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
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,
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
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
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.