Tuesday, November 9

DEMOCRATS: YOU CAN'T FAKE "THAT OLD TIME RELIGION"


I'm disturbed by the chattering I hear on TV, radio and in print, that Democrats need to "go to church" (says Mort Kondracke) and "get religion" to win political races. I'm a devout evangelical Christian JUST LIKE THE ONES WHO VOTED FOR BUSH, and I'm not the only one, who supports the Democratic Party in part because it's fighting to preserve our Constitution. And that includes the separation of church and state, a principle Baptists like me USED to support. Here's a must read on the subject:

I have no idea what Bush's deepest religious convictions are. But to judge by his policies they're far more literalist than Anglican -- and far removed from the tolerant spirituality of his family heritage. His policies on stem-cell research, pushed to their logical conclusion, would make unlawful heresy of (male) adolescent masturbation; and his demagogy on the gay-marriage issue points unmistakably to a world in which the tribal dietary and sexual fetishes of the Old Testament are taken as literally as last week's newspaper headlines. In the light of his recent triumph, I expect to read that the Democrats have missed the bus and must ape the sentiments and superstitions that constitute Bush's base in the Southern and Midwestern heartland. [emphasis mine]
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The deists, influenced as they were by the French Enlightenment, pictured a God majestically indifferent to the pettier vanities and ambitions of humankind. We lived, they said, in a Newtonian universe whose creator had wound it up and set it ticking on its own like a great clock, then stood back. How important was deism at America's founding? Very. Whatever claims are now made about American religious origins and doctrines, it can't be denied that deism was the overriding persuasion of our great founding generation -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and many others. Nor that under the benign influence of this outlook they designed a constitutional system in which church and state were to be eternally separated.

They foresaw that a nation of radically different religious outlooks (where heresy hunters were already zealously at work) would need vigorous safeguards against fraternal jihads and crusades. They witnessed the ruinous force of internecine religious conflict all about them and sought to protect against it. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." -- the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment -- was the result.

Today, alas, those words and their meaning have grown foggy in the minds of many. I was startled, some years ago, to discover that even the great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan had remembered them incorrectly. He thought the clause read: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion" -- a consequential mix-up of definite and indefinite articles. There are even Supreme Court justices who think, or pretend to think, that what the Establishment Clause does, and all it does, is forbid an established church -- a view that scants the clause's scope no less than its original intent. It was apparently the hope of Madison and other draftsmen to forbid any federal meddling whatsoever with religion, even in those states that still maintained church establishments. But as Madison's auxiliary writings make abundantly clear, the phrase "an establishment of religion" also embraced any and all programs of subvention to religion.
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Amnesia about such basics is perhaps to be expected in a hectic post-election season, but the remedies now being hawked in Democratic circles are dubious indeed. The most basic problem is not only the extreme variety of American religious persuasions but also the impossibility of faking religious convictions even in the tinsel world of electronic illusions. What we need is not more of the same but a long-term investment by the Democrats in the underlying good sense of the American people.

When I see pious evangelicals in their cavernous conventicles waving their arms in the air like football referees signaling a touchdown, or Major League Baseball pitchers pointing heavenward in prayerful thanksgiving for a low ERA, I wonder what ever happened to American spiritual modesty. I wonder what became of those Baptists of every stripe who abounded in my small Southern town, and of their conviction that religion was a private conversation with the deity, not something to be worn on the sleeve or boasted of to others, let alone used as a guide to voting.

Perhaps those good people still recalled that even in colonial Virginia (to say nothing of Massachusetts) their ancestors had been enchained and jailed for heresy by civil authorities. I know they were wary of contemporary religious demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin of the Shrine of the Little Flower (known as the "radio priest" in the 1930s), whose anti-FDR tirades were regarded as shocking, even un-American, intrusions of theology into politics. It is reliably said that George Washington spent more Sundays fox hunting than church-going, but what chief executive would dare be accused of such relaxation today? That was then, and this is now.

So, Mr. Jefferson, where are you when the Democrats need you? Any abatement of the gathering wars of sanctimony would demand, to begin with, some passing reference to the book of Job, where we are sternly warned against presuming to know the unsearchable ways of the Almighty. It follows that we should hear less from canting political preachers (including Roman Catholic bishops and elected officials).

I see no prospect just now of an outbreak of spiritual humility in the Bush White House. But should the Democrats imitate its tawdry piosity? Perhaps it is not too late for Democrats to chose the better alternative and remind themselves of older and deeper -- and assuredly more genuine and modest -- American religious traditions.


Democrats need to reach out to "people of faith" for sure, but not by compromising our own beliefs and principles. Instead, we need to help them see that the Democratic Party's agenda and message are more truly compatible with the teachings of Christ than that of the Republicans. True faith isn't a set of "don'ts" and characterized by fear (the Bible says fear is the opposite of faith).

Let me give you an example. Many years ago my mom and dad (pillars of the Southern Baptist Church) visited us in Dallas and noted that our youngest daughter's best friend in the neighborhood was of mixed racial heritage (her mother was white, her dad black). My mother made a politely disparaging remark about interracial marriage. I didn't have a hissy, I just said, "Oh Mama, you better be careful saying things like that. Remember what happened to Miriam when she mocked Moses' wife." When they asked what in the Sam Hill I was talking about, I pulled out my trusted old Amplified Bible and pointed them to the passage relating how when Miriam dissed her brother Moses' wife because she was a Cushite/Ethiopian (read: black), God turned her into a leper (read: snow white) until she repented and was restored. Whoa! they said. I never heard them express such a sentiment again.

THAT's the way to talk to people of faith. Not "politics" as much as "Bible." Next time some Bible-believer tells you that God hates gays and abortion, ask them to show you where it is in the Bible. I guarantee you, they'll only be able to show you scriptures like "I knew you before you were in the womb," in other words, stuff that has been INTERPRETED to mean what somebody wants it to say. Then remark, "I thought you believed the Bible literally." When they assure you that they do, ask why, if God hates abortion and gays, He didn't just say so.

He certainly had enough room (it's a big book) and enough messengers to pass it on, didn't He?

1 Comments:

Blogger PSoTD said...

Well stated. I've about had it with Mort Kondracke.

5:24 PM  

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