The longest word in the dictionary is all about the problem with Christians in politics

When we were kids they told us that the longest word in the dictionary was antidisestablishmentarianism. Though I could spell it, I never really knew what it meant.

Until recently, when it occurred to me that if the Founders had actually been Christian, as many neo-evangelicals claim, and not the Deists they actually were, then it is unlikely that the United States as we know it would ever have existed.

Because the founding documents were not Christian, but the product of secular deistic philosophy, they  expressly forbade the establishment of a national religion in general, not just in specific, as many of today’s religious conservative suggest.  It is not only that they made sure that no denomination – Anglican, Congregationalist or Roman Catholic – would hold sway over other denominations but that Christianity itself would not be privileged.  Which makes sense when we remember that Deists are generally distrustful of organized religion, particularly of Christianity, which many of the most influential founders had personally rejected.

Without the constitutional disestablishment of religion, in an America governed by explicitly specific Christian values, I seriously doubt we would today enjoy any of the rights that we  take for  granted.  Because  a Christian (near) theocracy would find itself  at odds with true democracy.  True democratic principles – individualism, free thought, self-reliance, the right to protest authority – are not exactly compatible with those  Christian doctrines about the sovereignty of God and the power he has granted authority (as some Christians will admit).

There are many Christians who believe that Satan is real, and that he influences those who do not accept Christian doctrine.  These people are not on the fringe,  but make up the bulk of Christian Right, who have tremendous influence within the Republican party.  It is not too difficult to imagine a Christian government that would accuse those who oppose their God-given authority as being in the clutches of Satan.  After all, this is a frequent complaint coming from the pulpits (and radio pulpits) of American neo-evangelicals, many with strong political ties and a few having sought political office.  Is there any reason to think that they would leave their religious doctrines on the Capitol steps or outside the doors to the White House, as John Kennedy promised to do? On the contrary, they’ve made it plain that they would be intentionally deliberate in applying (their conservative)  religious principles to the execution of political office.

When the media criticized General William Boykin for dressing in combat fatigues, touring churches  and telling them that God was on America’s side while the  idol worshiping Muslim’s are destined  for defeat,  Christian conservatives rallied to his defense.   President George Bush favorably compared American military intervention with God’s will and Sarah Palin recently has said much the same thing.

It is easy to think this way, especially if  your enemies happen to be non-Christians. The prevailing neo-evangelical wisdom is that Islam is a false religion, that Mohamed was a false prophet and that Muslims are misguided pawns of Satan. The Tea Party movement is outspoken about their love of Christianity and their fear and hatred of Islam.

Many Bush appointees  were influence by conservative Christian ideals and now conservative Christians have a loud, if not controlling, voice in the House. There is a very good chance that in 2012 they may find themselves in control of the Senate and the White House as well.

Do we want a government that takes Genesis into account while considering environmental action? Or makes judicial decisions based upon scriptural precepts? (Which is OK as long as that scripture is from the Bible and not the Quran). Or crafts economic policy according to a narrow reading of the Old Testament (which, btw, conveniently  ignores the teachings of Jesus in the process?)  Should our civil rights legislation be pre-determined by men who wrote over 2000 years ago?

Some people asked similar questions back in John F. Kennedy’s day.  To be elected Kennedy had to promise that he would be led by the Constitution and not Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  If an irreconcilable difference presented itself, he would resign his office.  He did not try to square the Constitution to his religion, claiming that our government is founded on his religion, as so many  conservative Christians are saying today.  But he understood that a complete separation of church and state, that which  kept the Protestant majority in check, was the only reason a Catholic would ever be allowed to run for office.

It has become popular to insist that politicians reveal their religious beliefs.  Let’s  be honest; this demand is almost always made to satisfy the doubts of Christians (who question  the wisdom of having non-Christians in office).   Apparently,  Americans of other religions, in minority positions,  need not be concerned about who governs them. Or their own political aspirations.   Fortunately, the Constitution protects politicians from having to comply, although some go to great lengths to  prove their Christian bona fides.

Looking at it from a different perspective,  I believe that any outwardly religious person,  anyone who  is willingly  outspoken about his or her faith or uses it as a political tool towards election,  should take an oath similar to Kennedy’s.

Though not on a Bible.

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  1. #1 by thoughtbasket on December 3, 2010 - 3:30 pm

    Great post, thanks. Using skewed characterizations of the Founding Fathers is a bipartisan activity, but it seems like conservatives are far more aggressive about it, especially when it comes to religion. Of course a Judeo-Christian framework was the milieu back in 1776, but as you note, the founders specifically carved out any sort of government prioritizing of religion, let alone establishment. And yes, if James Dobson were king, we would lose all kinds of rights that we now take for granted.

    I am halfway through Jack Rakove’s book Revolutionaries, and it’s interesting how rarely religion comes up in his discussion of what motivated Adams and Jefferson and the gang. They were primarily focused on business, and how to make sure that England did not get in the way of their money making.

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on December 3, 2010 - 4:06 pm

      Thanks.

      Rakove’s book is on my Kindle wish list. I think you’ve given me the impetus to get started (though I do wish he would explore the founders religious tendencies)

      King James? How ironic that would be.

  2. #3 by anon on December 4, 2010 - 4:34 am

    I doubt if its going to be that easy overthrowing the U.S. constitution?

    • #4 by Christian Beyer on December 4, 2010 - 8:09 am

      I agree. But that’s what they thought about the Weimar constitution. Here, it will depend upon who is on the bench.

      Sent from my iPod

  3. #5 by bobcrachitt on December 6, 2010 - 9:00 pm

    Again, you marginilize my comments, leaving me without a voice.

    I have heard from left and right that some want to rewrite the Constitution–which might not be a bad idea, considering the document is almost 225 years old.

    • #6 by Christian Beyer on December 7, 2010 - 12:16 pm

      Well, Bob, since these are the only words I recollect that you’ve spoken since Dickens conjured you up, I can’t imagine them being any more marginalized. You are really Bob Crachitt, aren’t you?

  4. #7 by philosopoet on December 7, 2010 - 10:35 am

    Brilliant!

    Great links by the way…

    Too bad much of what you have written takes time and contemplation to parse…

    • #8 by Christian Beyer on December 7, 2010 - 10:43 am

      Thanks. And I am excited about your new blog. Looking forward to reading more. Funny how we both are focusing more on politics. In retrospect, I think it was inevitable.

  5. #9 by logiopath on December 7, 2010 - 5:24 pm

    To Philosopoet–Chris wouldn’t know parsing, vetting, or editing from his Hobart oven (although he does his best to leave SOME out of the conversation).

    Bob left me another message–he says Tiny Tim wedged himself into a high-yield bond fund, and is doing quite well. He moved to the Salisbury Plain, where the weather helps his condition.

    Scrooge is also doing quite well, although he may regret giving away his fortune.

    Yes–I recommend switching to politics, blended whenever possible with religion (as long as Chris learns some right thinking in both realms).

  6. #10 by logiopath on December 7, 2010 - 5:27 pm

    Seriously, philopoet and all, this is a great venue for venting.

    Chris, this is one of a few outlets I have for serious intellectual discussion, maybe one of these days we can have a good argument f2f.

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