Monday, November 30, 2009

Un-holy War

Some facts:

- Pope Benedict is not President of the United States

- The First Amendment has not been repealed

- America, while predominantly Christian, is not 100% Christian (roughly 84%)

Now, while this country was founded primarily by members of Christian sects, who emigrated to America to escape persecution or start new lives, and also given that many of the Founding Fathers were members of Christian faiths, men who were strong believers in God, but also in the freedom to worship the god (or gods) you saw fit, it is interesting to note that one enjoinder that is pivotal to the formation of this nation as a free nation, is the one regarding the government's ability to establish a national religion. So important was this idea, that the government should not be able to establish, recognize, or support a single religion, that it was made a part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The founders were well aware that the contentious differences between religions as a whole, and divisions of those religions in particular, would be anathema. For representative government to work, and for all sides to receive fair and equal representation, various aspects of a person's life would have to be kept separate from governance. The general welfare of all Americans was more important than the petty squabbles brought about by differing belief systems. There would be enough squabbling created by the simple act of trying to get so many different States to agree on anything.

We must also remember that there were many among the founders who were Freemasons, and one of their main precepts was that it did not matter which god you believed in; as long as you believed in "god," then it was possible to have discussions about other things without needing to invoke any particular religion's deity to make a point. Mind you, this way of thinking still denies the atheists their due, but at the time, it was more enlightened thinking than "worship my god or else!"

Personal belief had to be separated from governance, if the expounded principles found in the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.") were to be realized. The citizens of the United States had to be taken as individuals, each in his or her own way, and treated equally, irrespective of religion -- though race, gender, and the like were sadly lacking in equal treatment.

Flash forward more than 200 years, and we find the Roman Catholic Church, or at least some high priests of it in the United States, attempting to dictate social policies affecting all Americans, because they conflict with Catholic values. They have gone so far, as to use Holy Communion as a political tool, making it clear that any Catholic public servant who takes positions contrary to the Catholic Church should not receive Communion.

Now, my days of calling myself a Catholic are long over, mainly due to such improper manifestations of power as these. While there is nothing wrong with the Catholic belief system, per se, there is a great deal wrong with those who consider themselves "keepers of the faith." It is quite clear that the church is becoming quite reactionary, to the point of overstepping its bounds in America by attempting to meddle in the affairs of the nation. This bombast and hypocrisy has made its way throughout Christianity, to the point of poisoning my view of organized religion. I am a great believer in spirituality and its role in making people better, by encouraging us to look towards the needs of our fellow humans and giving them the same care and concern we would expect them to give us.

What I am not a great believer in, is the idea that there is one "true" religion, whose precepts are manifestly better than any others, and whose system is to be placed ahead of all other consideration. I have nothing against those who worship in any particular belief system, as long as they understand that they are free to live by those codes if they choose, but they cannot impose those same codes on me. On Earth, humanity and fellowship must reign, and religious belief must be a function of the individual; it is against the founding ideals and laws of this nation, that any one religion may hold sway over public policy, for the laws of humanity must apply equally and without rancor, if there is to be true freedom and justice.

It is safe to say that any public official has a duty to all citizens first, above and beyond personal considerations. Anyone who cannot see this is not fit for public service. The constituency any public representative is representing, stands to be a complex mixture of race, culture, gender, and belief. To claim that personal preference trumps the will of the citizenry, is to claim that an individual's personal belief is somehow "superior" to the judgment of those he or she represents. This is hubris of the highest order, for no matter what an individuals capabilities or beliefs, when elected to an office by the citizenry, it is the task of the elected to not only carry out what is in their best interests, but what is in everyone's best interests. This will no doubt cause consternation among the citizens, as it will be impossible to please everyone, but in the end, to maintain the principles of freedom and democracy, it will be necessary to make hard decisions which go against popular sentiment, because they stand to give everyone greater latitude and liberty.

So, it must be said, strongly and forcefully, that the ministrations of Catholic bishops are better spent on their flocks, than in the political arena. While it is admirable that they would look to "protect" people, the basis for their efforts is a flawed understanding of what individual liberty and freedom are. Any American is free to worship as they choose, and accept or reject the precepts of any religion or belief system as they see fit. In the end, the only way to protect such freedom is in the way outlined by the founders, in the strictest terms, by compelling the government to respect the rights of individuals to their beliefs, and conversely, for the government to protect Americans from the undue imposition of any other group's beliefs. Only by maintaining such balance, and by keeping politics and religion separate, can we progress toward a more harmonious future.

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