“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” – from the First Amendment to the Constitution
Never before in my lifetime of over seven decades do I recall the intersection of
religion with politics being as much concern as it is now. In fact, looking back in my (imperfect) memory, the only time I recall it being a major issue was the election of the nation’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. He addressed the issue cryptically in his inaugural speech with these two sentences,
“Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word ‘God’ at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension.”
As we all know, the Tea Party wing of the GOP has pursued its single-minded goals of reducing the size of government and prohibiting the raising of any taxes whatsoever with great zeal – one might say, with religious zeal. All of which leads me to puzzle over how anyone comes to political points of view in the first place. Is it through rational analysis, through education, or something as simple as inheriting one’s politics? I tried an internet search on this and found little of help, so I am forced back on my own intuition: I submit that very few people derive their politics from education or analysis. I think most people take on the politics of their parents and/or their social circles. That phenomenon is on stark display in our own community here in SW Missouri, an area that is one of the lowest-earning metropolitan areas in the country and, at the same time, solidly Republican in its politics.
My fellow blogger and friend, The Erstwhile Conservative, recently did a post titled, “Strange Things From The Mouths Of Evangelicals”, exploring the irrationality and inconsistency of religious beliefs. It seems clear to skeptics like him and me that there is no rational basis for believing that God, if he exists, intervenes in mortal affairs. However, sports figures as an example often cite prayer for their successes. One such who does so publicly is the Denver Broncho’s new quarterback, Tim Tebow, whom my blogging friend Pied Type recently posted on.
In his post, the E.C. provided a striking example of a professional baseball player who credited the deity with his recent athletic success despite being involved earlier this year in a contradictory incident where a tiny intervention would have made the difference between life and death for an innocent man. This capacity in most human beings is called “faith”, and I use it in this post to mean the ability to believe something by force of will alone, whether supported by analysis or not.
If persons of faith are inclined to use it to put scores on the board, is it not likely that they would employ it for politics as well? I believe they do. In recent weeks I have had several experiences as a blogger that make me think so. One of the commenters on the E.C.’s post was very upset with Duane because he thought he was “attacking” religion, whereas to me it was merely a case of pointing out inconsistencies in the interest of clear thinking. In another instance of political disagreement, a commenter became angry and abusive with me, apparently because I had steadfastly held to a middle-road opinion on political issues. To him, apparently, if I was not “with” him, then I must be his (political) enemy. (I see this deriving from the human instinct for tribalism, something that can inspire people to root for athletic teams in other cities made up of persons we have never personally met and who are often not even residents of our state.)
In yet another instance I challenged a blogger over an issue of economics to support his position with specific data. He asserted that it would be a waste of time because economic figures and charts were too easily distorted and manipulated. When I persisted that these at least would provide a basis for discourse, he remained dismissive. But the exchange left me thinking, what’s the use of even talking about economics, or politics for that matter, if it’s all just a matter of faith? (You thinking independents out there may be an endangered species!)
The impasse in Congress is now causing genuine harm to the nation and is threatening our recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, in my
opinion, and that impasse is powered by faith-based politics, a brand of politics that appears to embody a “religious dimension” that John Kennedy himself surely did not foresee. What we are seeing is not a government of compromise, which is what the founders intended, but a government locked in a struggle for tribal dominance. The most recent evidence of this is in an article in this morning’s paper by Steve and Cokie Roberts, Assault on courts downright un-American. The Roberts say that the religious among the GOP, and that appears to be a majority of them, are embarked on a mission to make the judicial system subordinate to the legislative, so that contentious issues like abortion, school prayer and same-sex marriage can be controlled by what they see is their own likely dominance. The Roberts couple makes a very good case, in my opinion, that this would endanger our very form of government, and the issue at stake is called tyranny of the majority. As you can see from the link, notables from Ayn Rand to John C. Calhoun, not to mention the founders, considered this principle of vital importance.