Monday, May 02, 2005

Thoughts on Government and Religion

I fear for the future of my country. And I mean this in a sincere, patriotic sense. I may be a die-hard liberal, but I can still love my country, even as I disagree with many of its policies. I can be grateful to the many men and women who have given their lives in service of our country. I, too, have served my country on the home front, as the spouse of a military member. I have seen and lived sacrifice. I believe in democracy.

In order for a true democracy to thrive, it cannot be static. It cannot afford to rest on its laurels, smug in the knowledge that all issues have been debated and solved. The very founding fathers we idolize were themselves questioning men. They were riddled with doubt and concern and knew full well that any document they created would need to be flexible and adaptable if it were to remain relevant.

The sense I get from the current administration, though, is that questioning and soul-searching are signs of weakness. Personally? I believe the opposite: that he who continually questions and seeks answers is strong. It is only the ill-informed, insecure bully who takes a position and then unwaveringly pushes it down the throats of others.

My current fear for my country comes mostly from living under leaders who insist--without question, or even room for discussion--that they are right. Leaders who believe that God has told them what the country needs. Yes, the founding fathers believed in God, but I do not believe that the founding fathers held the radical fundamental view that they could speak directly to God and receive a definitive answer. That requires a level of arrogance that I don't believe they possessed. For our current leadership to refer back to the founding fathers as an example of why God should be in government is faulty logic. It's not apples and apples.

George Bush's God--from whom he openly professes to seek guidance--is not an example of the same God:worshiper relationship that the founding fathers enjoyed. The "personal relationship with God" is a modern Christian construct, and one that I submit would not have gone over well with our Anglican/Episcopal forefathers. Can you imagine George Washington announcing, "I've spoken with God, and I believe I know what He wants me to do"? That is not the language of a statesman. That's the language of a demagogue. That comes from someone who has co-opted the notion of God for his own purposes. Who invokes an all-powerful entity to rationalize decisions that might otherwise prompt questions. It is a way to close discussion: God--via George Bush--has spoken. You are either with God or against Him. End of discussion.

Drawing that sort of politico-religious "line in the sand" demonstrates a level of passionate involvement and certainty of belief that can be very attractive. It can also be very dangerous. I worry every time I see another mammoth, evangelical church sending its scaffolding into the sky. I worry because such places--with their certainty of belief--have come to symbolize a passionate zeal and a lack of reasoned thinking. A "feed me" spiritual mentality that requires no work on the part of the individual, encouraging, instead, a childlike passivity wherein all decisions are made by praying or by rote.

Whatever happened to the dictum, "The Lord helps those who help themselves?" Is that no longer true? Must we pray before we take any action, no matter how trivial? Did the Lord not give us brains and a conscience to make a few decisions on our own? Omniscience aside, wouldn't you be more than a little annoyed if your grown children called home several times a day, every day, to ask you to tell them what they should do?

Perhaps I am simply too logical. No matter how I try, I cannot see the logic behind killing a doctor who performs abortions as a way to show respect for life. Neither can I understand the money, time, and energy expended to keep a feeding tube in a long-brain-dead woman when hundreds of children die every day in sub-Saharan Africa for want of food.

A recent article in my local paper showed a photo of 500+ worshipers in a newly constructed mega-church in my area. Worship there is piped from this vast arena into the homes of the faithful across Western New York and the world. A rock band at the altar plays inspirational music and the pastor struts back and forth, handsome, charismatic and CERTAIN and the congregants lift their faces heavenward, features screwed into grimaces of ecstasy--an intense, passionate pain.

And I wonder if this is not the appeal of such a worship service--the heady power of a cavernous space filled with communal zeal.

It is distinctly human to crave a purposeful life, to desire to lose oneself in feeling, to want to touch the divine. Until recently, such venues as art, sports, music, religion, and family served the purpose well enough, and the truly zealous held no more than a fringe appeal for society.

Suddenly, however (after the recent re-election of George Bush, especially) conservative, non-mainstream religious groups have emerged into the sunlight of full acceptance. This level of extreme Christian faith--the kind that launches death threats against a judge who simply follows the law of the land--is to me very much the same as militant Islamists who hold that non-believers must suffer in order to promote Islam, that infidels must die. It's ludicrous--all of it. And I have yet to see how we as a society will manage to work our way through the dogma into understanding, particularly under our current leadership.

And just why are We The People buying into this notion of extreme Christianity? Why do we crave such hollow, feel-good religious transcendence? Have we lost the desire to be transported through creativity? Intellectual stimulation? Philosophical discussion? Why are the higher pursuits of art, architecture, music, opera, literature, dance (and the like) not enough anymore?

Have we too fully embraced a lonely techno-society that serves to keep us from full human interaction under the misnomer of 'greater access'? I wonder. Perhaps the very fact that I am typing this into a computer, alone at my desk, for you, alone at your desk, to read and consider, is answer enough.

9 comments:

katrina said...

This should be published Mary.

Clifford Garstang said...

Right on, Mary. It's completely frightening what's happening. I'm afraid it isn't a very big step to armbands and concentration camps.

bevjackson said...

You said it, Mary and you said it well!! I'm terrified of this current condition, and we need voices like yours heard!

Katie said...

This is brilliant Mary. You should indeed publish!

Clifford Garstang said...

We'll know how big a problem we've really got if the government doesn't denounce the outrageous remarks Pat Robertson has made.

Mary Akers said...

Yes. I'm waiting, too. Let me know if you hear. Appalling. There was a great NPR piece on this very issue this morning, and will be another tomorrow. Perhaps the tide is turning.

kma said...

Great piece! Thanks for posting it.

Myfanwy Collins said...

Well said, Mary!!!

Jilly said...

applause!