Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Legislating Morality

George W. Bush has finally made his nomination to the US Supreme Court, so now seems like an appropriate time to write about religion and politics. In particular I want to examine why our society seems to be becoming more intolerant of one another’s views. The religious overtones of the recent political discourse are driving a great divide into our nation’s collective psyche. As usual, the narrow-mindedness of the few has clouded issues for the many and politicized religion, and when I say religion, I mean chiefly Christianity.

**** WARNING: If you choose to read on, please read both halves to this discussion, so as to get the balanced commentary****

I’m a Christian, so I’ll comment on the “anti-Christians” first. It disturbs me that many of my co-workers and acquaintances who are non-Christians deride my political views…when often I have never expressed my views to them. They extrapolate my views from what they see. They know that I attend church regularly, that I read the Bible as evidence by an occasional reference to a scripture, that my life style is rather puritanical compared to what they think the average single adult professional’s lifestyle should be (although, I believe we get many of our notions of what the average guy is supposed to be like from television which is probably a biased source), and that I profess (or confess, depending on your opinion) myself to be a Christian. They then fill in the rest of my political persuasions and viewpoints with what appears to be the evangelical Christian party line. Our political climate has become so charged recently across religious lines, that anyone who appears to be a passionate Christian with strong religious beliefs is assumed to be a card-carrying member of the religious right. Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…must be a duck. That is where the problem lies, because Christian political viewpoints are more diverse than non-Christians are aware of. Our political climate has become so engulfed with religion, that people have become reactionary. They associate all Christian thought with that of the president or even more right-winged politicians that use the religious buzzwords of morality, faith, and righteousness.
It’s sad really. A few outspoken Christians like James Dobson, of Focus on the Family make statements that are politically conservative if not downright backward, but he apparently speaks for all Christians, because people ask me to defend his statements all the time. We (Christians) are very heterogeneous. Many Christians are quite liberal minded on political issues, even issues of stem-cell research, gay-rights, and womens/reproductive rights. Unfortunately, the voice of these politically liberal and moderate Christians have been drowned out by the incessant rants of the intolerant ultra-conservative Christian politicos. Unfortunately, the most politically active personalities among Christianity tend to be the fundamentalists who speak the loudest about Creation vs. Darwinism, prayer in school, the “evils” of abortion, and the “sanctity” of marriage and life. What you may not know is that many “evangelical” Christians are opposed to this fundamentalism, at least politically…but their voices have been muffled.
The term “evangelical Christian” explicitly represents all Christians who are fervent about their belief in Jesus Christ (which includes me), but implicitly represents those who support the right wing conservative political agenda (which does NOT include me). It is unfair to assume that all Christians (even passionate ones) are the enemy of everything liberal, and by being close-minded about the varying viewpoints among Christians, non-Christians are helping to perpetuate the political gamesmanship and derisiveness. A nation divided cannot stand, and what’s bewildering, is that MOST of us are not very different in our views on the issues. Most of us are moderate in our views and that includes Christians and non-Chrisitians as well. If, we are to move forward as a nation, we need to seek political common ground, instead of this derisive side-choosing, and fighting to the death on every political maneuver of sometimes minimal significance. I recognize that John Roberts nomination to the US Supreme Court is not one of these trivial matters, but we have been fighting over appointments for some of the lowest federal courts in the land in the name of parity. It makes no sense, and we need to move ahead together.

Okay, that concludes my critique of the Christian bashers, but for a perspective expanding experience, check out this web site of a group of progressive Christians who are fed up with the fundamentalist speaking on their behalf.


The second portion of this discussion (the greater portion) is aimed at the right-winged Christians themselves who I think are primarily to blame for the political circumstances we are now suffering through:

In recent years, we have seen the Republican political party become the “champions of morality”. The recent judicial nominations and the entire presidential race were planted squarely on issues of “morality”, and this has been orchestrated chiefly by Christian Republicans. The political spin doctors with masterful puppeteering of the marionettes/talking heads of our modern media outlets have dichotomized our country into sinners and saints…with corresponding political parties. They successfully wedded their political party to the majority religious affiliation. They essentially divided the nation into “us” and “they”, with “us” being the good Christian freedom loving people of this nation. They used fear tactics regarding terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to demonize Islam. The polarized every issue around “morality”. They have tried to brainwash Christians into believing that their conservative political agenda was the Christian agenda and the “moral” agenda. I know they have been successful, because when I listen to NPR or Christian radio, every political issue is being discussed relative to morality. And with the recent nomination of John Roberts to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the US Supreme Court, the first two things we learned about him was that he is Catholic and pro-life. That’s what politics has become, totally polarized and totally dominated by religious beliefs. And with this Supreme Court nomination, you can bet that the religious right will continue with their plan to legislate “morality”.

