Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who wants strident?

I've started to realize that while I am often loath to comment directly on political issues, I revel in the chance to comment on political commentary. That being said, just because I carefully tread a line along the edge of a minefield doesn't mean lack of careful choosing of my words and who to share them with won't cause me to stumble and fall right in.

Yesterday, as I was sitting and enjoying my coffee and tapping out the beginnings of my previous rant not on Proposition 8, but on the manner in which others had shared and hidden their own views on Proposition 8, I happened to have a run-in with a Christian acquaintance of mine who has no qualms about freely expressing his views. Now, as I was writing about that very subject, I was hoping to confide in him what it was I found silly about the vague positioning of those on both sides of the debate, and not express my own views on the matter. (If you did read that piece carefully, you might have noticed that nowhere in the essay did I give my personal opinion on same-sex marriage; partially because that wasn't really what the piece is about, and partially because my view is complicated and nuanced, i.e. completely confused.) No matter; to him, this was a clearly "cut-and-dry thing". He rattled off factoids about biological differences between procreative and non-procreative sexual activity and the archaeological evidence for the destruction of Sodom in a much louder voice than I would have used in a public place (unless I was there to give some sort of performance, I suppose), albeit not in an outright rude manner.

It's a paradox that I inwardly wince when put in such a situation. It's a paradox because I wince for two (perhaps) completely opposing reasons: I simply don't feel strongly enough about most matters to speak out concerning them in such a fashion, and yet I'm not sure if I'm more embarrassed because I don't feel that way. Does that make any sense? What I'm saying is that when I'm sitting at the coffee shop I frequent on an almost daily basis, and the man next to me is expounding on how "two men in bed together begets nothing but carnal lust!" I'm wondering if some people I know will look over at me and think, "Why is he just sitting and listening to that hateful talk?" but I'm also wondering if others will think, "Why doesn't Brucker ever say things like that?" After all, I'm a Christian, so I'm supposed to be loving, accepting and non-judgmental, but I'm also supposed to stand up to immorality, which "everyone" knows Christians consider homosexuality to be. Where's your strident expression of moral outrage, huh, Brucker? If not on this, then on something.

Once again, I've let my intro hijack the original intent of my writing, but I think I'll let it go, because it's just as good as my original intent anyway. I was going to write on the interplay between religious belief and political belief, but that's really what this is about, isn't it? I am inclined to believe, from reading the Bible (and isn't that where a fundie Christian like myself is to get my beliefs from?), that homosexuality is in some manner not wholly acceptable to God. Yet I am also inclined, nearly if not more strongly, to believe that the government has no right to tell people how they can live their lives behind closed doors.

As I'm sure I've said before, Christians ought to give some serious thought to this, as it goes beyond the topic of sexual preference. If the government can step in and say who I can or can't sleep with, can't they also decide how I raise my children? My kids get read a Bible story every night before bed, but what if the government decided that the Bible was hate speech, and I couldn't do this? If we can't keep the government out of a same-sex couple's bedroom, how are we going to keep them out of my children's bedroom? Granted, in talking about same-sex marriage, we're talking about something public, but it's really about giving approval or disapproval of something that goes on in private. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what the supporters of Proposition 8 believe, whether they openly say it or not.

This is where I really have to laugh at myself and my socio-political schizophrenia. I'm a life-long Democrat who holds the religious views of a stereotypical Republican, often expressing a longing for communist ideals, but maybe being a Libertarian at heart. Is it confusion? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I'm just an anarchist or something, I really don't know.

The thing that I had been intending to use as a backdrop for this piece of writing was actually once again an editorial published in Newsweek, this time written by Sam Harris. (You really ought to know who Sam Harris is, I think, so if you don't, look him up. I'll tell you this: he's an atheist that I feel a lot of respect towards.) I'm sure it's in no small way partly due to the fact that I am, after all, a Democrat, but I'm finding myself largely agreeing with his views about Sarah Palin, even some of the things he says about how it's scary to think about the country being run by someone with her religious views, despite the fact that that's the one area where I probably come closest to being in synch with Palin.

