Dear God in heaven, creator of the universe, foundation of our being, Brahma, Yahweh, Allah, Manitou, whatever name you like best, please do all of us schmoes down here a big favor and take religion out of our politics. It's making people stupid and driving everyone else crazy. Thank you and amen.
There's little chance that my prayer will be answered, but it's worth a shot, considering the insanity that passes for religious/political discourse in Charlotte and elsewhere. The Middle East is in turmoil. A U.S. ambassador has been killed over an amateurish movie made in California and posted on YouTube that denigrates Islam and Mohammed.
How dumb and/or deeply ignorant do you have to be to assume, as rioters in Libya, Egypt and Yemen have, that the American government is behind the piece-of-crap movie in question? Answer: Incredibly dumb or ignorant.
Now, how dumb or amorally opportunistic does a presidential candidate — like, say, Mitt Romney — have to be to react to these international incidents by claiming that the president sympathizes with the embassy attackers? Answer: Plenty dumb and breathtakingly opportunistic — and a transparent sop to the far-right, fiercely anti-Islamic partisans in his party.
So we could use an answered prayer these days, if only in Charlotte. In spring, our state went through a painful same-sex marriage battle that was bloated with the religious right's usual array of ill-tempered and archaic Old Testament quotes. It also revealed Charlotte's Catholic bishop, Peter Jugis, to be a full-throated supporter of anti-gay discrimination and the Republican party.
During the Democratic National Convention, Jugis hung huge signs telling DNC goers that the church is against abortion and gay marriage but for religious liberty (which, in the Catholic hierarchy's current rhetoric, means the government is strong-arming church institutions to provide contraception coverage for their employees). The signs hung on the outside walls of St. Peter's, the closest church to Time Warner Cable Arena — and coincidentally, the most liberal Catholic parish in Charlotte. At the DNC itself, Sister Simone Campbell — director of a national Catholic social justice lobby that was the top target of the Vatican's recent attack on American nuns — spoke about the "immorality" of fellow Catholic Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed budget. Afterward, the convention ended with a prayer from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who reiterated the church's positions on abortion and LGBT issues.
Charlotte's religion-and-politics coup de grace, however, came the Sunday — or "iPledge Sunday," as the event's organizers called it — after the DNC. A festival of rightwing talking points wrapped in piety, iPledge Sunday was simulcast to thousands of people around the country. Self-declared Christian leaders, including Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte's First Baptist Church and former U.S. Sen. Rick "No contraception for you" Santorum, told the audience members they should take a political stand and elect candidates who espouse "Christian values." Of course, the speakers repeated the religious right's most dearly held myth, as also espoused by Jugis: Christians are being denied their "religious liberty."
Renowned British religion writer Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle For God and other works, says that religious fundamentalism is nearly always characterized by the "belief that modern secular society wants to wipe out religion." You could almost understand that belief if it came from a Middle Eastern Muslim, since secular governments in Egypt, Iran and Iraq have historically worked to lessen religion's impact; and Hebrew fundamentalists' fears can be fathomed in view of the Holocaust. But American Christians? In the most religious country in the western world, where the dominant religion is Christianity? Perhaps the Rev. Emily Heath was on the money when she wrote recently for Huffington Post that a fundamentalist's idea of his/her religious liberty being at risk consists of (pick your favorite):
1. I am unable to force others to not use birth control.
2. Others are allowed to have access to books, movies and websites that I do not like.
3. A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.
4. I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.
5. Public-school science classes are teaching actual science.
None of those beliefs are that surprising, considering the source. The religious right in this country has long been under the deluded impression that their beliefs comprise divinely revealed, unchanging truth that forms the bedrock of American society. The way fundamentalists use their beliefs, however, doesn't suggest a bedrock so much as a high rock wall — one they can't conceive of, or are scared of, peaking over. Those minds are a closed shop, and that's what makes them dangerous when they tackle politics. If your religious views make you fear your fellow man, as well as the world outside your church, you and your country have a huge problem.
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