As a youngster, I grew up in New Orleans, a city of marvelous culture and fine cuisine. In a way, New Orleans is like a gumbo, a mixture of colors and tastes, with everything thrown into the pot.
Religiously, it is primarily a Catholic city. But I grew up in a home where my father was a Southern Baptist, and so on every Sunday morning, my Mom grabbed my hand and off we went to the local Baptist Church. Although the city was a mix of colors, my church was all white. Sundays were filled with Sunday school and then the Sunday sermon. Vibrant music filled the early moments of the day’s sermon before our preacher started with the message for the week.
There was much talk of Jesus and his teachings along with a fair smattering of the evils of sin and that dark place that no one wanted to go to, Hell. We prayed and heard about how we should live our lives for good and to do goodly works. The emphasis was on accepting Christ as our saviour and how the only way to get to heaven was to believe that Jesus was the son of God and to be baptised.
No one talked about politics and especially mixing politics and religion. Prayer was everywhere at football games and in the locker room.
Now, what has changed is that religion and politics have become entertwined. I discovered on a airplane trip to England how much it had changed.
I was on my way to Manchester to be picked up by my daughter who was graduating from Cambridge University Graduate School.
I got into a conversation with my seat mate, an African American from Virginia ,who along with his fellow worker from Mississippi, a white man, was on their way to Manchester, as well. They were going there because their job required them to do so.
Well, we got to talking, and the subject of President Obama came up. The fellow who was sitting across from my seat mate, started talking about how his minister had been preaching about how the President was doing things that were against God’s laws.
At first blush, I was surprised because politics had never come up when I went to church in the South, because the sermons we heard were about being saved. In fact for all of the Billy Graham crusades I had been to, politics hadn’t been mentioned either.
So here we were on an airplane hearing from a man of faith, who believed that if a person was to be President, God’s laws should prevail.
I had to gently remind the gentleman that when a President was inaugurated he swore on a Bible to uphold the Constitution and not God’s laws. Whereby the gentleman, pondered for a moment and then said, “Hmmmn, I see, I understand and I can see that you are right. I guess I could never be President then.”
I was dumbfounded, and reality set in that this is what is going on in a lot of the Southern Churches of today.
I knew that since the days of the Moral Majority the influence of organized religion in party politics had grown substantially but this was my first experience in speaking to anyone who had, had a preacher speak from the pulpit about politics.
This is not the first era that has had to deal with religious fundamentalism. Back in the 1920’s, America had a similar experience. These historical cycles seem to take place when some form of insecurity takes place whether it was the red scare or economic insecurity. It is not illogical that when uncertainty and fear occurs people seek solice and understanding in God, spirituality or in a bottle or by using drugs.
As an American I cherish the fact that our nation since it’s inception has recognized the importance of the free exercise of practicing any religion that we wish to and that in our first Amendment to the Constitution, a wall of separation between church and state was established with Congress being prohibited from establishing any religion.
As a citizen I believe in having laws and a culture that is based upon the traditions of both English common law and the moral traditions of the Judeo-Christian religions.
I find myself in agreement with a statement that Barry Goldwater made in defining what a conservative is. It is a belief that” the solutions to the problems of today can be found in the proven values of the past.”
But I also hold to the belief of what Madison so wisely said about what the founders had established. He said that the founders” Have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom.”
As Madison warned us about the dangers of having a state religion, we now see his wise council correctly predicting the extremism that would be possible. He said in the Federalist Papers that if one religion was named, it would not be long before one sect of that religion would claim to be the one with THE ANSWERS.
Pat Robertson on THE 700 CLUB, said, ” You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the Antichrist.”
Pat Robertson and others have shown their willingness to be intolerant of others. They are dictatorial in their approach and insist that others believe as they do. As former President Jimmy Carter said in his book, ” Our Endangered Values,” ” Fundamentalists draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others, convinced that they are right and that anyone who contradicts them is ignorant and possibly evil.”
There is nothing wrong with the tenets of faith that seek truth, love, justice, compassion for our fellow man and forgiveness but beware of anyone who claims to be the one with all the answers. We have the freedom to believe or not believe in our country.
America is not alone in facing an outbreak of religious fundamentalism, We see the radicalization of religion in Islam as well.
Religious fundamentalist have gained control of the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater once warned us, “Mark my word, If and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. The government will not work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know I’ve tried to deal with them.”
A Zogby poll around 10 years ago reported that Conservative Christians make up about 58% of all Republicans.
In today’s Republican Party it is hard to imagine anyone gaining a nomination for any office if that person does not toe the line of the talking points of the fundamentalist’s Christians. Fundamentalists of any kind are authoritarian in nature. These type of leaders are against the traditional values that our founders believed in. Theocracies are basically anti-democratic by their very nature. Thank God we are governed by man’s laws. And thank God that we respect each person’s rights to believe or to disbelieve. We are not France where a person can not dress according to a person’s religious faith.
If conservatism is to have any relevence for today, conservatives need to realize that times have changed. We have long passed the time when women should be treated as something less than equal to a man. We can not tolerate the idea that any man or women of color should be treated different. What is important is the content of our character. If we could only love thy neighbor as thyself imagine what the world would be like?
The rest of the world admires our diversity. We have a country peopled by individuals from all over the world. Let us enjoy each other, and try to enjoy the gumbo with all the spice and all. It is time to stop dividing each other along religious grounds. Let us demand that the fear mongering stop. Our nation is like a quilt of many colors, although it may fray from time to time, we are but one nation, where we seek to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.