Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Religious Politics

The headline in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal was: Legislature too wrapped up in religion, Jewish leaders say. The first line of the article reads:

The leaders of Louisville's Jewish community have taken Kentucky legislators to task for what they see as an excessive amount of religious overtones to the legislative session and related events.

I tend to agree. Since the so-called "Religious Right" ingratiated itself to the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan, religious politics have been entering into state legislatures and Congress more and more frequently. And it hasn’t only been religious politics, but specifically Christian, fundamentalist, right-wing politics.

In the letter sent to the Kentucky legislature by the Community Relations Council, the public policy arm of the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville, four recent examples of religious politics were cited:

  • A bill authorizing the posting of the Ten Commandments at the Capitol.
  • A bill authorizing the posting of the motto "In God We Trust" at the Capitol.
  • A governor's prayer breakfast at which only Christians spoke.
  • A church group's survey asking legislators whether they had professed faith in Jesus Christ.

Looking at these examples provided by the Community Relations Council, I am again shaken by the thought that we have forsaken modernity for the pre-Enlightenment Dark Ages. For example, why do fundamentalist Christians have this obsession with the Decalogue? If they are Christians, have they never heard that Jesus, when asked what was the greatest commandment, said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. ~ Matthew 22:37b-40
So if they must post something, why not simply the word “LOVE” and be done with it! It sums up all Ten Commandments and more. Best of all, LOVE is not specific to any one religion. In one way or another, the commandment to love is a part of all of the great religions and most of the minor ones.

Unfortunately, from my experience love is not central to right-wing fundamentalists. Now, if Jesus had used the words “hate God” and “hate your neighbor,” that might be more to their liking and understanding.

Or, what about the posting of the motto "In God We Trust." One blogger writes:

…the religious right has pushed an agenda outside of THEIR walls. My money says "in God we trust." That's not my agenda. It's one that was pushed on us. (Our money didn't always say that, by the way). Same thing for a whole raft of issues.But, I guess, religion in America has become so powerful that even we are willing to cowtow to them.

I won’t say that trusting in God isn’t on my agenda; after all, I am an ordained Christian minister and I do trust in God. However, as the blogger above indicates, not all Americans are religious and trust in God. Beyond that, the image of God takes many forms in people’s minds. My picture of God may be nothing like the picture of God another person holds dear. And, I, for one, will not force my image of God onto another person. I think that this is really what it is all about: forcing a few people’s conception of God and religion onto other folks.

When it comes to government sponsored gatherings—prayer breakfasts included—I firmly believe that one must make every effort to be ecumenical. I think that this is especially important when the host of the gathering is the governor of the state. When the only speakers—the only prayers—come from but one religious tradition, the citizens of the state who are not of that tradition are alienated. That is exactly why the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States—the first of the Bill of Rights—says:

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.

I have attended many such gatherings and have prayed at many such gatherings. And at each I have been aware that there were people who where not Christians present as well as Christians who were not part of a Mainline Protestant Denomination such as mine. Therefore, I was always careful to sculpt my prayers so that the words were inclusive of the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, atheists, agnostics, etc. who were not of my tradition. And I ask: why is the so-called Christian Right so unwilling to be inclusive?

Finally, if I were a member of the Kentucky State Legislature and someone gave me a questionnaire that included the question “Have you professed faith in Jesus Christ?” I would be incensed. First, my religious beliefs are my own and they would have nothing to do with my role as a legislator. Second, I thank God that there is no government established religion in the United States as there has been and is in other countries.

Like the the Taliban in Afghanistan and other fundamentalists of other religions, the right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States have an agenda: that everyone is to believe and worship God as they do. It has been part of their plan going back thirty or more years to Pat Robertson and the creation of the so-called Moral Majority and Christian Coalition. There is no question in my mind as to what their ultimate goals are. But let the Religious Right speak for themselves:

We soon as possible to see a majority of the Republican Party in the hands of pro-family Christians by 1996.—Pat Robertson, Denver Post, 10/26/92

There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore.—Pat Robertson, November 1993 during an address to the American Center for Law and Justice

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism.—Randall Terry, Founder of Operation Rescue, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 8-16-93

The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.—Pat Robertson, fundraising letter, 1992

I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.—George H. Bush

To me, your religion is your religion and it is none of my business unless I am called to be your pastor. I truly wish others would not attempt to force their religion onto me—or onto you.


