As a Democrat,
with an unabashed contempt for the Republican party, I was
pleasantly surprised this past week when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized two
prominent and influential religious leaders, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral
Majority and Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition. McCain's apt description of
"agents of intolerance" was a gust of fresh air in the stink that often passes for
contemporary American politics. That the other candidates for the presidency
either complained or ignored McCain's honesty has prompted me to inquire: who
(or what) is America's God?
The Catholic expansion
into the New World, during the 16th century by the
Spanish, Portuguese, and French, went relatively unchallenged until the
anti-Catholic English began colonizing at the start of the 17th century. The
Jamestown, Virginia settlement in 1607 required participants to take decidedly
anti-Catholic oaths, and our much mythicized Separatist Puritans (later known as
"Pilgrims") of Plymouth Colony in 1620 likewise detested all things Catholic,
prohibiting the celebration of Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.), but
allowed the anti-Catholic "Pope's Day," a civil holiday marking the infamous
"Gunpowder Plot" of 1605 and the failure of Catholics to blow up the British
Parliament. America, a nation which naively believes itself founded with the grand
and noble ideal of religious freedom, was in fact initially settled by individuals
consumed by anti-Catholic hate. [Note: for more on this see my recent column,
"The Horror of the Horizon."]
Catholic Libertarian, Lord Acton (1834-1902), is often quoted for
his "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," a saying
which properly describes the situation of Salem Village, Massachusetts in 1692.
The Protestant Reformation with its anti-Catholic bias shares much with the well
documented psychological dysfunction between some children and their parents,
whereby eventual freedom and responsibility inspire "children" to make the same
errors as their "parents." Religious tolerance was unthinkable in Salem Village at
that time, and the self-righteous mistakes made by its citizens are now regarded as
an "evil" far worse than any Carib voodoo, ergot poisoning, or social maneuvering.
"God" may have been mentioned in Salem Village, but it's highly doubtful "God"
was paying attention...
independence from Britain with the complaint of "no taxation
without representation" by James Otis, and we should be mindful that Otis appealed
to the British Parliament and argued not for the God-given rights of the English,
but rather for the common sense implied in "God and nature..." As the "children"
of Salem Village grew to young adults, our "Founding Fathers" began to think for
themselves with less attention shown any favored view of "God." The humanistic
philosophies inspired by "The Enlightenment" moved our "Founding Fathers" away
from religion and empowered them to foster a new nation which openly
proclaimed: "As the Government of the United States of America is not in any
sense founded on the Christian religion..." [Note: from Article 11 of the 1796
"Treaty of Tripoli."] America's God? Has there ever been such a thing?
and "Deist" positions (read: Freemasonic
beliefs) among our
"Founding Fathers" may have assisted in the basic structure of the American
republic, but a backlash was unavoidable and almost immediate. The 1827-1838
"Anti-Masonic Party" attempted to feed off of conspiracy paranoia, much like
anti-Catholic groups. New York's "Burned-Over District" of the 1800s was named
after an ongoing moral conflagration brought about by preachers, revivalists, and
those wishing to warp Christianity to suit themselves. It was in this desperate
environment that the cult of Mormonism (1830-present day) began. Harold Bloom
has described the Mormon cult as "America's religion," but I can only hope his
suggestion was meant as sarcasm and not a serious conclusion of national belief.
America was first settled by a cult (the "Pilgrims"), achieved independence through
the efforts of a secret society (the Freemasons), and has avoided attaching itself to
one religion over another. But this has not prevented individual Americans from
trying to remake America into something it was never designed to be...
of Independence" and "Constitution"
suggested a proper path for our nation, but the Civil War of 1861-1865 provided
the means for all Americans to walk together. It's always been about the money...
