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POLITICS VS. RELIGION
Will Pat Robertson force us to tax Jesus?

By Avery Walker | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

I often find myself fascinated by the sentiments people feel can be best expressed on a 10” x 2”sticker plastered to the bumper of their car. I, personally, believe that if a political ideology can fit into that size of a space in print large enough to be read by passing motorists, it’s probably an oversimplification.

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The other day, I ran across one that was rather popular when I was growing up: “The last time we mixed politics and religion… people got burned at the stake.” I wondered briefly why it wasn’t as common anymore, and came to two conclusions: 1) The cuteness wore off; and 2) If they made it today, it would have to say, “The last time we mixed politics and religion… Wait, what time is it?”

While I didn’t feel the thought itself was an oversimplification, I did wonder if the person sharing it had ever really given serious consideration to why the two were such a destructive mixture. It's a given thought in America that mixing politics and religion is generally a bad thing. Unless, of course, one is so deluded that they actually believe their own religion to be the only legitimate morality, in which case one probably feels that their religion should have heavy influence on society. But these people are rare, particularly in a predominantly Protestant society. Those on the other side of the coin too-often accept the easy explanation for this destructive combination—that that it allows religions to exert too much influence on those with differing views—without considering the true source of the problem: It usually isn’t the religion. It’s the politics.

People accused of witchcraft were almost always a threat to the community in some other way—either financial or social. Liberals often forget that religion wasn’t the reason for witchcraft “outbreaks;” it was an excuse. Religions have used government to do their dirty work, yes, but far more common are politicians who use religion to justify immoral beliefs and policies. These men are not clergy becoming involved in politics, they are politicians disguising themselves as clergy.

Jerry Falwell, for instance, was in favor of segregation in the 50s and 60s, but now seems just fine with sharing the sidewalk with a Darkie. Did God flip-flop, or is Falwell just a scumbag politician who used religion to justify social injustice? Falwell’s more offensive comments and patently still-evident racism are funny, but he at least, seems to mean well. Remember that when paired with “politician,” the word “scumbag” is barely an insult.

Pat Robertson is often quoted as having called feminism a, “Socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” And here, I just thought it was a belief in equal rights and opportunities for both sexes.

But do we remember this golden hit from Robertson’s repertoire? “The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today.” Well, the word “Jew” seemed a little unnecessary, but maybe he has some Biblical reason for believing that. Right? He also once said that “Presbyterians are the spirit of the Antichrist." Either God’s definition of the Antichrist changes with political winds, or Robertson is a bigoted liar attempting to turn his flock against those who believe differently.

Robertson can be a hateful, obtuse man if he wants. That doesn’t hurt anybody. But he has repeatedly shown a very strange interest in affairs of state.

He once told followers that, “There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore." Robertson, and many of his colleagues, are telling followers that contemporary liberals just invented that whole, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thing. But why would he have such an interest in government, anyway?

Robertson seemed most eager to influence U.S. foreign relations in July of 2003, protesting U.S. involvement in the Liberian Civil War. “We're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country,” Robertson seethed, careful to blame everyone but President Bush (who had twice called for Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down) for the deed. Taylor, who Robertson repeatedly promoted as the nation’s “Duly elected leader,” had already been indicted by the U.N. for war crimes. Robertson's "Christian, Baptist President," was a former warlord now being asked to step down for having supported a rebel movement in Sierra Leone accused of a wide range of war crimes, including use of child soldiers. It took fewer than a dozen U.S. Marines to persuade Taylor to step down.

What Robertson failed to mention during his on-air tirades was the $8 million he had invested in Liberian gold mines. His constant concerns about the “Stability of Liberia” were all but altruistic. One might be crass enough to claim that Robertson’s religious status is more about saving money through tax exemption than souls through Gospel. I’d rather believe that his conscience simply makes him believe his actions are holy. Robertson also owns diamond mines in Rwanda (if you don’t know why that’s a bad thing, I urge you to look it up) and it has been widely reported that he spent $1.2 million intended for humanitarian aid to transport heavy equipment to the operation. Men like Pat Robertson are the very reason good people sometimes wish for a vengeful God.