And be not fooled, the impetus for this legislation of morality is anything but founded in Christian love. The duplicity of the religious right is obvious when you look at their agenda. The moral eye of the religious right seems to be perceptive to some sins, but blind to others. Take gambling for instance. Gambling and state lotteries are essentially recessive taxes. These endeavors are patronized disproportionately by the dollars of lower and middle class individuals. Gambling/state lotteries, are a great way to extract money from the poorest of our nation’s pockets, but you rarely hear the religious right rallying against gambling, because the politicians love the revenue that is generated from these innocent vices. When it comes to gambling, the religious leaders encourage individual restraint, but let the choice remain with the individual. “You can gamble if you want to, but it’s wrong.” However, let two men try to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage, and suddenly, the individual does not have a choice. Suddenly the homosexual lifestyle threatens all that we Christians hold dear. Let me get this straight…we should subsidize the building of casinos because gambling has an innocuous effect on society at large, but if Bill and Ted obtain a government ordained license to love one another America will fall apart. Seems fishy don’t it.

The entire notion of legislating morality is faulty, from a Christ centered point of view. Jesus’ entire ministry was based on de-emphasizing the Mosaic law and promoting love. It was the Pharisees who sought to exalt the Jewish rules and tradition, but they then used Hebrew law to fulfill their political goals. Jesus threatened the Pharisees' power, so they charged an innocent man with heresy in the name of religion, but it was in name only. They disguised their political agenda with a religious one to incite the people, but they could care less about righteousness. They played the people by wedding their political view point to the dominant religious affiliation of Jerusalem, and once they had done this, they could get away with murder…literally. Sound familiar?

Furthermore, legislating morality is foolish because it does not achieve any desired result. Giving people laws does not lead to restraint. It only leads to awareness that ones choice is limited, which then makes some people want to overcome those limitations. Prohibition of alcohol is the historical evidence of how you can make more trouble by trying to legislate morality than if you just encouraged it. Rules were meant to be broken, so to speak.

Jesus’ spent little time chastising his disciples concerning sinful behavior. Instead of saying “don’t do this”, Jesus said “do this” instead, because it will redeem you, because it will lead to abundant life, because it will give you peace. Jesus taught an affirmative gospel, not a prohibitive one. Jesus taught that the commandments to love were the laws that all other commandments were based on. Jesus charged individuals to love their neighbor. He taught tolerance. He taught individualism. Jesus did not spend time trying to get the government to outlaw adultery or homosexuality. He spoke the plain truth to people, and let them decide for themselves. Jesus was anti-establishment. Jesus owned no property. Jesus was a liberal!

And Jesus also said “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s”(Luke 20:25). He preached the separation of church and state. Jesus knew that politics had its place to guide the human institution of government and the religion had it’s place to guide individuals to achieve spiritual fulfillment.

Although the founding fathers were largely Christian, they built the constitution on the notion of separation of church and state. They understood that religious expression is something that is deeply personal. While someone’s politic views will certainly be shaped by their spiritual views, the reverse should not be true. If belief in God was not personal, we could establish countries based on what religious bin we fell into. We could all emigrate to what ever national religion we ascribed to. That sounds silly, but it’s essentially what is happening around the world, as nations try to define themselves by their “majority” religious affiliation.

But spirituality is an individual endeavor, and organized religion should serve the primary purpose of helping individuals in their spiritual journeys. If religious organizations want to build schools and hospitals, that’s fine too, but those are human institutions that serve people. Any religious organization that is interested in defining the code of behavior for not only it’s practitioners, but also for the general population is a dangerous religion in deed. So when people try to outlaw gay marriage and abortion in the name of Jesus, I can’t help but shake my head as a Christian and say “What would Jesus do?” I think Jesus would try to talk to that young pregnant woman, and explain to her what the most loving option was, and what blessings would come by acting out of love. I don’t think Jesus would have bombed clinics and passed laws that made women feel so trapped by their pregnancy that they would go to back-alley butchers for coat-hanger abortions. As I said before, legislating morality never leads to the desired result. If you want moral behavior, you have to help people to choose morality, not force morality on them.

