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“We Don’t Need A ‘Christian Left’ To Replace The Christian Right”: We Need A Commitment To Church-State Separation

It was inevitable, I guess, that the latest talk of the Christian Right “dying” — or at least suffering under divisions created or exacerbated by Donald Trump — would revive hopes of a “Christian Left” emerging to compete with, or even displace, the alliance of Republicans with conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics that has played so large a role in American politics since 1980. And now, at Slate, Ruth Graham has expressed these hopes at considerable length. Though I will not blame her for a sub-headline that fatuously refers to Democrats as a potential “party of God,” Graham’s piece begs for a dissent from a liberal Christian perspective. To put it simply, must Christian progressives replicate the politicization of the Gospel that Falwell and Robertson and Colson and so many others undertook?

Yes, Graham is right in identifying this as an opportune moment to disrupt the popular stereotypes (promoted equally by secular and conservative religious folk) of Christian faith connoting conservative politics, or of the only “good” or “real” Christians being the conservative variety. And it never hurts to protect the First Amendment rights of American Christians to vote and think and speak as they wish, which historically (viz. the abolition and agrarian reform and urban reform and civil rights movements) has been on the Left as much as the Right.

But like previous apostles of a Christian Left such as Jim Wallis, Graham implies that the grievous error of Christian Right leaders is misapplying biblical lessons for contemporary culture and society, and elevating concerns about personal morality and “family life” above commitments to peace and social justice. The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed.

The alternative argument is that believing there’s any comprehensive prescription for political behavior in religious scripture or tradition betrays a confusion of the sacred and the profane, and of the Kingdom of God with mere secular culture. That’s what one prominent liberal Christian named  Barack Obama maintained in his famous Notre Dame commencement speech of 2009, in which he described as essential to faith a healthy doubt about what God wants human beings to do in their social and political lives. And it leads not to a desire to replace the self-righteous Christian Right with an equally self-righteous Christian Left, but to a renewed commitment to church-state separation — on religious as well as political grounds. After all, church-state separation protects religion from political contamination as much as it does politics from religious contamination. And what the Christian Right abetted was political contamination, not just recourse to the wrong politics.

Needless to say, Christians who are also political progressives would get along better with their non-Christian and non-religious allies if they stood with them in staunch support of church-state separation instead of implying that progressive unbelievers are pursuing the right policies for the wrong (irreligious) reasons. And they would also tap into the true legacy of this country’s founders, largely religious (if often heterodox) people who understood the spiritual as well as the practical dangers of encouraging the religiously sanctioned pursuit of political power.

So with all due respect to Ruth Graham and others like her who dream of a Church Militant marching toward a progressive Zion under the banner of a rigorously left-wing Party of God, thanks but no thanks. Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon — God willing — be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Christian Right, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Today’s Useful Idiot; John Kasich”: Turns Out He’s As Loony As Any Of His Companions In The GOP Presidential Race

Too bad: John Kasich, the Republican presidential aspirant who seemed comparatively sane, turns out to be as loony as any of his companions on the GOP debate stage – perhaps even loonier. On Tuesday, the Ohio governor boldly proposed a new federal agency to “promote Judeo-Christian values” overseas. Evidently Kasich believes that this religiously-based propaganda initiative – which he would direct toward the Mideast, Russia, and China – should promote “Judeo-Christian Western values of human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion [!] and freedom of association” as a counter-terrorist measure.

Of course, if such an “Agency to Promote Judeo-Christian Values” were sent forth to advance the Christian and Jewish religions abroad, that effort would not only alienate Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and adherents of other faiths, but would raze the constitutional “wall of separation between church and state” built by the nation’s founders.

While any such program would be destined to fail miserably as public diplomacy, Kasich’s articulation of this terrible idea must have excited the propaganda specialists of ISIS and jihadis everywhere, since it confirms their claims that the West has mounted a “crusade” against Islam. (No doubt it also thrilled the “strict constitutionalists” on the Republican far right, whose embrace of religious liberty only ever protects their own beliefs.)

That’s why Kasich, a “moderate” mindlessly pandering to the extreme right, is today’s useful idiot.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 18, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, John Kasich, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“GOP Governor Flubs Civics 101 Test”: Mary Fallin Falls Short In Her Most Basic Governmental Responsibilities

Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last week that a state-sponsored Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds violates the state Constitution. It wasn’t a close call – the justices ruled 7-2 that the six-foot-high, stone Christian display is at odds with the law that requires state government to be neutral on matters of religion.

The more controversial twist came this week, when Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the GOP-led legislature announced they’re prepared to ignore the state Supreme Court, at least for now, while they consider new solutions.

The Republican governor talked to reporters, saying roughly what you’d expect her to say: she’s “disappointed” with the court’s decision; she thinks they made the wrong call; etc. But as KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported, Fallin added one related thought that wasn’t expected at all:

Gov. Fallin said she believes the final decision on the monument’s fate should rest with the people.

“You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide,” she said.

The KFOR report added, “Despite what the governor said, the three branches of government include the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”

It was obviously an unfortunate slip-up, but the point isn’t to just laugh at a politician’s gaffe. There’s actually a substantive angle to all of this.

We can certainly hope that Fallin, a former multi-term member of Congress, knows what the three branches of government are. Indeed, in Oklahoma, she’s the head of one of them – the one she left out this week.

But what matters in this controversy is the governor’s appreciation for the branches’ specific duties. For example, it’s up to Oklahoma’s judicial branch to rule on constitutional questions, such as whether the state can legally endorse one religion’s sacred text.

It’s up to Oklahoma’s executive branch to enforce the law. For now, the governor has decided she doesn’t want to, at least in this case.

