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September 12, 2020
Of Politics And Religion – A Prophecy Or A Heresy
For a good part of my life, I have been told that people can talk about any issue except politics and religion. One reason behind this “conventional wisdom”, according to my parents, lay in the belief that many people had strongly held opinions, and we were not obligated to “convert them” to our way of thinking. For most of my adult life, I have worked in the construction industry, as an electrician (IBEW LU. #58). Once I entered the arena of estimating and project management, I was pointedly introduced to the concept that contractors were not paid for espousing opinions of either a political or religious tone. Contractors were paid to build. So, spending time arguing political or religious views was, in reality, stealing from the contractor. (note: a contractor was not likely to receive any extra renumeration from a customer, for workers’ discussions on the order of things political or religious.) And so, I came to accept the value of this convention as a moral responsibility to my employers.
But I am a Stimpson, and that means that I have yet to develop the consistent ability to successfully disengage myself from discussions (even at work) on issues of politics and religion. Of concern to me, is the selectivity we use to decide when it is appropriate to apply the “religion card” in our political decisions. This is not a phenomenon unique to either Democrats nor Republicans, nor Independents. Those who oppose abortions, and let me be perfectly clear – I absolutely am opposed to abortion – will quite often argue along religious lines about the wrongfulness of abortion. Many of these same very Christian people will decry the attempts of families seeking asylum from oppressive and corrupt governments as criminals for their undocumented status in America. Others will protest for the moral right live and eat where they want (and can afford) yet hold for themselves the right to define their own moral code on other parts of their lives. If given the opportunity, I am quite sure we can come up with examples in our own lives where we can “speak from both sides of our mouths”. I am no less guilty that others.
It seems to be a common factor in our human nature to justify what we want, and justify the “right” to refuse what we do not want. I am not suggesting that, as human beings, we do not have these rights. I would propose that perhaps we do not take the time and utilize the energy necessary to consider the full impacts of our “rights”, the responsibility they incur, and the consistency with an overarching moral system. In part, I believe that we have been trained for years to not seek the deeper truth of any claim, but rely on quick answers (patterned – pat – answers), slogans, and descriptive names. The world is several generations into a world defined by “marketers”, political and economic. People are right or wrong depending on whether or not they are one of “us”. If I am a “conservative” then the other is a “Left-Wing liberal”. If they are a “Left-Wing liberal” then they are a “Communist”. If they are a “Communist”, then I do not need to listen to anything they have to say. And, if I am a ¨liberal” then the other is “Right-Wing conservative”. If they are a “Right-Wing conservative” then they are “Fascists” and I do not need to listen to anything they have to say. If I am a “moderate” then I am “wishy-washy” and have nothing important to say to either conservative or liberal.
I believe that the above is a common factor within our religious selves. We are trained to look for quick answers we call Bible verses. If we are Catholic, we look to catechisms, dogmatic statements, “sound-bites” from our favorite religious person. As a Baptist, I was trained to quote a specific Scripture passage to address almost every issue I might encounter, to quote a preacher of note (Billy Graham was a good resource). Any type of “in-depth” study of Scripture of Church teachings was not the experience for many Catholic or Protestant believers. I was once told by my Baptist pastor that if I wanted to get a “better understanding” then I should go to the seminary, otherwise I should listen to him PERIOD. I have heard stories from Catholics and other Protestants with similar experiences.
The point I am trying to make is that we seem to be programmed to receive without question the information given to us by a person we consider a “worthy” leader. We are programmed to be suspicious, if not condemning, of ideas or “truths” offered by those we do not consider a “worthy” leader. This seems to be true for religion and politics. We are not trained to be “critical thinkers”, we are trained to be critical. We are critical when we deny the validity of a statement or action of another because it comes from the other. We think critically when we ask questions of: “why?”, and “What do you mean…?”. Why did he or she say or do this or that? What is meant by this or that term? How does someone justify their arguments? Unfortunately, these questions take time, time to answer, and time to consider. And, I think, time is one of those precious commodities of which neither conservative, liberal, communist, or fascist, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, or Protestant ever has an abundance. And in many instances, it might not be necessary to invest the time and energy to carefully study every issue to come before us.
But we are in the middle of a political campaign for the highest office in America, to elect a leader, a president, who will have a dramatic impact on the world as well as the U.S. We are told many things by the candidates and by our training. One of the ideas a lot of us have been told since practically infancy, is that in America, we must separate our religious faith from our politics. Many will cite the U. S. Constitutional ban on the government from establishing a “an official state religion”.
However, there is a very important distinction that needs to be addressed here. There is an important distinction between a religion and an “ideal”. A religion is defined as:
the belief in a god or in a group of gods: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods informal: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
Whereas an “ideal” is:
Definition of ideal (Entry 2 of 2) 1 : a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence. 2 : one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation. 3 : an ultimate object or aim of endeavor : goal.
