Church and State

By way of Thudfactor in a piece titled “Our own party”, The Wild Hunt’s “Pagan Square Pegs, Religious Liberal Round Holes” came to my attention. At least one modern pagan is upset at not being given proper recognition by numbers gatherers and being “lumped together” with other small but identifiable religious demographic groups:

So Pagans are “ethnic churchgoers”? “Religious feminists”?
“Spiritual but not religious” voters? Do Pagan pacifists belong with the “pious peaceniks”, while a pro-gun Asatruar who voted Kerry out of disgust with Bush is an “ethnic” vote? The confusion stems from the political (and religious) punditry’s almost total ignorance of any religion that doesn’t sport a cross on the door. Since Pagans and Hindus and Buddhists didn’t decide the vote in 2004, we don’t matter to the opinion makers.

Religion is a big issue in the United States at the present time, and that is why we are paying attention to religious demographics. The fact that the GWB campaigns from the beginning manipulated the religious right and all who identify themselves as Christians is no secret. He said he spoke with God daily. He brought God back into government, and we can all see how much better that has made government. We feel the love in bombs over Baghdad, and here at home in the absence of young men and women sent to war, increased rates of child poverty, rising costs of medical insurance, larger numbers of people without access to proper medical care, cronies in responsible posts who cannot carry on the basic functions of government, and schools that can’t teach music or art because they are struggling without enough funding to meet ill-conceived federal mandates.
When government and religion are bedfellows, the result is never good. Religion cannot solve its own disputes, much less the problems of society. For the faithful, religion deals with truths that are not in the human arena and cannot be called into question or placed on the negotiating table. Because of this, religion cannot use the most basic tactic of problem-solving in the social context, compromise. Government, however, at least in the modern understanding of democracy, continually negotiates and balances one interest against another in order to achieve what democratic government — and any other responsible government — holds as a goal, the “common good.”
The current administration has used religion to manipulate people in ways that have not been used by a western government since the 18th century:

  • Many Americans believe — and Bush rhetoric implies — that the Iraq war is a holy war of Christians against Muslims.
  • Remaining popular support for Republicans rests upon two issues, gay marriage and abortion rights. These are not the big problems in the United States. They do not relate to the common good except that they are areas in which the civil rights to privacy and participation of people are being abridged because they do not hold the same religious persuasion as the Christian government. These questions are important in a religious sense, where people are searching for answers to the questions of how an individual ought to live. And whatever side of whichever issue you come down upon as an individual, that is an emotional and sensitive issue for you. But for the common good, it is not that complicated. Women are citizens who are female. Gays are citizens who are homosexual. There is no rational, civil, social, or economic reason to restrict the civil rights of individual citizens just because they are female or homosexual.
  • The rational scientific approach to problems and questions has been discouraged. “Faith-based initiatives” have been substituted for social research and reasonable address to difficult problems like poverty. The “faith-based initiative” permits government to give large chunks of public money to churches to purchase favor. Social problems in education have been blamed on the absence of prayer in schools, and academic problems have been addressed by applying methods that an hour’s research would reveal had already failed. And despite its potential, stem cell research has been stalled for religious reasons. The advances and understandings of biological science and earth science have been called false based upon the necessary religious truth of the Genesis story.
  • The focus upon “evil” from religious and government leaders has returned to the medieval period. There is a resurgence of actual services to “exorcise” the “devil” from possessed people. Belief in the devil as the ruler of a kingdom of demons that can possess people when they aren’t properly protected by the church is the most irrational of Christian constructs. Its history is clearly traceable in written record. Its basis in the Bible is shaky and inconsistent. And if the threat of a devil that would overpower us if we didn’t hold fast to the cross and keep the garlic by the door and salt the window sill would make us better people, humanity would have been perfect with no need for improvement by the dawn of the 19th century.

I don’t want any religion to have recognition in government except recognition of the rights of citizens to practice their religion in freedom. That is all that Christians or any other group should have. The only restrictions upon religious practice should be those that protect other people from coercion and forced participation, either as members or as victims. People can be — and most people are — religious. Governments need to be democratic, civil, and rational.

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