Tag Archives: Christian

Real Americans

Each day–or so it seems–we are treated to news of yet another set of attitudes or beliefs that divide American citizens. Some of those divisions are beginning to seem insurmountable.

Case in point: According to a recent Pew poll, thirty-two percent of Americans believe that you have to be Christian to be a “real” American. (It would do no good to point members of that 32% to contrary writings by the nation’s Founders–like the occasional commenters who come to this blog to cite Fox News as authority for their evidence-free assertions, these are people for whom history inconsistent with their preferred beliefs is irrelevant. Or “fake.”)

According to Pew,

In 2014, Christians accounted for 70.6% of the U.S. population. Non-Christians and those unaffiliated with any religion totaled 28.7%.

About a third (32%) of Americans say it is very important for a person to be a Christian in order to be considered truly American. Roughly three-in-ten (31%) contend that one’s religion is not at all important.

Presumably, people who identify “American” with “Christian” do so because they believe that the values of Christianity are central to America’s values. (Of course, they ignore that pesky fact that there are some 34,000 different Christian denominations, and a lot of them appear to prioritize rather different sets of values…)

Adam Gopnik addressed the centrality of religious pluralism to our system of government in the most recent New Yorker.

America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined. Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people—in establishing a “multiplicity of interests” to go along with a “multiplicity of sects.

When I saw the Pew poll, I thought about a column I wrote not long after the 2004 election, which was widely seen as a “values” election. I’m reproducing it, because it is a list of what I consider to be “real” American values. It needs updating–the targets of American resentments have changed somewhat–but it remains uncomfortably relevant.

Let me be quite explicit about my values, which are shared by millions of others—values that infuse the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, values that are absolutely central to what it means to be American.

Americans believe in justice and civil liberties—in equal treatment and fair play for all citizens, whether or not we agree with them or like them or approve of their life choices.

We believe that no one is above the law—and that includes those who run our government.

We believe that dissent can be the highest form of patriotism. Those who care about America enough to speak out against policies they believe to be wrong or corrupt are not only exercising their rights as citizens, they are discharging their civic responsibilities.

We believe that playing to the worst of our fears and prejudices, using “wedge issues” to marginalize gays, or blacks, or “east coast liberals” (a time-honored code word for Jews) in the pursuit of political advantage is un-American and immoral.

We believe, as Garry Wills recently wrote, in “critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.”

We believe, to use the language of the nation’s Founders, in “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” (even non-American mankind).

We believe in the true heartland of this country, which is anywhere where people struggle to provide for their families, dig deep into their pockets to help the less fortunate, and understand their religions to require goodwill and loving kindness.

We believe that self-righteousness is the enemy of righteousness.

We really do believe that the way you play the game is more important, in the end, than whether you win or lose. We really do believe that the ends don’t justify the means.

In our America, borrowing from our grandchildren so that we can pay for a costly war without taxing the President’s buddies and campaign contributors is not moral. Dividing the nation into red and blue, gay and straight, moral and immoral, welcome and unwelcome, is not moral. Excusing our own sins by pointing to the sins of others—torturing people, or engaging in “holy war” because “they” do it too, is not moral. Lying—about sex or Weapons of Mass Destruction or an opponent’s war record—is not moral.

On Election Day, claimants of the “ Christian values” label came to the precinct where my youngest son was working and said they were there to “vote against the queers.” In my precinct, when I handed a Democratic slate to a voter, he accused me of being a “friend of Osama.” A friend’s son registering voters for Baron Hill in a church was called a “fag lover.”

The people who live in my America need to reclaim the vocabulary of patriotism and values from those who have hijacked the language in service of something very different.

Unfortunately, that column remains pertinent.

 

Theology and Human Nature

This morning’s New York Times has an article about Paula Deen  and the black church’s tradition of forgiveness. (Hate the racism, love the racist.)

