Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Just Keep Going!

Every time I question the utility of Christianity entirely, or at least of the Protestant Reformation, someone gives me pause.Now, I'll never agree that the government should dole out money to religious groups. I'll never agree that politicians should stamp their feet and thump their Bibles to grab a few more votes. I'll never agree that the Establishment Clause is not precisely what it is: A protection of all beliefs against the tyrrany of one constructed by the spiritual, but avowedly non-dogmatic, framers.

However, my belief in the good works that Christianity can effect in this nation is renewed. Indeed, I can even imagine the proper place for religion within the political arena. No, we should not be using religion to legislate. We should not quote Psalms as evidence of right and wrong.

Religion, though, does offer a motivation and an explanation of deep, universal moral principles. We did not need Christ to learn we should love our neighbors, but he was a charismatic and effective advocate of the principle. That is, Christianity can frame secular ethics in a manner that can be appreciated by the religious masses.

Advocacy, then, that relies on religion to explain and demand the maintenance of certain basic, uncontestable values of humanity can be effective and healthy for the American political arena.

What has renewed my confidence in the religious? What has given me pause? A couple of weeks ago I saw John Hill, Program Director for Economic and Environmental Justice for the United Methodist Church, on television. He was discussing the Church's latest campaign against the Bush tax cuts as immoral in their bias against the poor.

I was confused.

Could it be that a religious organization was not obsessed with shoving beliefs down people's throats? Could it be that these people genuinely wanted to help the less fortunate, and not at the end of a Bible at that?

I was shocked.

But as I read more about the United Methodist Church General Board of Church & Society, I realized that yes, a religious organization finally sat down and THOUGHT! The purpose of religion should not be to propagate itself as a social institution, but to do good and offer guidance to those who want and need it. Here is an organization that pursues environmental regulations, socioeconomic justice, equality for all--including the LGBT community, and the sort of liberalism that seeks no less than a more humane world and a more humane humanity. I don't agree with the Church's statements that religion should permeate every aspect of life, but I see that their political campaigns do not reek of the same sort of ideological chauvinism that the evangelicals I mentioned in the preceding post employ.

The UMC's driving force might be religious, but it is using that energy to promote beliefs and goals of tolerance and acceptance and the enhancement of life--Things that all of us, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Tao, Shinto, atheist, agnostic, etc., etc., etc., can agree upon. They do not find the fodder for their political existence in the tiny details of the Bible or the exclusivities of Christianity, but in that which binds us all and, by extension, is most important of all.

This marriage of religion and politics, but not religion and state, is exciting to me, and relatively new. This is the way it should be done. This is what religion and piety and a faith in a higher, benevolent Power should be about.

Why is it not clear to everyone?


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