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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Religion And Politics (from September, 2005)

It is interesting that the freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and complaints against the government are all addressed in the First Amendment,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is as though the founding fathers knew that there was a connection, that if they were separated it might be easier to abridge these rights at a later time by eliminating one or the other. By combining all these rights into one article, these rights have been preserved en masse. The difficulty in such a comprehensive freedom is the ability to govern for the benefit of the general populace, the ability to limit one’s freedom so as not to impinge another’s freedom. Also, with regard to religion, what exactly is a religion? Many Americans get up every morning and religiously drink coffee. Should this be accepted as the religion of caffeine, and thereby afforded all privileges of a religion? Clearly, if all these coffee drinkers organized into a group with common practices, praising the bean, considering the Coffea arabica plant, being the first known source, to be sacred, then it should be formally recognized as a religion. Starbucks would love the tax breaks! If this system of religion were not recognized by the United States as valid, would this be an intolerable oversight, perhaps an unconstitutional denial? Ridiculous, you say? Yeah, actually it is, but recognition would not be as ridiculous as legislating these practices into law. The forefathers of this country may have believed in a Supreme Whatever, that there was a God of some form, a higher power, but they also had the wisdom to recognize that God didn’t give a fetid pair of dingo’s kidneys about the politics of the human race and that there was no place for God in government except as a humbling factor. George W. Bush however, professes that God in the form of his personal savior, Jesus Christ is concerned not only with his well being, but also the well being of the United States. “…our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” Presidential speech, 15 September, 2001. To exercise civil justice maybe is a valid reaction to terrorism, but not to exorcise demons. The United States is not God’s hammer of justice.
Bush is an anomaly. To claim to be a Christian politician is an oxymoron. One can either live as a Christian, or live as a politician, but one cannot truly be both. Jesus was an anarchist who although he accepted that government did exist, discounted it as folly. Jesus’ interpretation of the law was simple positive accountability. He saw no need for government, and expressed it succinctly saying, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12, New Testament, Judeo-Christian Bible. To wrap oneself in the Bible, to declare alliance with the precepts of Jesus’ teachings and yet be entrenched in political machinations is antithetical.
The true purpose of the First Amendment is to keep the State out of the Church. The idea of “separation of church and state” is an extension of that principle, but not the principle itself. The idea of separation of church and state is derived from a letter Thomas Jefferson penned in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist association in Connecticut which stated, “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.” The intent of this article is foremost to keep the state out of the church, not necessarily the reverse. For many however, religion, the church is of supreme value for the course of their lives. Therefore, it is mandated by their belief system that they must actively participate in government to ensure the principles of their faith be respected by the government. This double-edged sword is often carried high in self righteous indignation, and swung hard at perceived injustice and impingement of their freedoms, their unalienable rights. The difficulty of course, is that the wielder’s zeal often blinds them to the unalienable rights of others. Blind justice is one thing, but blind swordplay is quite another. George W. Bush wrapped himself in the bible during his gubernatorial campaign and has maintained his faith position throughout his Presidency. Bush is sincere in his faith convictions, but being sincere in carrying out his official duties guided by his personal religious convictions is dangerous, prejudicial, and narrow of view. We are mired in a holy war with another country and we are mired in a holy war here at home. The right wing conservatives applaud his efforts, but the rest of the country and the world question his judgment. With Bush we have a man who follows through with the ultra-conservative religious desires of a faction of his constituents to the discrimination of other religious groups. For instance, according to the Frontline report, The Jesus Factor, his efforts to encourage faith based assistance programs have catered to Christian groups while denying government support to Islamic, Jewish, and other groups. Was Bush directly involved in this discrimination, who knows? But Bush is implicitly involved by so fervently stating his Christian values time and again as paramount in his official decision making process.
The political aspects of this are of course profound. Politicians commonly establish platforms of religious ethics and ideals to win votes. They may or may not intend to follow through on these campaign promises, but they will issue statements catering to the majority of voters in order to garner popularity. Then once in office they can hide behind the bureaucratic machine to justify their inability to effect the promised changes. It is always someone else’s fault if things don’t go the way of the constituent’s desires. Yet with Bush, he has followed through with decisions based in religious, instead of impartial, judgment. Bush seems to confuse secular ethics with religious ethics.
One of the hottest buttons to push has always been the subject of abortion. The religious conservative considers abortion at any stage to be murder, but current law allows for an abortion at the mother’s discretion within the first trimester. Liberals see the ability to terminate a pregnancy as one of the unalienable rights of the mother, while conservative religious factions would have the government make the termination of a pregnancy illegal except under very narrow, extreme circumstances. Emotions run high in all camps at present for fear of who may be appointed for the two vacant Supreme Court positions. The two positions, O’Connor (Liberal-retired) and Rehnquist (Conservative-dead) were a balance to each other. The President now may attempt to shift the overall political climate of the court to conservative, balanced, or liberal. It frightens conservatives that the liberal anarchist may take control (which is a contradiction of terms), and adversely the liberal contingency fears that the highest court of the land may now become conservative and issue in a new era of the police state. Bush’s first nomination, John Roberts is a staunch conservative who the liberal bent fear, among other things, will if the opportunity presents itself overturn the Roe vs. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973) precedent decision. So far, in typical political fashion Roberts has given rhetorical non-answers to the Senates questions on the matter. Roberts however, or even Bush is not the problem. The deeper problem in all of this is today’s political climate and the acceptance by the American people of the evasion of our fundamental constitutional foundation. America as a people has become politically lazy. Americans, if they are not part of the elite within the system, typically either accept that the government knows what it is doing, feel impotent to change the system, or worse yet, they just don’t care.

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