October 5, 2011

Culture Wars: Faith & Politics In America


Does It Matter To You?
On Saturday October 1st, 2011, the UK’s Guardian newspaper had a headline that caught my attention. It said “Rising atheism in America puts 'religious right on the defensive' - High profile of faith-based politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry masks a steady growth in secularism.”

The article spoke about the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), and an upcoming meeting in Hartford Connecticut. Guardian reporter Paul Harris wrote:

“Those travelling to the meeting will pass two huge roadside billboards displaying quotes from two of the country's most famous non-believers: Katharine Hepburn and Mark Twain. "Faith is believing what you know ain't so," reads the one featuring Twain. "I'm an atheist and that's it," says the one quoting Hepburn.

At the meeting, members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) will hear speakers celebrate successes they have had in removing religion from US public life and see awards being presented to noted secularist activists.

The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. "It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF.”

The FFRF describes itself on it’s website as an organization that “ works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.”

Aren’t all kids taught in school, that one of the most basic founding principles of our country, is the separation of church and state? Why has religion become so important to any discourse about politics today?

With the exception of Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, each Republican candidate for President wears their religion on their sleeve. My favorite GOP candidate, Jon Huntsman, is less overt about his Mormon church, especially when he talks about his belief in science, evolution, and global warming - but his missionary work in Taiwan figures strongly in his biography, which is how he learned to speak fluent Mandarin.

The Gallup Poll in 2010 reported that when they asked “how important would you say that religion is in your own life” - that 54% of all Americans stated that it was “very important,” while 26% said it was “fairly important.” That translates into 80% of our population reporting that religion remains important in their lives.

What I think the Gallup poll is missing, and the Guardian article fails to address, is that many people equate one’s spirituality with religious beliefs. I would argue that we live in a nation that is more spiritual in nature, than “Christian” per se. As a nation, I think we embrace religious, or spiritual, principles.

I think most Americans would agree that regardless of where we worship, whether in the house of the Lord, or the house of Gucci, that our deity is benevolent, and that anything is possible with a proper education. We have a faith in people, and we lend a helping hand to those less fortunate than ourselves. We are likely to give people a second chance, and support the view that rehabilitation is possible. We know we are all created in our God’s image, whether we are black or white, pink or purple - and we aren’t interested in the politics, or faith, that divides us anymore - we’re more interested in reinforcing the fabric of society that unites us as one.

My personal hero, Bishop Gene
Robinson.

I identify as a Christian, and an Episcopalian (some call me a WASP), largely because of my heritage, and I ascribe to the American ideals I believe we all share, that I just described above.

I’m a proponent of the separation of church and state, and believe we owe our kids the best education that we can possibly provide. I think Darwin was spot on with his theory of evolution, I have a faith in science, and I think that our government and it’s institutions get a bad rap. When you look at entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and feeding hungry kids, I'm convinced that those successful programs represent America at it’s best. When politicians talk about dismantling government, and permitting prayer in school, while eliminating existing social safety-nets, I think it represents the worst of what our country has to offer.

The upcoming election in 2012 will be a defining moment in our history. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Jew, Atheist or Humanist, or gay, straight or transgendered, I really think the majority among us have the same faith - and that we’re going to reject the naysayers and policy makers obsessed with culture wars, and what divides us.

At the end of the day, regardless of any label someone might assign to us, we’ll remember we have the same dreams and desires, that are embodied in what we call being an American.

Thank God for that.


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