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One Nation…*

church state

The minister selected to deliver the benediction at the 2013 inauguration has withdrawn. It seems that his well-publicized (and recorded) anti-homosexual remarks were creating a distraction. This of course is not the first time that a preacher who has expressed bigotry has been offered an exalted platform by (current and past) White House occupants. This may however been the first time that bigotry was acknowledged as potentially offensive (after the selection but before the event.)

The thing is, religion by its very definition is about exclusion. ‘This is what we believe in.’ There can be no ‘we’ without a ‘thee.’ Whether we personally engage with the philosophy of organized religion or not is somewhat beside the point. What is of significance is how comfortable we seem to be with mixing church and state. In most of our lifetimes we have never before seen the extreme polarizing and lethal effects of religion that are in play today. War is raged and terror acts committed by people citing a conflict of religious ideals. We know from our own recent presidential election how divisive religion has become in this country. It has been many decades since we considered ourselves a white Christian nation. Our language reflects that change. We are cautious in how we identify people, we use euphemisms and/or bundle all winter occasions in place of casually tossing about; “Merry Christmas.’ We can and do change. Yet, our public institutions are still decorated with Christmas trees (presumably paid with tax dollars.) Our government hosts prayer breakfasts and includes prayer in ceremonies of state. Why?

Religion is a private matter and personal decision. If memory serves, that was the motivation for founding America. So why do we unconsciously continue to allow religion into our government? Is it unconscious? Could it be that there are people in power who still have cold war tics? Are we afraid of seeming the very thing some accuse us of; godless? Could it be that there are people who do not trust strength of character, integrity and morality without clear and present doctrine? Perhaps it’s a little bit of habit, a little bit of superstition and just a dash of unconsciousness. At a time in history when we seem to go to lengths to seem inclusive and/or ‘tolerant’ it all seems embarrassingly anachronistic. Seeing a modern president (or any elected official) include religious observance into official state business is like seeing someone pat their secretary on the bottom. To my eyes anyway.

*In 1954, (during the McCarthy era and communism scare) Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, to add the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance. 

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Seizing Semantics

Have you noticed that once widely available words have been appropriated and winnowed down to the most streamlined of meaning? Take the word; family, for instance. Family once meant people one was connected to who did not fall into the category of friends. Hence the phrase; friends and family. Family could mean one’s family of origin, including generations past. Family could also reference those brought into the holiday fold year after year. Family could also be self-constructed, augmenting a loss of familial connections. The word was open to subtle interpretations but maintained a overall meaning of connectivity. These days you might hear several phrases touting the word ‘family’ that have nothing to do with human connection. For instance:

  • Family Values – Whose family values? Have you MET my family!? Or do you really mean ‘conservative values?’
  • Family Friendly – I think the phrase you may be searching for is “Child-centric” no? I assure you, your themed restaurant is not friendly to my family, it is our 7th circle of hell.
  • Working Families – Now if the children are actually grabbing their briefcase and headed for the 7:15, you have my full support.

Of course the same wholesale take-over of terminology is not new. “Faith” and “patriotism” have come to mean very specific beliefs and practices. Believing in the potential of human beings to be their best selves and to reach out and help up is a definition of faith. Believing that how we treat others is directly connected to the health of our souls is faith. But when we hear the word being bandied about it’s meant to communicate an adherence to an organized religion. When we hear calls of “patriotism” it most often is in reference to military support or flag waving. Those fighting; to separate church and state, or for freedom of speech or press are rarely referred to as patriots.

Politics and verity make strange bedfellows, that’s certain. But there’s no reason in the world the rest of us need follow and adopt the constricting definitions. Language is many things, including contagious. If we commit to using terminology that strikes us as more accurate or inclusive, others may very well follow. Our words are the most lasting and telling clues to our inner self. Our ability to create meaningful language is what in fact makes us human.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Pious Doth Protest Too Much

There’s an awful lot of talk about equal marriage being incompatible with religious beliefs.  The president has even been speaking with religious leaders to alleviate their (and his) fears.  I’m not entirely sure I buy it.

I believe that people have found comfort in defending their stance with their religious convictions.  I mean who would argue with someone’s religious convictions or even suggest that religion, by its definition, is a way to exclude people who are not like us?  Not I.  But does anyone, even the most pious of Americans, believe that legal civil rights have anything to do with religion?  I can’t begin to understand how.  I’ve heard people claim a fear that their religious institution will be “forced” to perform marriages.  How?  They are not forced to perform marriages now.  I can’t walk into a religious institution with a willing heterosexual accomplice and force clergy to perform a marriage ceremony.  Religious institutions, again by their very definition, are allowed to exclude whomever they please.  (If you don’t believe me, just try getting married in a conservative synagogue without paperwork verifying your worthiness.  Even then it will be up to the discretion of the rabbi whether to cue the chuppah.)  So no one is going to be forced to do anything.

Then does just the idea that people are doing something that you believe your religion does not celebrate send a person ’round the bend?  Maybe.  People are entitled to interpret their religious doctrine anyway they please.  Whether I think intolerance has never been the teaching of any religion is immaterial.  But ya know what?  It turns out that church and state are in fact separate. There are several religions that ban pork from the human diet.  Yet the U.S.D.A. gives legitimacy to pork producers, manufacturers and distributors.  What would help anyone feeling that the United States government is on the verge of offending his or her religious sensibilities is to cease from seeing marriage as a religious rite, and see it as a civil right and legal construct.

Consider that in many religions the birth of a child is celebrated in a house of worship.  Not all babies are welcomed into that house of worship.  They must be of proper lineage and deemed worthy.  Yet, our government issues all babies birth certificates.  Why?  Because we have chosen, as a people, to have a government that ensures basic rights and freedoms of every citizen.  It all starts with the birth certificate.  Having a birth certificate is not a ticket to the alter/bihma it is a ticket to; social security, public education, voting and, with any luck, a marriage license.

 
 

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