Friday, June 18, 2004

Minister Bush

The latest Time magazine totes the words "Faith, God & The Oval Office" on its cover, and while I'm not a big Time reader, it's worth a look. Nancy Gibbs' article "The Faith Factor" is downwright scary. Amoung the striking facts and ideas presented is the amazing polarizing effect of a candidate's religious beliefs on the voters. The battle lines are drawn: those who want to see a man who is strongly influenced by faith want Bush in the White House; those who don't settle for Kerry. As for me, I think the extent to which religious beliefs are begining to influence both the candidates and the voters is unsettlingly terrifying.

79% of the voters who say that, if polled now, they would vote Bush agreed with the statement: "We are a religious nation and religious values should serve as a guide to what our political leaders do in office". 56% of total voters agreed. To me, that is disturbing. What is even more disturbing, however, was the reaction of my own registered democrat, public school teacher, mother, who responded to my suprise and worry about such figures with an equal suprise and worry that I disagreed. She went so far as to say (I belive, partially in jest), that certainly does not want some "heathen" who doesn't belive in God in the White House. I asked if it matter which God this "religious" person believed in. She responded that no, it didn't matter which religion, but upon further questioning, evidently it only didn't matter which religion as long as the candidate was either Christian or Jewish. Any other "weird" religions, were evidently not acceptable.

Now, mother is by no means a radical conservative or religious fanatic. She is, at least, as far as I can tell, a fairly normal, 50-something, democrat. She attends some brand of watered-down christian church semi-regulary and belives in God, but has never been a devotedly religious person. Nevertheless, these were her views, and they too, scared me.

So who am I? So frightened by the figures that my mother took as quite normal and good to hear? Am I some sort of (hush...) atheist? Perish the thought; after all, people who don't belive in God (according to mum) are heathens. Well, no, I don't think I'm an atheist. I rather like to belive in the idea of a God, in fact. To be honest, I'm currently in the market for a religion. I've reached an age, and a time, where I think I could benefit from the guidance and comfort that a religion can provide. I don't yet know what sort of religion I will choose, perhaps I will simply find room to admire and respect the awe of a divine force without the aid of an organized "church". Or, perhaps I will fully embrace a set of rules and customs, finding security in their history and comfort in fellow worshippers. The point is, that is a very personal matter. The Presidency of the United States, on the other hand, is a very, very, public one.

I will say right now, without extended time to think on this, and very late at night, that I do NOT think that the president should allow his personal religious faith to guide him in making decisions as President. The President, just like every other person in America, and across the globe, has two lives: a private one, and a personal one. Those two lives are very closely connected, and one can easily come to the aid of, or be the end of, the other, but in the end, they are indeed, two separate lives. The President's religious beliefs are entirely up to him. And they should be entirely a part of his personal life. I do not care whatsoever what a person's religious beliefs are, as long as they do not have an impact upon his professional and politcal decisions once put into office. If a person has a problem with that separation, between religion and being President of the United States, then that person should not run, and should not be elected.

As I see it, this is the problem: If a candidate's religion is not going to impact his performance or his in-office decisions, then we, as the voting public can judge his abilities on a purely secular scale - as we ought to. If we are to live in a country which separates church and state, then that country's leader should be able to make that same separation in his own life, and we should make that separation when we vote. The problem occurs when our candidates cannot make that separation between their personal religious beliefs and the public interests of the country they have been choosen to lead. This forces the voter to break the rules. If you, the candidate, are going to allow your religion to influence your politics, then I have no choice but to let your religion influence my vote. To me, that is no longer a secular democracy. I DO NOT WANT to vote or not vote for an individual because of his or her relgion. That's discrimination, and, I believe, wrong. But I WILL, no matter what, vote for the individual whom I think will lead our country most effectively. When politions let religion into their politics, I cannot do both. The American public cannot do both.

I'm sick of this situation. I'm sick of religious elitism and unnaceptance. I'm sick of some of the things that are happening legislatively because of relgion. I'm sick of laws prohibitting gay marriage. I'm not sick of Catholics at all. I'm sick of Catholics influencing matters of the state. If a Catholic Priest won't let a homosexual take communion, fine. I'm going to mark his church of my list because I disagree with his decision, but that is his choice and he is free to make it. However, when a two men, or two women, can't get married because that sort of union is offensive to certain religions, I start to get pissed off. Marriage liscences, tax breaks, laws: these are matters of the state, and I don't want the religion of my representative coming into play.

So for now, Kerry's got my vote. Not just because I will absolutely do whatever I can to vote Bush 43 out of the White House, but because at least on one thing, abortion, Kerry isn't letting his religion guide his decisions. He's taking a lot of flack for it, but I respect that. More so than I even agree with his decision, (I think a secular case for illegalizing abortion, if not a strong one, is at least more reasonably made that for illegalizing gay marriage, for instance) I agree with his ability, in at least this one issue, to put personal Catholicism aside and make a decision based on what he feels is best for the future of our country. At the very least, I hope that is what is going on. More than anything, I don't want to pick a President based on faith. Bush, and to some extent, the political beast itself, is making that increasingly difficult for Americans to do. I have a feeling this may be an issue I visit again. Maybe this blog is finally headed somewhere. For now, its 2:30 am, and I'm out.

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