  1. Well written Nick. I totally agree. Religion is such a private and personal thing. I respect everyone for having "a belief system" not matter what it is, just because i don't agree with it doesn't give me the right to belittle or pull it apart, just as it does not give anyone else the right to mine.

  2. Right on! Great post! I agree 100%!

  3. Wow! That's scary that those religious right people would even think that way.

  4. Kurt Vonnegut has suggested posting The Beatitudes in public places: "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the pentagon, "Blessed are the merciful" in courthouses…

  5. Well said. And I'd follow the teachings of Kurt Vonnegut a long time before I followed Pat Robertson. of course, I'd also leap off the Golden gate Bridge before following Pat Robertson, but ya'll take my point I'm sure.

    The only reason I'd disagree with including all religions at a prayer breakfats is that the food would get cold before anyone could start eating. Priorities.

  6. Very well said, Nick. I really appreciate reading that one and can only hope that more do the same. A little reasonableness sure wouldn’t hurt these days.

  7. I personally believe that if you're strong in your faith---it doesn't matter if they take "God" out of everything....if you have God within you--that's all that matters. I used to be upset over it--but you know something--you're right. There are so many religions and beliefs that people hold dear that we must respect.

    Thanks for this great post! Loved it!

  8. Michelle—Thank you. We in the United States have been blessed that the Constitution has protected us from a forced state religion. Of course, most modern nations also uphold religious freedom. But there was a time when almost every nation had a state religion. It was force Enlightenment and modernity that did away with state religions and it is those same forces that fundamentalists of all religions oppose.

    Azsonofagun—Thanks, Rex. BTW, is there religious freedom in (Republican) Arizona? 

    Abby—I agree that their ideas are chilling.

    Thomas—Vonnegut had an excellent idea. And I’ll add to the two you suggested: “Blessed are the poor” in state welfare offices.

    Limpy—Thank you. I, too, would follow the words of Vonnegut before I’d follow Robertson. As for including all religions at a prayer breakfast, I’ve been to them and its no problem as long as the planners limit the prayers. That reminds me of a story:

    At an ecumenical prayer breakfast, eggs were served with ham. A Jewish rabbi turned to the Roman catholic priest sitting beside him and offered him the rabbi’s ham.

    The priest accepted and added, “When are you people going to give up your antiquated customs and start eating ham?”

    The rabbi replied, “I’ll make a deal with you: I’ll eat ham at your wedding reception.”

  9. y—Thanks, Mike. The whole issue of using politics in its many forms to support bigotry and hate has been progressively getting out of hand. What really gets me about U.S. fundamentalists is that they seem to despise the actions of Muslim fundamentalists, who are in truth no different than they are.

    Of course, the real issue isn’t religion. The real issue is the fundamentalist reaction to modernity. That’s why the fundamentalists are the new kids on the block, having been around only 80 or 90 years. They can’t tolerate the idea than any one has rights other than White, Protestant Males.

    I really wish people would read Armstrong’s The Battle for God. I am now rereading it for the 3rd time and obtaining new insights into fundamentalism beyond my first two readings.

    Deb—I agree fully.

  10. I'm sure that the Deists who founded our country are rolling over in their graves with all this Fundamentalist claptrap.

    This movement is dangerous. It really scares me. With so many politicians running along behind the Robertson-types our freedoms are in a precarious spot.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  11. Squirl—Glad you reminded folks that most of the founders of our “Christian” nation were Deists! I think I can imagine what ole Tom Jefferson would say about and to the “religious right.” It ain’t acclaim!

    I agree about their being dangerous. I had that pointed out to me by a theologian named Andy Lang about 25 years ago. I had my suspicions even before that.