.
The first non-native settlers of the land we call America felt that people should have a choice of devoting themselves to the best religion that they saw fit their lifestyle. They may have been just a bit obsessive about witches, but they believed in religious freedom.
Everyone knows that the very first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America entitles all of its citizens to free speech, but how many know the first line of this amendment?
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson referred to this as a "wall of separation":
"...I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State..."
And in 1810 President James Madison said this:
"Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history."
(If you so choose, you can read about the introduction of the principle of separation of church and state here. The previous cited examples are from this page.)
Jefferson and Madison knew that a country that becomes just a little too devoted to God has the potential to become a dangerous land.
It is difficult to imagine a President, or a candidate for President, making such statements today.
Religion has to be thediciest topic there is, especially in the realm of public discourse. People tend to get a little emotional about it. My personal experiences with religion lead me to believe that it is far too public. Whether or not one chooses to believe in God is between each individual and the God that potentially does or does not exist.
Many would make the argument that religions were established to give life a meaning, to explain why we die, and to give us a purpose to live as best we can, so that we may receive whatever reward lies after this.
And while it seems like religion is talked about all the time, it also seems like society never talks about death. It should probably be reversed. We are all going to experience death. The same cannot necessarily be said about religion.
I respect views on religion that are alternative from my own. I am not an atheist, yet I respect those that are. I respect religions different from my own and the customs and celebrations that come with it. I do not believe in forcing religious views upon others. Society has had enough inquisitions in its time. People make choices as they see fit.
It is far to say that both Republican and Democratic presidents in recent time have been a little too chatty with the public on religion. I have no problem with seeing a president walking out of a church after mass, but I don't think spiritual guidance should be a factor whether one is seeking to minimize the damage of an affair with an intern (how's the ticker, Bill?) or in the daily aspects of decision making.
I sometimes confuse President Bush for the Pope, which is a huge mistake on my part, not the least bit being that I know he is not Catholic. For four years we have been bombarded with piety from Bush, whether in his born-again lifestyle or in his faith-based policies. The President wears his faith on his sleeve, and yet he does things at times that one could consider just a little un-Godly. War comes to mind, and I do believe pride is one of the seven deadly sins. This president has enough pride to fill oceans.
It doesn't bother me when the President says that he talks to God, however it bothers me greatly when he says that God talks to him. It's been said that George Bush truly believes that God selected him to be President at this time because He knows Bush is the right man to face the forces of evilthat are an everyday threat to us in the modern world. Supposedly, God told this to George Bush.
If God did indeed choose Bush, how does the President feel about those that do not believe there is a God? Is he morally obligated to care about them, to do anything to help them, if they reject the deity that placed Bush in this scenario? Religion, like philosophy, generally cannot be proven. Legislation can.
Like it or not, there are many political issues that take on a religious tone, things that were not considered or done back in the late 1700's when this country was founded. Abortion, stem cell research, the death penalty, gay rights-all hot button issues with religious (though normally disguised under the cloak of "moral") aspects.
Everything in this administration trickles back down to God. You have leaders of faith-based money making "organizations", men like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who heap praise upon praise on the GOP while sniping at the Democrats. Pat Robertson is another man who believes that George Bush has been chosen by God to lead America, while I have heard Falwell say on his many appearances on political news shows that he "shudders to think where the country would be if Al Gore had been elected President."
And let's not forget the duet performance of Robertson and Falwell after 9/11, when they blamed "the abortionists, the homosexuals" for the terrorist attacks, that it was a message from God for us to change our ways.
I'm thinking that these men, and all of the other religious organizations in this country, enjoy April. When the rest of the nation sweats over their tax forms, they remember their exempt status, since the Constitution calls for the separation of Church and State. Structurally, there is nothing wrong with that. Religious organizations and churches normally depend on donations for their income and thus should be exempt from turning it over as tax revenues.
Yet I notice that this tax-exempt status does not stop some of them from shilling for the Republicans, or even making endorsements.
We have Catholic bishops proclaiming that they will not give communion to pro-choice candidates. Some have gone as far as to say that to vote for any candidate who supports choice is to commit a sin.
If you are not providing the government with a share of its revenues, you have no business getting involved in political affairs. Telling me that I am committing a sin in the eyes of God because I may vote for a Democrat borders on slander.
I have an idea. Maybe we could build a dual-purpose booth, one that is twice as big as a normal booth, enclosed by four walls and a door. There would also need to be a sliding partition in the middle of the booth. On election day, after you vote, you can slide the wall back, and there will be a priest sitting there next to an empty chair, waiting to hear your confession.
The states in the so called "Bible Belt" are red states. Mickey Mouse could be the GOP candidate and the color of those states would not change.
And in some of those states, support for a shaky war, where innocent people die, is strong. Some of those states have executed "criminals" who have later been exonerated by newly discovered evidence. It's hard to dig somebody up to give them the news that they are innocent, that is was all one big mistake. To be fair, this happens in blue states too.
The President can't be blamed entirely for this attitude, this selective religious conscious that is so rampant in politics today. But he can be held responsible when he blatantly panders to the extreme parts of his party, the section of folks who believe homosexuals are evil and will destroy us, along with the heathens who do not believe in God.
We are fighting a war against radical Islam now, and I see it for what it is. We have an enemy that is using religion as an excuse to try to kill us. I have no problem with that, those types of abuses are reprehensible and need to be eliminated. But we can't have a nation that uses its religious freedom as a way to say that we are better than everyone else, including those that live here but do not believe in the same things, or practice the same lifestyles.
I have felt for much of the last four years that since I do not agree with some of these religious ideals, that I am not as concerned for as other parts of the electorate are.
From the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truthsto be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Maybe Bush has a point. Maybe God does talk to us. In fact, I think I can hear God saying something to me now:
"I'm God, and I approved this message."