Fallin suggested that she’d like “the people” to “decide” what’s constitutional. The problem with such a remedy, aside from the confusion over civics, is that civil liberties shouldn’t necessarily be open to popularity contests. That’s largely the point of having rights and the Constitution in the first place – the goal is to enshrine certain protections for the public that cannot easily be taken away without due process.

It’s unfortunate that Fallin flubbed the details when trying to describe the three branches of government, but it’s arguably worse that she’s falling short in her most basic of governmental responsibilities.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2015

July 12, 2015 Posted by | Mary Fallin, Oklahoma, Ten Commandments | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Herein Lies The Problem”: Can Antonin Scalia Actually Read The Constitution?

Antonin Scalia:

“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said.

“That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way,” Justice Scalia said. “And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.”

Ummmm….

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I suppose a very pro-religious reading might suggest that an elected official might be able to place a religious icon on public property under the argument that it’s free exercise and not technically a law establishing religion. I would disagree with that assessment, but it wouldn’t take a crazy person to make that judgment.

But Scalia is saying that the Constitution doesn’t prevent the government from favoring religion over non-religion. That’s crazy. The Constitution is actually very clear on that point. It doesn’t say that Congress can’t establish one religion over another. It says that Congress shall make no law establishing religion. Period.

A first grader could tell Scalia that. I choose not to believe that Scalia is a fool or insane. That would be too terrifying. It’s easier to simply believe that Scalia is an ideologue, a dishonest broker who is willing to say anything to serve his preconceived ideas about right and wrong.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Constitution, Religion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Wall That Protects Us All”: Sarah Palin Can’t Tear Down The Wall Between Church And State

“We have just enough religion to make us hate,” wrote Jonathan Swift, “but not enough to make us love one another.” A lifelong religious controversialist, the 18th-century Irish satirist definitely knew whereof he wrote. After all, it’s fewer than 20 years since Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland quit dynamiting each other’s gathering places.

Even here in the United States, it often seems that picking fights over religion increases during the Christmas season. If anything, claiming to be persecuted while expressing contempt for others’ belief appears on the rise.

And, no, I’m not talking only about the annual invocation of paranoid triumphalism Fox News calls the “War on Christmas.” Nor even about noted theologian Rush Limbaugh assailing Pope Francis as a “Marxist” for criticizing the tyranny of markets and the worship of money. Because Jesus was all about capital formation and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Everywhere you look, somebody’s insulting somebody else’s religion.

To me, the cultural left’s only marginally better than the right. I recently witnessed a remarkable online colloquy concerning a Catholic organization’s shipping 3,000 rosaries to the Philippines to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, “so that they can thank God” as one cynic wrote.

“Do these people ever use their minds for one second?” one person asked. “Hearing this is thoroughly depressing. It shows how ignorant and warped so many people are and how daunting is the amount of education there needs to be to cure the world.”

Cure it of what, I wondered. Of typhoons? Of charity? Or merely of belief? Almost needless to say, Roman Catholic churches worldwide were taking up special collections for storm victims in that largely Catholic nation—along with religious and humanitarian organizations worldwide.

“They are vultures sweeping down on those in need to shove more control down their throats,” wrote another. “I have nothing but contempt for the Catholic church and religion as a whole.”

News flash: The world will never be cured.

Meanwhile, how this kind of free-floating rage differs from Bible-beating preachers who blame earthquakes and tornadoes on other people’s sexual sins escapes me. The main characteristic of the fundamentalist mind is an inability to refrain from expressing contempt for beliefs different from one’s own—whether one’s spiritual leader is Pat Robertson or Christopher Hitchens.

Which brings us back to Sarah Palin’s remarkable appearance at the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last week—the last stop on a tour publicizing her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.

“I say in a very jolly Christmasy way,” the Alaskan babbler claims, “that, ‘Enough is enough.’ Say enough is enough with this politically correct police out there that is acting to erode our freedom to celebrate and exercise our faith. Some Scrooge wants to force Christ out of Christmas and wants to ban Jesus out of the reason for the season?”

To hear Palin tell it, there’s a veritable army of “angry atheists armed with an attorney” who “want to try to abort Christ from Christmas” by filing lawsuits “when they see a plastic Jewish family on somebody’s lawn—a nativity scene, that’s basically what it is, right?”

Actually, no.

But never mind theology, here’s the deal: If Palin or anybody else can provide a single, verifiable instance of somebody being successfully sued for exhibiting a crèche, a cross or any religious symbol on private property anywhere in the U.S., they’d have something to complain about.

They’d also have the certain support of the American Civil Liberties Union in defense of their First Amendment rights.

But of course that’s not what these (to my mind overblown) fights over nativity scenes at courthouses, city halls and state capitols around the country are about. Instead, they’re about an “establishment of religion” which the same First Amendment categorically forbids.

In typical scattershot fashion, Palin even invoked Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson, a conventionally pious Founding Father in her mind, who would, like, totally object to the persecution of people like her who can’t make everybody admit that their God is America’s God:   

“I think Thomas Jefferson would certainly recognize it and stand up and he wouldn’t let anybody tell him to sit down and shut up.”

Now it’s definitely true that Jefferson was rarely shy about his religious views. Courtesy of Martin Longman in Washington Monthly, here’s his opinion about what Palin calls “the reason for the season” from an 1823 letter to John Adams: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.”

Like Swift, Jefferson recognized the dangers of religious strife. That’s precisely why, he assured Connecticut Baptists in 1802, the First Amendment decreed “a wall of separation between church and State.”

A wall that protects us still.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 11, 2013

December 12, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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