It's something I understand, and yet don't understand as fully as Harris appears to feel I should. Why is it scary that Palin has a "conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events"? As a Christian, it would probably be weird if she didn't think that, and really, while we're not officially a Christian nation, it's a fact of life that our country has been run and inhabited by mostly Christians throughout its history. Abraham Lincoln probably thought he was an instrument of God's will when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and is that so bad? Believing that God is on control of world events doesn't imply that individuals can't act on their own conscience. If that's what Harris is implying, then I don't understand why, and if not, then I guess I don't understand what. I also don't follow what is wrong with Palin asking people to pray concerning Iraq, "that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan." Most of us Christians believe that the Biblical God is a God of peace (yes, despite detractors who point out the bloodiness of so much of the Bible and church history), and seeing that there rarely seems to be evidence for any sort of plan in Iraq, such a prayer request makes almost too much sense.

The thing of it is, our religious views are part and parcel of who we are as individuals. That goes for atheists too, who have religious views despite not having religion. If religious views are a part of individuals, then living as we do in a representative democracy made up of elected individuals, religious views are a part of our government. Now of course that means that indeed we should be interested in the religious views of the candidates we elect, but sometimes it seems like so many of us are far too interested, and place undue emphasis on the bare fact of having a view, rather than asking what the implication, if any, of that view may be. When John McCain made the announcement that Palin was to be his running mate, my initial thought was that he was trying to pick someone that would attract disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, this view not being mine alone, and also not being completely ridiculous, as indeed it seems to have worked on a few people. In time, I came to realize that what Palin really represents is that she is the anti-Obama. In a very odd turn of events, (to my mind at least) rather than attempting to position himself as a centrist, he's chosen a running mate that further accentuates the differences between himself and the left.

The weird thing about this is, despite being the polar opposite of Barack Obama, I truly believe that both Palin and Obama have formed their political views in no small part due to their individual faiths: and both of them are Christians! What does it really mean that this sort of thing can happen? How is it, jumping back again to Lincoln, that in the heyday of American slavery, most slave owners were Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery, while at the same time most abolitionists were also Christians who used the Bible to justify abolition of slavery? It would almost seem that either we Christians are suffering from the same sort of schizophrenia that I attributed to myself, or maybe it's just our country, which happens coincidentally to be run by Christians. Either way, there's a bit of an identity crisis at work here, and various people have various ways of dealing with it.

While Harris is pretty generous, it's not in my experience the usual case that atheists can separate out political views from religious ones. Like many Christians I know who are convinced that only the most dedicated Christians are truly fit for running out country, many atheists seem drawn to the candidate who does his or her best at taking their religious views and stuffing them down out of sight. As our national politicians do seem to be almost invariably Christians, the best they can hope for tends to be whoever is the least overtly Christian. In the meantime, those who are more outspoken about religious issues in particular over the political can use the fact of this wide diversity of ideals to argue the emptiness of Christian values. After all, if the Bible is clear in what separates right from wrong, then there ought to be no difference of opinion on what constitutes proper behavior for a Christian, even in the political arena.

While such a view may seem incharitable, it's unfortunately one that also exists within the church, perhaps most often among those I briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph. Earlier this year, I had been discussing with someone from my church the matter of Mitt Romney, and whether a Mormon (not necessarily Romney in particular) could be a suitable President. He argued strongly that no, it would be unconscionable for a Christian to vote for a Mormon. I asked him if he felt so strongly about this that he would, say, consider voting for Hillary Clinton a preferable option over Mitt Romney. He said that he hardly considered Clinton to be a Christian, so that was apparently a false dilemma. But why? What would make him believe that Clinton was not a Christian? As far as I am aware, she was raised in a Christian home, regularly attends church, and essentially does all the sorts of things that Christians are supposed to do. I never asked, so I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to guess that it essentially boils down to the fact that she's a Democrat. The "Religious Right" in the Reagan era seems to have burned into the minds of Christians and non-Christians, liberals and conservatives, Republicans, Democrats and independents that the terms "Christian" and "Republican" are all but synonymous.

It's a dangerous place to be, I think. The country seems so badly divided these days that I don't like the idea of trying to find more and more ways to pull us apart. Can't I stand together with my fellow Christians, even if many of them are Republicans and I am a Democrat? Can't I stand together with my fellow Democrats, even if I'm not quite as strongly "pro-choice" or "pro-gay rights" as most of them? Can't I stand together with my fellow Americans, even if many of them are atheists, Republicans, or even just people who don't like my taste in music? Regardless of the religious and political affiliations of our next President, regardless of the legality and morality of gay marriage, regardless of whether you believe God guides all things in every way on a day-by-day basis or you believe he's just a myth dreamed up by an ancient tribe of nomadic shepherds, we still all have to live together and share this country. We have to share the whole damned world. If we can't even talk about talking about it, how will we ever actually do it?

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