Our Founding Fathers were well educated men who lived during the height of the Age of Enlightenment (www.timelineindex.com/content/view/542
Enlightenment. 17th Century. 2nd Millennium AD. ENLIGHTENMENT : The Age of Reason and Science →. The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in 18th-century Europe. The goal of the Enlightenment was to establish an authoritative ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge based on an "enlightened" rationality.)
Our nation was created out of an effort to strive toward an “ideal form of government”. Our Founding Fathers would have been very familiar with the writings of Thomas Hobbs (The Leviathan) and John Locke (The Social Contract). These are two of the earliest treatises to concern the formation and purpose of government since Plato’s Republic. The idea and some of the words of our Declaration of Independence, can be found in John Locke’s Social Contract: In the Social Contract, John Locke writes – “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” In our Declaration of Independence, the word “property” was changed to “happiness”. This Declaration sets forth a justification and an ideal for the formation of a new nation, a nation with a moral purpose. However, our Founding Fathers knew and well understood that “moral purpose” transcends popular opinion and social conditions.
The following quotes are taken from: Advisor Newspaper; SourceNewspaapers.com – July 1, 2012, page A5
George Washington: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
John Adams: “We have no government armed with power of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is inadequate to the government of any other.”
James Madison: “Before ant man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.”
John Quincy Adams: “Is it not in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? – That it forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth? – That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?”
Thomas Jefferson: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
Patrick Henry: “An appeal to arms and for the God of hosts is all that is left us!... Sir, we are not weak if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power… Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us… Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what other course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Jedediah Morse: “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys… Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government and all blessings which flow from them – must fall with them.”
Benjamin Franklin: “I’ve lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
Our Founding Fathers did not want to establish a new “American Religion”, as in something like the Church of England. Our Founding Fathers came from many differing religious backgrounds and held a high respect for each other’s beliefs, albeit different from their own. However, if we go back to the definition of religion, believing in God, believing that there is a Creator of the universe is not a religion, it points to an ideal, a starting point and a goal. There is not one but thousands of Christian sects, Catholic, Protestant, and many others, that define Christianity. Christianity at its’ root is an ideal. How different people celebrate through ritual and doctrine their understanding of Christ constitutes religion. Therefore, to say that America is (was) a Christian Nation is to claim our moral purpose founded on the principles of mutual respect, love of God and love of neighbor.
Our nation was not built upon the guarantee of “self-interest” at the cost of all else. Our nation was not built by individuals through their own efforts. Our nation was not established to secure the wealth of a few, the privilege of the fortunate. Our country, our nation was founded on the principle that every human being, anywhere in the world, was equally entitled, through their Creator – our Creator also – to a life, to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those who argue for abortion, those who argue against immigration, educational opportunities for all people, a healthy environment, human rights and the dignity of every single person, are not correctly arguing for America. America will never be great, will never be strong, will never regain its’ moral purpose when politicians demand absolute fidelity to themselves as a test of citizenship. There is no hope for America in politicians who divide us into groups of “us versus them”. These politicians are FALSE PATRIOTS, and a shame upon the ideal of America.
In the Roe v Wade decision of the U. S. Supreme Court, the Court argued (The Majority Opinion by Justice Black) that the prosecution (the State of Texas – Wade) did not successfully defend its’ legitimate interest in inserting itself into the private life of Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe). The decision was not an endorsement of the procedure, the direct killing of the unborn child, but to what degree the state had a legitimate right to insert itself into private decisions. There are many who argue, politicians as well as the general population, who believe that abortions are a terrible thing; that believe they should never occur. But these people are reluctant to give the government permission to invest itself into their private life based on some “religious” appeal. President Bill Clinton had a very successful approach to reducing the number of abortions by tens of thousands each year for nearly six years during his administration: Give these women reasonable alternatives; give them a real choice. When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, many of the safety-nets in place for pregnant women disappeared. Our nation was not established to guarantee that a child could be born, and then ignored, but upon the Christian principles of mercy, compassion and generosity. Many I have met in the “Pro-Life” camp can be as justly included in the condemnation of Jesus to the Pharisees: For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders; but they themselves will not lift a finger to help them. (biblehub.com/matthew/23-4.htm). If we are to be a nation built upon the ideal of Christianity, then we must strive to live out in every aspect those ideal, even those which may cost us a tax dollar or two.
I am not claiming any “divine revelation” here, but I am convinced that unless we reject the ugliness of our current movement toward hatred and discrimination of any individual because of any reason, we are destined toward destruction. If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. Berean Literal Bible And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. New American Standard Bible Mark 3:25; and repeating Benjamin Franklin: “I’ve lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.” We cannot continue to sin against God and each other with impunity. God is not held in esteem when we bow at the false idols of ego and selfishness.
Rev. Mr. Bill Stimpson