Friday, February 2, 2007

This Article Needs To be Read By As Many as Possible!

Whose side is God on, anyway?

by O. Ricardo Pimentel

I'm confused about how God wants me to vote.

Consider two e-mails that recently arrived on the same day. The first, from the Rev. Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition, decried the "far-left" Democrats now in control of the U.S. House and Senate.

"We can expect them to introduce pro-homosexual bills, propose tax increases, attempt to gut national intelligence, create more federal bureaucracies and block judicial conservatives nominated to the federal courts. The president's veto pen will be our last line of defense," he wrote.

On the same day, a second e-mail told me of a press "teleconference" to "hold Congress accountable to the faith agenda."

I didn't phone in, but surely those scheduled to participate offered clues as to what the sponsoring organization, Faith in Public Life, defines as its faith agenda.

Speaking were representatives of "Sojourners' anti-poverty campaign; Let Justice Roll's living wage campaign; Christ Peace Witness for Iraq; and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture."

The difference in emphasis couldn't be more stark.

So does God want me to be more concerned about homosexuality, tax increases (and, in another part of the press release, abortion), national intelligence, bloated government and conservative judges or about poverty, living wages, peace and torture?

Though the Traditional Values Coalition doesn't sound patently religious, we can glean that leaning from the fact that its leader has a Rev. in front of his name.

Its Web site also spells it: "Empowering people of faith through knowledge."

Faith in Public Life is no less upfront, describing itself as "founded by America's diverse faith leaders to strengthen faith movements sharing a call to pursue justice and the common good."

Understand, I'm not suggesting that folks ignore those principles that happened to be spawned by faith.

I am suggesting, however, that people recognize that right and wrong can be quite independent of religious teachings (or what religious leaders say).

They should have their basis in reason and in pragmatic and broad understanding of outcomes should belief become policy. In other words, you should be able to say this is right and this is wrong quite independent of anything written in Scripture or holy word.

Also, I'm not saying that people of faith operate without this independent reason, only that when God and faith are invoked, two suspicions are immediately sparked: 1) that God says so, rather than reason says so or that God says so plus reason and 2) it's entirely likely that you don't have an open mind on the topic.

But the bigger problem with political activism spawned by religion is that it is just so divisive from the get-go.

Let's see. When God is on your side, who precisely is on the other side? See what I mean?

Implicit in these circumstances is that the other side is anti-God, though there are thankfully those in the faith movements who have far more ecumenical views about this.

Of the two movements, I'm more in sympathy with those who would contend that a supreme being is worried about people living in poverty and without justice at least equally, if not more, than she is concerned about bloated government, national intelligence and federal judges.

But I'd prefer if those who argue their points kept the Almighty out of it (particularly when these pronouncements are accompanied by fund-raising pitches at the end, as was the Traditional Values e-mail).

Where do you go from "God says so"? Or "My church says so"?

Let me suggest that, Pat Robertson's claims notwithstanding, no one - and I mean no one - has that refined a communications pipeline.

I understand why the so-called progressive faith movement formed. There was a tendency on the religious right to make it seem as if their followers alone had that pipeline, that they had the patent on "truth."

And listening to them through the years, it did indeed seem as if God had a pretty narrow agenda.

My own view is that the Bible is a handy tool if it is viewed in the context of what in it is contingent and what is coherent.

In other words, stoning adulterers and a host of other practices and beliefs were contingent on a set of circumstances in a distinct culture and historical period.

No one is advocating we do these things today.

But virtues like kindness, charity, peace and justice are coherent throughout the Bible, not limited to any particular culture or era.

In any case, secular governance really can't be about what Jesus - or Mohammed - would do. The centuries have proved that we're too flawed to make this work because our differing interpretations tend to be filtered through superheated passions when it comes to religion.

I was being facetious with my opening statement about being confused about how God wants me to vote. I figure it's why he gave me an inquiring mind and free will.

So I'm not really concerned about how God wants me to vote. Or how he wants me to feel about gays, abortion, big government, federal judges, peace, social justice and torture, either.

I'm certain that my Catholic upbringing can't help but influence how I've come to view some of these things, though I'm equally certain that the pope would raise an eyebrow or two if he knew just how that influence plays out as a practical matter.

It's called independent research and an open mind. It's a dandy combination.

Uh huh, its TRUE.


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