The article itself is less than newsworthy–it uses the current flap over Deen’s cluelessness as a “hook” for a general discussion of the black church and the theology of forgiveness–but it reminded me of an important difference between Christian and Jewish teachings that I have often pondered. Christians are told to love their neighbors; Jews are taught to “do justice.” In other words, we don’t have to love anyone, but we must treat everyone as we would want to be treated.

No offense to my Christian friends, but doing justice has always seemed a lot easier.

It’s sort of like the First Amendment. I don’t have to like what you have to say, but I do have to let you say it. I don’t have to agree with your ideas, but I do have to agree that you have as much right to express them as I have to express mine. If current behaviors are any indication, it’s hard enough to get people to respect each others’ rights. Love seems to be pushing it.

I mean, let’s be honest. There is no way I’m going to love Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann, and if they knew me, they’d be equally hard-pressed to love me. I realize that, unlike politics, theology isn’t “the art of the possible,” but I’m glad my tradition only requires me to be fair and just. Loving these people is probably beyond me.

I wonder how Christians manage it.

Thus Spake the Profits

We do seem to live in the Age of Hypocrisy.

A Facebook friend posted a comment about Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain headquartered in Oklahoma. Like Chik-fil-A, the chain makes much of its Christian values, closing on Sundays and, most recently, suing the Obama Administration over the mandate to include contraceptive coverage as part of the health insurance offered to employees.

“Next time you hear someone defend Hobby Lobby’s extremist stance on birth control and health insurance law, try this little thought exercise. Go to a Hobby Lobby and make a small inventory of every item they sell that’s made in China. Yes, the same China that has MANDATORY FORCED ABORTIONS. Then ask a salesperson why Hobby Lobby’s commitment to Christianity extends to how their employees live their lives but not to where they get their inventory from.”

Seems like a reasonable question to me.

I Think We Need Truth in Labeling

My best friend called me yesterday, fuming about a solicitation call she’d just received.

The woman caller identified herself as a volunteer for the Republican Party. She began by thanking my friend for her past, generous support of the GOP–and indeed, my friend was an active Republican voter and donor for many years. Her husband served two terms in the General Assembly as a Republican State Senator. However, like so many of my friends and family, she no longer supports the party, and when the woman at the other end of the phone asked whether she would consider a contribution, she said so.

“I’m a Democrat now,” she informed the volunteer. The volunteer (predictably) asked if she would share why she had left the GOP; my friend responded that she strongly disagreed with the party’s positions on social issues, especially abortion and homosexuality. It is not government’s job to decide whether you procreate, or who you love; the party used to understand that “limited” government meant limited to matters that are properly the province of the state.

There was a pause. The woman on the phone then asked “Don’t you think we should consider the will of god?  Shouldn’t the government have a role in ensuring that we live by what’s written in the bible?” to which my friend responded “Whose bible? Whose god?” Another pause, then the question: “are you a Christian?”  When my friend said she was not, the woman evidently had an “ah ha” moment, because she ended the conversation by saying “Oh, that explains it.” According to my friend, she might just as well have said, “Now I understand–you are not one of us.”

The conversation made it quite clear that, to this volunteer (and presumably others like her), the Republican party is no longer a political enterprise. It’s a religious movement, a party by and for Christians. Not just any Christian, either–it’s the party for what they call “bible-believing” Christians, the party of Rick Santorum and Mike Pence. If there are still those in the party who take a more traditional approach, who understand the purpose of politics to be participation in secular governance and political outreach to be the building of a bigger, more inclusive tent, they presumably hadn’t communicated that to this particular foot soldier.

The conversation simply confirmed the reality of today’s Republican party–a party consisting of what has been described as “a shrinking base of aging, ethnically monolithic, and geographically isolated voters.” Christian voters. Perhaps we could achieve more clarity in our political discourse if the GOP stopped trying to be coy, and just renamed itself the Christian Party. In its current iteration, it certainly isn’t the Republican Party that my friend and I used to support. That party disappeared a long time ago.

The volunteer on the other end of line simply confirmed its transformation.