Finally, let me wax philosophical for a moment. Individuals speak for the church (organized Christianity), but the church can never speak for individuals. The church cannot decree what I believe. It can tell me what many members believe, but my beliefs are fundamentally mine. Individuals define the church, not vice-versa. This is important because sometimes church leadership is wrong. The Middle Age crusades are evidence of that. I don’t think the church should ever be involved in any endeavor that is not service oriented. The church should serve Christians, and non-Christians as well, but it should never become paternalistic, and try to control people. Christian theology teaches us that no man’s soul is saved forcibly, and that the spiritual journey is an individual journey. The church should never wed itself to politics and government. If the church leadership voted for a candidate, they have no right to endorse that candidate as the “Christian choice” in the name of Jesus. The church leader can endorse the candidate as an individual, but he should not use his church influence to control people. Let the individual Christians weigh the issues and make their own choice. In this past election, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization was sending me propaganda in the mail telling me to not only vote for Goerge W. Bush, but give money to his campaign. But I’m not listening to the church to figure out how I feel about the issues. Jesus is my homeboy. George W. Bush is NOT my homeboy.


I started this commentary by asking non-Christians to be tolerant of Christian political ideology, because we Christians are politically diverse. My plea is that the we all work together to find common ground to make our government serve us all.
I must admit, however, that the real sin has been committed by Christian leadership. They have been seduced by power hungry politicians who are no different than the Hebrew Pharisees. In the words of Lauryn Hill:

“They say all the right things, to gain their position...then use your kindness as their ammunition...to shoot you down in the name of ambition, they do”

The church has ventured out into the slippery slope of politics in the name of saving souls. Unfortunately, the church has lost its own soul in the process. In an effort to legislate morality, the church has unwittingly supported the Iraqi conflict and every other maneuver that the current political administration has orchestrated. The church has sold out in an effort to protect people from spiritual destruction, but those efforts have been in vain, because unless you affirm someone’s ability to choose morality through love, you will never control them through legislation. It’s actually quite disheartening as a Christian to see what has happened to the church. The church leadership has taken a strong stand on many issues, and I’m not even sure they are completely right on those issues. Then they have tried to legislate their stance as if that was going to help somebody, when it only alienates people further from Jesus as they associate Christianity with intolerance and backwardness. The church is an organization of human origin. It’s not infallible, so I should not be surprised that when things like this happen from time to time. It’s a fact…with the exception of Christ, every Christian has been imperfect, and the church therefore has been and will remain imperfect. Fortunately, my faith lies in Jesus and not in the church.

Your somewhat politically liberal, but 100% Christian brother,

"The Church says that the Earth is flat, but I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow on the moon and I have more faith in the Shadow than in the Church."
~ Ferdinand Magellan


At Wed Jul 27, 09:38:00 PM, Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

I recenty heard a speaker say that if you listened to George WMD Bush, you would think Christianity is synonymous with war, corporate profiteering and screwing the poor.

The problem is that religion is a way to create the mob mentality; to feed the American binary mythos of good v. evil; and GW & Co. have managed to scare White America into believing that the evil of the world are attacking Christianity (whether it be gays, Muslims or abortion seekers) and that a narrow set of issues define good v. evil. If you listen to their rhetoric, they use words like persecution to describe efforts to maintain the separation of church from state.

Although it is a minority of loonies who are doing the talking, their tactics have been successul. They succeeded in motivating the otherwise apathetic voters of 11 (or was it 12) states to get out of bed to vote against gay marriage. These self-appointed leaders of the "moral majority" are crazy and they are dangerous. They are the false prophets about whom Jesus warned his followers.

Hitler's followers started as a fringe minority and then imposed that insanity upon bigger and bigger groups until they controlled the country.

At Thu Jul 28, 02:12:00 PM, Blogger layniek said...

Here via Feministe.

Thanks for the link to the Christian Alliance for Progress. I'm a liberal Christian, and I often feel like there's no one else who agrees with me. I made the conscious choice not let fundamentalist politicians or religious leaders tell me what I'm supposed to believe, but it's sometimes still hard to maintain my own beliefs when the only other voices I hear say I'm wrong.

I haven't had much experience with non-religious people assuming things about my politics because they know I'm a Christian. Now that I think about it, though, I think I've been afraid to let people know I'm a Christian because I don't *want* them to think I'm a conservative or a fundamentalist. You've given me something to think about as far as being more open about my own beliefs.

At Thu Jul 28, 02:36:00 PM, Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

You are not alone.

Here is the link to some articles written by a Christian Libertarian (you don't see many of them around). He really turns the discussion of morality on its head. The article "The Christianity of George WMD Bush" is particularly thought-provoking.