Yet, Robertson's political organization masquerading as a church is subsidized through tax exemption. Some churches hand out political yard signs at service. Are men like him going to force us to tax Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna? And where does L. Ron Hubbard fit in?

Repeatedly throughout the Presidential campaign, I found myself wondering why it was seen as a contradiction for John Kerry to be a pro-choice Catholic, but nobody raised issue with George W. Bush being a pro-war, anti-poor Methodist. The Methodist Church is relatively liberal, while the same cannot be said for our President. You’d never know it by Bush’s rhetoric, but the United Methodist Church has been debating gay rights since 1972. The Church’s current slogan is “The United Methodist Church: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” I think the Bush Administration policy is, "Open heart? Open mind? Hit the door."

While gearing up to remove the inert Saddam from power, Bush refused to intervene in genocide occurring in the Congo. The Methodist Church has long been involved in humanitarian work there—even establishing a University in the mid 80s. A Methodist Pastor recently began a personal anti-war crusade, aimed at turning American public opinion away from the war in Iraq.

As a liberal, I yearn for the day we have a President who governs with such a mind. But, then, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is as much a political power as a religious one. The Methodist Church is a bit more low-key when it comes to politics.

Throughout history, we find that whenever the Church becomes a political power, it ceases to be a religious body and becomes a political one with far too much power. The church becomes a branch of government, and is, in essence, lost. Religion is a great way to keep simple people in line, and politicians know that.

The head of state becomes the head of church, and their whims become those of God. Catherine the Great was the head of the Russian Church, and even though she was considered a liberal leader at the beginning of her reign, she gave ex-lovers serfs by the thousands. “Sorry things didn’t work out, babe. Have seven thousand human beings.” God’s work? (The only sovereign who springs to mind as having doled out government posts to more male ex-lovers than Catherine was James I. You might recognize his name from the cover of your Bible.) When it was suggested that she tax the incredibly wealthy Church, the proposition couldn’t be taken seriously. The clergy was more powerful than the Czarina.

Much of this is facilitated by the fact that human beings have a megalomaniacally arrogant tendency to assume that their personal and cultural values are shared by God. There are people in this country, for instance, who equate a pure form capitalism with Christianity, in spite of the fact that one in nine verses of the New Testament is devoted to the responsibilities of the rich to the poor.

Communist states force Atheism with even more radically ludicrous zeal; religious dogma is bad, but anti-religious dogma is good. You’ll often hear said of an author, “Only the Bible has sold more copies.” This claim is usually made by adding together the totals for every book the author has written as if it were a single volume, without applying that standard to anybody else. The real #2 best seller is Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung, largely because the Chinese were legally required to own a copy for decades. My point? Dogma is big business, and nobody moves it like a government. (Unrelated but interesting: Number nine is Valley of the Dolls, and Dr. Spock sits comfortably at number eight, each with just about 40 years of sales on The Bible’s 1600.)

American politicians, though rarely advocating a church-state government, are very quick to use God to support their position on the political topics of the day—however changing or immoral that position might be. To Falwell, segregation was kosher, and now it’s not. I have a feeling that God is either for equality or not.

The mixture is damaging to the political realm, as well, but this is a secondary effect. People come to believe that the government owns their soul. And most destructive to religion, Biblical canon becomes a collection of laws, rather than a philosophical and moral guide, and the lessons are therefore lost in translation. After all, who would you trust with a Bible and your soul: a clergyman or a lawyer?

You see, any person who believes Jesus Christ to be the savior of their own soul, and of those of the world, probably took notice of the fact that he was executed on religious grounds, for political reasons. And the moral, all at once, boys and girls, is… When you mix politics and religion, very bad things happen. I could go on and on about Crusades and Holy Wars, but if your Savior being whipped and nailed to a cross isn't enough to drive the point home, I can't imagine what is. But religion generally isn’t the reason; It’s merely a means.

Later, many came to realize that when religion becomes a tool of the government, its true purpose is lost. There are many churches in America who understand this. They just don’t lobby for it, because… well, that would be mixing politics and religion.

When someone laid a bit of a trap, encouraging Christ to speak out about taxes, he replied that one should, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." In doing so, Christ temporarily avoided being drawn into the politics of the day. Smart guy, that Jesus. Hope he has a happy birthday, and a long chat with everyone in the religious right.

 



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