Tuesday, September 9, 2008

¿What's God Got to Do With It?

http://www.peacemonger.org/images/CoexistMeaning.jpg I know I haven't been posting much about this year's contest for POTUS lately, but as most of you know I'm in the tank, as they say, for Obama. There's really not much I can say without the risk of sounding like a little schoolgirl who just made it onto the cheerleading team. That's not to say I'm not perturbed by some of the goings-on during our most recent attempt at picking the Face & Voice of Our nation.

Take religion. Really, take religion. I'm not using it. Seriously though, I've seen some frightening things going on in our country where religion is involved. I'm talking about now, not the good old days where people died daily for their beliefs. Wait. That's still happening. I meant the good old days when untold numbers of our fellow human beings were brutalized for their faith. It still astounds me some of the foul things done in the name of a deity.

I hesitate to even bring this up. Religion's one of those things you're not supposed to discuss as the discussion usually breaks down to a pissing contest about who is "closer" to God. However, certain things about this campaign have gotten caught in my craw so deep that I fear I risk a stroke if I don't get them out. Besides, it might be nice to hear from a recovering Christian who's evolved into agnosticism (my version of agnosticism: in short, I believe in something but don't give it a face or a name, nor do I make up a personality, nor do I believe It conciously controls Us.) Nevrtheless, I apologize in advance if anything I say offends anyone.

The muslim thing bothers me. Not that so many people actually believe Obama’s a muslim, but that if he were, that it would make a difference. How can a country that was founded on the guiding principle of Freedom—Freedom of religion above all else—allow itself to care whether any candidate is a muslim or not. I'm ashamed.

I don't behoove anyone their right to worship as they like, as long as they respect my right of doing likewise. However, If anyone out their genuinely believes they couldn't vote for someone because they don't pray to the right god, then that individual vehemently opposes what America stands for.

I was a devout, if meandering christian until I was 17 or so. At one time or another I've attended church with Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baptists. I was less than a year away from my mission when I escaped the Mormons. I've also worshipped at a couple of synagogues, have been to my fair share of Passover Seders and have even been present at some Wiccan rituals. My father-in-law is muslim. And I haven't even mentioned the Santeria rituals I've personally performed (and I won't mention more since that's a topic I'll be tackling in my second novel, Chango Crying).

A result of my religious travails was my ultimate decision that choosing any specific religion was tantamount to damning a good deal of my Friends & Family to some kind of painful afterlife they didn't deserve. That was one of the reasons I had chosen mormonism in my teens. They always seemed to have the answer for every question, and as a precocious fourteen year-old, I had lots of questions.

When I questioned the idea that only by faith in God through Jesus could one earn the much vaunted paradisical afterlife, the mormon missionary drew a star in his little book of potential converts and proceeded to let me in on the ritual known as Baptism for the Dead. Everybody would have the option of getting to heaven if they simply accepted this ritual initiation posthumously. It is a beautiful ritual that I’ve had the honor of participating in on a few occasions, but I'm a sucker for rituals. I even cried at the hours long Good Friday Procession that paraded through the streets of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico during last spring break.

When personal problems with the mormon church led to little action besides continual pronouncements that while the members were not perfect, the religion itself was, I took it upon myself to see it as a challenge to prove or disprove the veracity of that statement. It didn't take long for me to discover that the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints did not allow blacks full membership until 1978. I heard plenty of excuses, from the idea that black folk just were not ready until then to bear the full responsibilities of mormonism to doctrine stating that blacks of African descent were descended from Cain therefore blacks were unworthy of "full" worship. I could never accept a religion that excluded folks based simply on the color of their skin as "perfect." It was enough to put me off organized religion for good.

Now, I didn't exclude Romney, today's most famous mormon next to Donny & Marie, from those I felt might make a decent POTUS because he was a mormon. I do have a problem with a leader who's continued membership in his church implies that his church was justified in curtailing anyone's ability to worship for decades, but mostly it was his republican affiliation that I found repelling, not his faith. Mormon or not, if I felt Mitt was the best choice to lead Our country, I would have endorsed him regardless of his ontological choices.

I can sense I'm starting to lose some of you, so let me get back to the gritty of the nitty, so to speak. I suppose what bothers me the most about where Our religious beliefs have led us as a Nation is the idea that Christianity holds some kind of trump over other faiths here. First off, it's bunk. Our wise founding fathers, many of which eschewed Christianity for more universal Deist beliefs, recognized the fact that pushing any faith as Our National Faith was a dangerous proposition. They used all the blood uselessly spilled in the European struggle of catholicism against protestantism and the tragedy of the Salem witch trials as proof positive that religion should be left up to the individual, not government.

This ideal stuck for a while. At least until the Christian Revival movements that arose in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries. Now things have devolved to the point that many Christians believe that we were founded as a Christian Nation. The Communist scare of the 40s & 50s prompted the government to insert "God" into various aspects of Our lives like our Pledge of Allegiance, sadly, without ever realizing how it infringed on the rights of Our fellow citizen Atheists. Now we're at a point where there seems to be a religious test for the office of president, and you CANNOT pass said test unless Christ is in your equation.

And now there’s talk about Sarah Palin being a Dominionist /Kingdom Now follower , one of the neo-charismatic sects whose goal it is to turn Our nation into a Christian theocracy. You may be familiar with the movement if you’ve ever seen the movie Jesus Camp. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a Islamic POTUS who respects diversity than one who believes Christianity should be Our official religion and approves of training our children for some upcoming spiritual war.

Now anyone who has trolled my profile should know that Jesus of Nazareth is one of my personal heroes. I view him as one of history's most benevolent iconoclasts, opening the best of Judaism's principles for all to follow while railing against some of the faith's most antiquated and hypocritical tenets. He opened up the belief that we could all be chosen, if we make the right choices, and that no one is lesser than anyone else.

Unfortunately, Jesus was assassinated before truly realizing his vision, and as typically happens after such a tragedy, his followers chose to venerate the Man over his Message. Like Buddha, Jesus was elevated by his followers to the point where living by his ideals of Love of ALL and that belief in God need not be bound by region or nationality meant nothing unless one also added Jesus to one’s pantheon. I believe this is antithetical to Jesus' teachings, and continues to corrupt Christianity to this day.

So not only is it troubling that we question Obama's faith, but more troubling is the fact that being Christian has become a litmus test for Our highest office. It's not just imperative that a viable candidate be Christian, but We've now gotten to the point where it's important how "good" and "devout" of a christian one is. Not only is this antithetical to Jesus' teachings, but it runs counter to Our nation’s ideals. If you don't believe me, look at the recent study that shows an overwhelming percentage of Our fellow Americans no longer believe there is only one path to salvation.

Sadly, I can do little but watch as a very vocal minority (those who adhere strictly to the idea that the U.S. is or should be a Christian nation) continues to push its agenda and denigrate those who oppose them or may stand in their path. Worse, they perpetually prod Our nation frighteningly closer to theocracy.

Even with all that, I continue to hold on to the hope that, as usual, common sense will eventually prevail in our fine nation. Then I can look forward to the day when even a simple agnostic like myself, one who truly respects Everyone's right to worship as They see fit, can successfully run for Our highest office.

KEEP HOPE ALIVE
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