Sunday, March 19, 2006

When is enough enough?

Christianity is the majority religion in this nation. Washington, D.C. is full of politicians and bureaucrats who are all Christians. So why is it Republican politicians still claim the need to bring Christ to D.C.? Why is it that they claim that we don't have enough God in our lives?

You know, the last time I checked, government was here to make the trains run on time, keep us safe from our enemies, and provide for the common welfare. Nowhere in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or the Federalist Papers did I read that it was the duty of government to bring Christ to us. I believe, in fact, that is the job of our religious leaders.

We constantly are having this wasteful debate over what the limits of the separation of church and state are. There are so many things that are necessary to our common welfare. And the argument that Emily posed in response to my sex toys post, that if the people want it, then that's what the legislators should focus on, well, the majority of people aren't clamoring for more talk of Christ in D.C. They want to see us find a way to get Iraq policy right. They want their health care system fixed. They want the roads in better shape. They want the jobs situation improved. Those are the things they want.

It is the legislators, especially those on the Republican side, so devoid of new ideas because all the ones they've had in the past six years of dominance have, by and large, been mediocre in their success, who create the religion issue as a distraction to keep people from thinking about the real problems. The religious right is upset because a ban on gay marraige hasn't been Constitutionalized, but is that REALLY the most pressing problem we have going on? Is putting the Ten Commandments back in schools REALLY a major issue? Shouldn't creationism, which is a religious belief and not a scientific one, be kept in philosophy class and out of biology class?

This is no longer 1950. We have substantial populations of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. We can't pretend we are still a Christian-only nation, where the presence of the Ten Commandments in a public school wouldn't upset anyone. It simply doesn't work anymore. Our forefathers came to this continent in search of religious freedom, to practice as they wished, and now we have politicians whose stated goal is to force Christian beliefs back into the public sphere.

This sort of behavior is detrimental to our national soul. The funny thing is that Great Britain, for instance, has a state church and yet has less issues over religion than we do. Their scientific and theological leaders believe we are hindering our progress as a nation by fighting these issues over and over again.

I am religious. I am still practicing Lent, for instance, despite the fact I am a "dissident Catholic." I believe in God, and I believe religion is an important force in our personal lives. There is a point, however, where religion must be separated from public policy, because public policy has to be formulated for all people. We cannot make our policy decisions based on who lives where. It puts us in a political Tower of Babel situation, where everyone starts speaking differently and no one can understand each other.

We are pulling apart at the seams over the fervor of government officials who put religion first. Putting religion up front is fine in one's personal life, and even in their public life, but it is only acceptable until the point where they are in charge of representing everyone, and not everyone is Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, etc. That is the point where the line has to be drawn, so that we aren't breaking the First, Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religion. The First Amendment states, "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." The Fifteenth Amendment reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Nineteenth Amendment reads, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Since then, the Supreme Court and lower courts have frequently upheld that the voting clause extended to other aspects of life as well. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 further codified those decisions into law. Yet the conservatives rage on about the need to put Christianity into our public institutions.

We should all keep in mind that as wonderful as religion is, wars over religion are the fiercest and most violent. The English and the Irish, the Crusades, Muslims and the Jews, etc. When wars are fought over religion, the outcomes are very bloody. Religion is such a powerful tool, with the ability to work wonders in the world. But any tool with that power has the capacity for great evil, too. Witness al Qaeda, the Taliban, Saudi Arabia. They show us how that capacity can go very wrong.

This continued battle needs to be brought to an end. The only purposes this fight between those who wish religion to stop outside the halls of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court and those who wish their particular religion to have more public dominance serves are those of our sworn terrorist enemies. Because, while I hate to play this card, let's face it. A nation divided, with leaders trying to force Christianity as our guiding principle, only helps a group like al Qaeda draw more to their cause. It becomes not a fight of freedom vs. theocratic dictatorship, or a fight between peace and terror, but instead a fight of Christianity vs. Islam, the fight that is on our enemies' terms. Because while we, as Americans, do not talk much of the Crusades or think much of them, since we didn't exist in the 13th century, it is to this day a major issue in the Mideast. We can call that living in the past, but facts are facts, and we are playing the game on someone else's terms when we have these fights with each other.

This is why elections matter. This is why paying attention matters. This is why being engaged matters. Religious issues are at the forefront of politics because the religious right has been the only group truly engaged in government, while so many have tuned out. When only one group is talking, it creates a vacuum, and that vacuum is proving quite dangerous for the future survival of our nation.

So, the question I posed at the top, "When is enough enough?", well, it is enough when we've reached this point, where religious issues are taking up the majority of our time as a nation, and our infrastructure, security and common welfare have taken a backseat to debates that are best argued on a local level, in our churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, city councils, and town halls. It is now enough.

Update 9:41 AM, 3/20/06:
Right there, proving my point, is Fred Barnes, who writes that the Republican agenda when they return from vacation today will be to push a constitutional amendment banning gay marraige, a bill banning human-animal cloning, a bill to make federal the parental notification law about abortion, a bill allowing more public expression of religion, legislation to bar the courts from deciding constitutional issues (a decidedly unconservative and unconstitutional bill), and finally this gem: a bill that would require doctors to "consider fetal pain" before performing an abortion.

The Republican Party: doing its best to inspire religious extremism at home and "freedom" abroad.


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