Editors Note: Republicans (particularly our president) like to pretend they have a direct pipeline to God, and many believe that God is, in fact, a Republican. The Religious Right habitually emphasizes those areas of faith that give them an edge with the electorate (like hating sex) and ignore those areas (helping the poor) that don’t excite them. Personally, I don’t believe in God, so it’s all immaterial to me, but since we live in a country where candidates must at least pretend to be religious to get elected, Democrats would be wise not to allow the GOP to paint them as a bunch of heathens.


Faith as a Rorschach Test

 

In 2005, much was made of Democrat Tim Kaine’s use of his religious faith in winning the governor’s race in conservative Virginia. Religion isn’t typically the bailiwick of Democrats, but Kaine showed that Republicans don’t have a monopoly on faith.

Liberals’ embrace of the principle of church/state separation has enabled the GOP to portray itself as the party of God and the Democrats as secularists. That the Democrats allow this to happen is unfortunate, because, for many Americans, secularism equals an absence of values.

On both the left and the right, nearly all Americans consider themselves Christians, so political disagreements on social issues aren’t differences between believers and unbelievers, but divergent views of the same religion. It’s a matter of which doctrines you follow and which you choose to ignore — what you emphasize and what you soft-pedal.

Scriptures often operate like a Rorschach test. Psychologists gain insights by analyzing subjects’ reactions to inkblots that have no objective content. The interpretation of these abstract patterns has less to do with the inkblots themselves than with the perceptions of the observer.

Like a Rorschach test, most holy books are vague enough to engender “big tents” of incongruous adherents. What believers take from their reading reflects what they bring to it — hence, the often-violent schisms that develop in most religions.

For example, Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita undergirded the moral power of Gandhi’s pacifism. However, in 1992, it contributed to the hatred and bigotry that incited Hindu fundamentalists to tear down the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, India, and murder the Muslims inside.

Muslims revere the Koran as Allah’s revelation, and its suras inspire the kinder, gentler mysticism of the Sufis. Muslim scholars cite a single verse, “Do not destroy yourself” (Sura 4:29), to demonstrate that the Koran prohibits suicide bombings. However, the far more numerous passages that praise martyrdom and encourage believers to “make war on the infidels who dwell around you” (Sura 9:123) arouse the violent fundamentalism of Wahhabism, al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In the book of Joshua, Jehovah’s demand that the Hebrews repeatedly commit genocide seems incompatible with the liberal ideals of post-Holocaust Judaism. However, a literal reading of Deuteronomy 13:6 (“If your son … tries to seduce you ... saying let us go and serve other gods … you must kill him”) endorses fanaticism worthy of Islamic Jihad.

When American Christians ask, “What would Jesus do?” the answers vary wildly. For decades, Southern Baptists cited biblical texts to support slavery and oppose civil rights for blacks, while Congregationalists were abolitionists because of the Bible. Liberals praise Jesus for his tolerance and compassion, while conservatives, studying the identical scriptures, extol his intolerance of sin and unbelievers.

Such differences in interpretation widen the chasm of our Red State/Blue State divide. American Christians run the gamut from pacifistic Quakers to Pat Robertson, who advocates murdering legally elected foreign leaders. Meanwhile, a frequent Robertson nemesis, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was founded by an ordained minister from the United Church of Christ. And, in Connecticut, the campaign for civil union status for homosexuals was spearheaded by a Methodist pastor.

Anyone from a peanut farmer to a C-minus student can grow up to be president, as long as he professes a belief in the Bible. Both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush affirm born-again Christian bona fides, although they share little common ground in their politics or their values.

American voters see morality as inextricably linked with Judeo-Christian doctrine, so Democrats who cede the theological high ground to their opponents do so at their electoral peril. This doesn’t mean candidates should choose their beliefs cynically, but that they need to determine which values to assert as articles of faith.

For example, many evangelicals are uninterested in ecological issues or conservation, because they believe we’re in the “End Times.” However, others take seriously the Bible’s injunction to be good stewards of the earth. Approached properly, they could be amenable to environmentally minded candidates.

Catholic voters are constantly reminded that Pope John Paul condemned abortion; however, he also opposed the death penalty and the war in Iraq. And although school prayer may sound like “old-time religion,” Democrats who support separation of church and state can cite Matthew 6:5, in which Jesus himself condemns public prayer.

There’s more to Christian morality than proscriptions against sex. Christ spoke less about sexual matters than he did about caring for the poor, and he never mentioned homosexuality, birth control or abortion at all.

In Mark 10:21, Jesus was asked what men must do to gain eternal life. He specified two things, one of which was to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” Republicans like to label those who oppose tax cuts for the rich as “socialists,” but Democrats can defend such opposition by pointing out it’s “what Jesus would do.”


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