Our separation from Britain concerned money, slavery would have been abolished
in 1776-1778 had not the "Founding Fathers" needed the support of the South to
construct our "Union." The compromise of America in accepting slavery may have
been eminently practical and born from desperate circumstances, but our telling
moment came when the unjustness of slavery became unbearable and our nation
went to war against itself. It may be assumed that Christian churches both North
and South routinely commented on the conflict, but it's doubtful any of the sermons
helped to end the war. As "freedom" spread across America after the war, "God,"
or at least the "God" as presented by those with a copy of The Holy Bible, a gift of
gab, and a collection plate to stick in front of "believers," spread out as well... This
is but one of the prices of true freedom...
By the beginning
of the 20th century America was maturing at a rapid rate and
its citizens were inventors, investors, craftsman, farmers, artists, and all else that
make up a well-rounded society. Into that mix (actually never removed from it) the
religious continued an attempt to change America, though most of these efforts
were inspired by a lust for personal profit and not as any spiritual contribution to
the nation. [See, for example, the New England cult of Christian Science.] Though
"religion" in America may be said to "mean well," the political lobbying of the
"God-fearers" which produced "Prohibition" from 1920 to 1933, and the Scopes
Trial of 1925 which pitted science and the model of evolution against "religion" and
the claimed absolute of "Creation," both served to exercise the wonderful process
of democracy... We are better, not because of our successes or failures, but
because we are improved by the challenges we face and that we have persevered
when others have not. Sure, some still want slavery, the Confederate flag, control
of certain substances, and to outlaw the teaching of evolution in schools, but
America will survive this pettiness. "God" may collect Pokéman cards and watch
Rev. Falwell as he undresses for bed every night, but it's doubtful "God" cares
about what passes for American politics.
America fought in two "World Wars" and "God" (other than a
brief and certainly fictional showing as the feminine Shekhina in 1981's Raiders of
the Lost Ark) did not make an appearance. "God" wasn't doing mustard in the
trenches with Robby Graves and there are many alive who experienced the madness
of Hitler's "Final Solution," and know "God" wasn't in the ovens of Germany... The
establishment of the State of Israel and the founding of the United Nations after
WWII are two of the finest moments of the 20th century, yet many American
Christians (some most influential) believe otherwise. Our freedom, our strength,
our "tolerance," and much else is being continually challenged by delusional and
monetarily motivated individuals as they sweat and swear they bear "God's word,"
though I strongly suspect they only worship money and would probably be
prostitutes if they could find someone to have sex with them. Okay, some of them
do and it's common knowledge! Let's get back to America's God...
I'll attempt an
analogy of a policeman: a policeman witnesses a pedestrian
crossing a busy street in the middle of the block. This is jaywalking--a civil offense
punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The policeman could, and perhaps should,
arrest the pedestrian for jaywalking. The policeman also has the personal option of
stopping traffic to assist the pedestrian across the street. Or, ...overlooking the
situation and seeking out criminal offenses with which the policeman could make a
substantial difference and contribution to society. This analogy compares a
policeman with a religious "leader" or one whose religion "compels" them to act a
certain way. The policeman is a hero and faces possible death from criminals on a
daily basis. The religious "leader" ...is a farce and is more concerned about a
collection plate than assisting the community. Yet, "jaywalking," or some such
trivial religious offense, is regularly addressed by religious "leaders" and much of
this is wrong, selfish, and has little or nothing to do with "God." McCain did well to
call attention to Falwell and Robertson...
It would be easy
and flippant to claim that money is America's God. Sure, it's
always been about the money, but America has struggled for more than two
hundred years to believe in something more. And we've succeeded. We are a
spiritual nation, accepting all faiths, but supportive of none. With every curse from
Falwell and Robertson about homosexuality, a woman's right to choose, and claims
that all faiths other than theirs are wrong, our society is strengthened by its
collective and consensual rejection of their personal opinions. Yes, some believe
Falwell and Robertson speak for "God," and it was against these believers (read:
voters) that McCain's comments were directed.
I consider today's
America as essentially unchanged from the nation envisioned
by our "Founding Fathers." I suspect we're "humanist" and "deist," in that we care
about people more than politics. As a Democrat, and an American, I applaud
McCain's criticism of Falwell and Robertson, and feel a profound sense of
disappointment that others do not. Get with it, Al!
holding these truths,
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