Thursday, January 10, 2008

One View of the Nation

Below is an article from the Chicago Sun-Times, with my comments following:

Keep My God Out of Your Politics
by Andrew Greeley, Chicago Sun-Times, 1-2-08

The United States is not and has never been a Protestant nation or a Christian nation, despite some of the claims made in the course of our history by Protestants ignorant of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The identification of their campaigns with Christianity (in one form or another) is a form of idolatry because it equates a political program with the sacred. Thus, both the Mormon and the Baptist minister candidates equate their version of Christianity with a conservative Republican perspective. That excludes secularists, agnostics, atheists, Jews and Catholics (and Mormons too) from the discussion. It also in effect establishes a religious requirement for political office. The secularists, agnostics and atheists are screaming bloody murder. Catholics find such arguments distasteful and generally stay out of them. Yet some of us, having been called idolaters often, don’t like it when we see faith reduced to a partisan political program and candidates assuring us that God is on their side. Much less are we enthused by a claim that God and his angels are supporting a certain candidate. Can a Catholic vote for a Mormon or a Baptist minister for president? There is nothing in canon law to prohibit such votes. Whether they would is another question altogether. Having lived for seven disastrous years with a president who assumes that he has immediate access to the deity, many of us would be uneasy about politics reinforced by religious self-righteousness.

Quoted from “The Media Roundup”, an electronic newsletter published by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, 1/7/08.

Some comments on this article:

In the article’s first sentence, the writer is both right and wrong, in my opinion. He is right in saying “The United States is not and has never been a Protestant nation or a Christian nation” in that the Constitution clearly forbids the establishment of an official state religion. “Religion” in the 1700s referred to what we call today a “denomination” so the Constitution was saying in effect that no Christian denomination is to be the official state religion: not Catholic, not Anglican, not Presbyterian, not Lutheran.

The writer of the article is wrong in that at the time of the American Revolution and for many years thereafter, the nation’s population was overwhelmingly Christian, and mostly Protestant. As more Roman Catholics immigrated to the U.S., Protestants as a percent of the population shrank, but the nation was, and is still is, overwhelmingly Christian.

Because of the forethought of the Founding Fathers, people are free to practice any religion and worship as they want. Jewish people, while discriminated against in many ways, were still free to worship, and did so freely, with no governmental interference. Other religions were established in this country, and were free to worship (such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Christian Science).

While I have a problem with much of what the writer of this article said, the only other one I’ll comment on is his statement that “The identification of their campaigns with Christianity (in one form or another) is a form of idolatry.” As I’ve mentioned before, all people vote their values, whether they be secularists, agnostics, atheists, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, conservative Protestants, or liberal Protestants. Any person’s values are informed by their background: often their religious background and beliefs, sometimes cultural (with culture often heavily influenced by that society’s religion – such as in Islamic countries), occasionally ethnic, often their education, and generally by life experiences and upbringing. So of course a voter is going to look at a candidate’s values and the source of those values. So saying that voters looking at a candidate’s religious beliefs is idolatry is ludicrous and shows a gross intolerance for conservative Christians who take their religious beliefs and values seriously.

I’m not saying there should be some sort of religious litmus test, but I do believe that voters have the right and duty to understand each candidate: his or her values, beliefs, policies, voting record, education, experience, and other qualifications. While I admire Rudy in many ways, for example, his personal life is a disgrace, and I wouldn’t vote for him because I question his ethics, morals, and judgment. If he takes marriage vows made before God so lightly, how would he honor the oath of office?

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