At Fri Jul 29, 01:47:00 AM, Blogger khalil said...

hey man,

as a non-christian, i just wanted to drop that i appreciate your perspective and am glad to have read it.

thanks for dropping dime.

At Sat Jul 30, 01:43:00 PM, Anonymous Z said...

On the issue of legislating morality I believe that neither the "right-wingers" nor the "self-proclaimed liberals" are dealing with the core issue. So I guess I agree with you overall.

I too define myself as an evangelical Christian and I really don't care whether the world sees me as progressive or not...primarily because at the end of my life when I am old and gray all that will really matter is whether or not my heavenly father was pleased with my obedience to his word. The mark of my Christianity should be my ability to positively transform lives by my conduct...conduct that should reflect the peace, light, wisdom and revelation found in the words and actions of Jesus the Christ.

What I see in all of this party-line drama and political slander is confusion. Confusion about who holds the key to what is truly right and truly wrong. The Bible articulates that God is not the author of confusion.
(I Corinthians 14:33)

The only being that is responsible for "blinding the minds" of individuals is Satan...a spirit which opposes the spirit of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:3-5 and 3:14)

There are opposing spirits, there is a right and wrong.

Notice that it says blinds the minds and NOT the eyes. Improper thinking is what fuels fleshly/natural impropriety and action.

Ephesians 6:12 says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities...against rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness.

Instead of attacking the negative, critical, condemning, judgemental spirit that is present in both parties, we (mankind) are fighting each other.

When we spit at or turn our noses up at either party, we are aiding and abedding the confusion that is not of God.

More importantly this type of judgement lends itself to the application of what I call the doctrine of "selective sin"...a doctrine that is not backed up by what God says, but is designed to make people feel better about their "gambling" when others are being promiscuous and spreading disease while others "murder" while yet another man lies and slanders.....You get the point.

All of these vices are the FRUIT of pride, fear, selfishness, and lasciviousness...and in fact they are indicative of the fact that every day each one of us fails in some capacity to walk in the love God.

Ironically, it is because of this weakness that many of us who call ourselves Christians are supposed to be submitting ourselves to spiritual restructuring by the word of God.

On the separation of Church and State issue...

It makes sense....I just perceive it a bit differently.

As a follower of Jesus I believe that the church being addressed was not the church institution, but the body of believers in Christ. God has called the members of that body to be separate but not in a negative condescending way. Instead, we are to "bear fruit" that is sweet,lovely,honest,selflessand kind. We are the ones who are under the directive to live like this and we know by God's word (whether we like it or not)that there are negative consequences for us now on earth, and later down the line if we don't get it together.

(If you are not a Christian, you are reading this, and you know someone who professes to be a Christian but doesn't live like it, please know that God is just and will deal with them accordingly).

Realistically the state as an institution has no moral imperative or obligation. It was designed to facilitate order and structure.

As far as I am concerned, if we Christians were doing what we were supposed to be doing, there would be a natural separation of church and state instead of a forced "party-organized" one.

Z :)

At Wed Aug 10, 03:06:00 PM, Blogger Manchild Evolving said...

I do not believe in any religion, except the divine in ourselves (having studied many, practiced some, internalized others, and arriving back at the Creator) With that being said, I also don't begrudge anyone else for their spiritual beliefs. I must admit, I have my moments of judging you Christians, just because I watch the news and see the mouth pieces all the time. But then I have to check myself, because as you so eloquently exhibited not all Christians are like that. For me, it's about balance. Believe what you want to believe, but understand that your truth is not the only one out there, and it is no one responsibility to subscribe to it without being convinced it is the right one. I am glad to hear more opened minded people of faith articulating that opinion and not allowing the demigods the dictate the conversation. Keep it positive.


At Fri Aug 26, 01:44:00 AM, Anonymous guile said...

nice, comfy place you got here :)..

At Mon Sep 05, 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Free Agency Rules said...

You can not Legislate Morality, but in the end it is all about Morality.

For morality is about "Man's inhumanity towards man."

If we just made up our own morality then we would make life easy. We would rationalize the whole of life experiances away.

For we desire to live the way we "ought" to live. This means that the "Golden Rule" should be the primary mover in life.

I think that "Feedom of Choice" is the main way God will judge us, and any attempts of man to spoil this "ying and yang", universal opposites world, will regret the day they did.

Freedom and Morality is what this world is all about, so we better find the way...the "Truth and the Light" or we will fail our test here on this earth.

Left wing theory is about "force" while Right wing theory is about freedom.

The Libertarian view is the correct view and it can not be liberal at the same time, because liberalism is on the left, while Libertarianism is on the right.



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