Sunday, May 01, 2005

Dividing the World

The guest on "This Week: With George Stephanopoulos" was none other than the reverend Pat Robertson. For context, Robertson is the founder of the Christian Broadcasting network, host of the "700 Club", and sometimes presidential candidate. Robertson has authored a charming new book entitled "Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court is Usurping the Power of Congress and the People".

In it Robertson argues that "an out-of-control judiciary is the single greatest threat to democracy and the religious and moral foundations of America." And even says that this is the greatest threat in American history! He frequently quotes from Jefferson, the Deist, to support his conservative Christian point-of-view. Stephanopoulos tried to pin Robertson down on a few of these issues. One in particular, in-which Robertson says that only Christians and Jews are fit to serve in government, Robertson tried to skate around amounting to a conversation much like this.

George: is that what you believe?
Pat: I meant that I would only have Jews or Christians in my cabinet.
George then reads what Pat wrote in his book about only Jews or Christians being fit to serve in government.
George: So, you don't believe that a Muslim should be able to serve in our government?
Pat: Well, I think we should stick to the founding father's intent. They were Christian. Have you read what Muslims write? They divide the world into two spheres--with God and without God.

So, his whole argument was that people who are judgmental and divisive should not serve in government. He's talking like Muslims have a corner on this activity, but I seem to recall Christians mastering and practicing the art of dividing the world.

Robertson does it himself by his own words. By judging who is fit to serve based on some arbitrary requirement. The opposite of dividing people would be to simply say: anyone who wants to serve can try, and the people will decide who they want to serve for them. Isn't this the most inclusive and fair way? Isn't that what essentially a representative democracy is?

Robertson keeps crying because the "tyranny of the oligarchy" is ruining this country. A few radical liberals and the ACLU are trying to take God out of the government's hands. I just have to laugh at this as if Robertson and his ultra-conservative interpretation of the Bible represent a majority of Christians. And I think someone like Robertson would readily admit that he is in the minority! That's what makes fear-mongering preachers like him so appealing to people: listen to me and I will tell you how to join an exclusive club while the world goes to hell. So, to admit he's in some kind of majority--in good standing with "the world"--goes against much of his apocalyptic rhetoric.

Let's look at the top 10 countries according to quality of life, prepared by the "Economist" and I'll also list their church attendance.

1. Ireland -- 84% church attendance
2. Switzerland - 16%
3. Norway - 5%
4. Luxembourg - < 4%
5. Sweden - < 4%
6. Australia - 16%
7. Iceland - 4%
8. Italy - 45%
9. Denmark - 5 %
10. Spain - 25%
13. US - 44%

And a similiar list by the United Nations

1. Norway - 5%
2. Sweden - < 4%
3. Canada - 38%
4. Belgium - 44%
5. Australia - 16%
6. US - 44%
7. Iceland - 4%
8. Netherlands - 35%
9. Japan - < 4%
10. Finland - < 4%

I think what this shows is that there is no correlation at all between going to church and any pragmatic result in quality of life. If fundamtalism was so compelling then there would be some kind of correlation between church attendence and quality of life--people who go to church more often should be happier, they should be more Christ-like and help their neighbors. In short, countries with citizens who go to church should be heavens on earth.

Statistics can only say so much. Fundamentalists would have you believe that our country is backsliding and getting worse. That once Christians held sway on our great land and now they are in danger of losing ground to liberals, homosexuals, and out of control judges. But our own sortid history, and the sortid history of the Christian church, argues for me beyond doubt.

We arrived, a persecuted, God-loving, Bible believing people. We taught our children to read from the Bible. We removed the Native Americans. We enslaved blacks to do work. Many of the founding fathers--people like Jefferson whom Christians embrace--owned slaves. We have used such tactics to carve out a country from sea to shining sea, rich in resources. The south believed in this institution so much that it was willing to kill thousands of Americans for the right to keep it. We founded companies whith total disregard for basic labor and safety laws. We lagged behind other countries in equal rights--our women could not vote, blacks were enslaved--and today we still lag behind. Homosexuals, to say nothing about how their sexual activity ranks in God's eyes, deserve the same rights as anyone else. Women should be paid the same as men. A person can be an athiest and be a good person. Everyone should have health care. Human rights are equal rights. How can we even call ourselves a country founded on Christ given our violent and selfish history?

As St. James said "So me your faith by what you say, and I will show you my faith by what I do."

And it indites us when we have to take social and civic lessons from countries far less "religious" than us. Just because we are the most powerful country in the world does not mean that God put us there. By that logic did God also approve of the Roman Empire?

This logic that we can somehow narrowly interpret the constitution in a Christian way is crazy. But of course, this is coming from a fundamentalist. Robertson gives his approval to Rudy Guiliani--who, if he were a Democrat--would be demonized for his social stances, and disapproves of John McCain. By what logic does this flow from? By what logic does someone like Robertson embrace president Bush, a man who aquires fundamentalist votes to win an election and 100 days later says you don't have to be a Christian to be a good American, and that faith is a private matter--two stances that fly in the face of fundamentalism? A man who drives up government spending, putting our children in debt, and violently works towards a manifest destiny, this is the same man fundamentalists clamor for? Would Jesus have acted like this?

The logic for dividing up the world is simply not there. You could grab ten random Christians and ask them ten questions on Christian beliefs and I'll bet you would not find two who agree on all ten, or even five. Christians themselves can't reach a consensus on interpreting the Bible--a document they believe is the direct word of God--how can they ever agree on how to interpret the constitution, written by falable men? That logic is crazy.

And it would be better if we didn't try such a thing. Isn't this exactly what we were trying to get away from in the firt place? A government telling other people how to relate to God? To say nothing of the constitution, anyone who perscribes to that ideal knows nothing of basic American history. If this country chooses to elect radical conservatives, and their nominees are approved by our elected representatives I will accept that. But I will not accept disparaging someone because they don't believe exactly the way you want them to.

The answer is not in dividing up the world. It is not found in fear and coercing people to conform. It is found in calling for a society where we treat people like Christ treated others--with empathy and care and common sense. Jesus wasn't even in favor of the status quo fundamentalists at his time, and I doubt he would be in favor of the loudest, most conservative, most agressive fundamentalists now. They were the ones who put him to death because he rocked their system. And now the system is being rocked again, and what does Robertson want? Snuff them out. Divide them out. Put the liberals to death. History has a strange way of repeating itself.