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Doug Giebel: Holier Than Thou - Who Owns God?

Holier Than Thou - Who Owns God?

by Doug Giebel

During Christmas season 2004, some self-professed Christians, to celebrate the birth of the ''Prince of Peace,'' have chosen to wage a vicious, unforgiving and hate-filled war against those who do not subscribe to their politicized dogma. Their Christianity, we are led to believe, is endangered and has come under fierce attack, even though 80 per cent of Americans claim to be Christians. One would not be surprised to learn that the arch villains in this conflict are usually described not as atheists or heathens but as (shudder) "liberals."

Observing this overblown argument, one might assume the primary purpose of politics and legislation is not to deal with issues of war and peace, budget deficits, Medicare, Social Security, the needs of the neediest but is instead about the high-voltage subjects of abortion, evolution and homosexuality. A recent caller to a Denver-based talk show angrily declared that "liberals can not be Christians." One conspiracy-minded caller suggested that Godless lawyers were agents of Usama bin Laden, intent on destroying the United States by bringing financially- debilitating lawsuits. Few of these self-appointed Christian Soldiers seem concerned that between 1991 to 2000 nearly 900 thousand African Americans died from inadequate medical care, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health, or that many Americans can not afford reasonable housing.

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In his controversial letter of congratulation to President Bush (Nov. 3, 2004), Dr. Bob Jones, III, wrote that "liberals . . . despise you because they despise your Christ." During ABC's "This Week" program on November 28, the Rev. Floyd Flake, President of Wilberforce University when discussing his particular religion referred to "our God."

There are, of course, the Gods of non-Christian religions. To many believers, their particular God is superior to the Gods of others, or their God is the one true God, all others are fakes. Some Christians appear to equate Jesus Christ with God, and in their minds the two may be synonymous.

Who owns God?

It seems clear from the language of some of the angry Christian fundamentalists that tolerance for the beliefs (and the politics) of others is not high on their list of virtues.

A Baptist colleague of my cousin (a Catholic) told her that much of the fundamentalist support for President Bush in the recent election is also anti-Catholic, even though some Catholic bishops and priests joined with those fundamentalists in opposing the election of John Kerry, abortion being the sole issue of real importance. For its part, Bob Jones University dogmatically states, "If there are those who wish to charge us with being anti-Catholicism, we plead guilty. But we are not Catholic-haters. All religion, including Catholicism, which teaches that salvation is by religious works or church dogma is false." In other words, our dogma is true religion, your dogma is a dog.

There are (pseudo?) Christians and others who believe Jesus was essentially a compassionate "liberal," the caring serve-the-needy Jesus of The Sermon on the Mount. In contrast, a growing minority of fundamentalist Christians have gained attention with their apocalyptic revelation that Jesus is really a "conservative" avenger who will return with a sword to literally massacre all who have not accepted Him as a personal Lord and Savior. Some worshippers of the Apocalypse despise this earthly life and its delights so heartily that they hope and believe it will soon come to an inglorious end, with Jesus the avenging Lord who will carry them (but not the many despised others) to a Heaven from which "liberals" are permanently banished.

Rejoicing in the re-election of President Bush, the Rev. Jerry Falwell wrote, ". . . God has led me to mobilize . . . and to immediately implement our agenda which I believe can begin restoring America to her original Judeo-Christian ethic as 'One Nation Under God.'" Apparently the Falwell agenda and God's agenda are one and the same, even though the phrase "One nation under God" was not "original" but was added to the Pledge of Allegiance during the Eisenhower presidency in response to "Godless" communism. Falwell's view of the United States as "Judeo-Christian" seems to omit this nation's other religions, other Gods, even though the Rev. Falwell might agree that those other religions (or non-religions) have an "original" right (if not a divine right) to exist and be practiced here.

The agenda Falwell wants to implement? "(1) The confirmation of pro-life, strict constructionist U.S. Supreme Court justices and other federal judges; (2) the passage of a constitutional Federal Marriage Amendment; and (3) the election of another socially, fiscally and politically conservative president in 2008, along with conservative members of Congress in 2006 and 2008." God's agenda, according to Falwell, is quite narrow.

To promote God's agenda, the popular Rev. James Dobson told his followers it was "a sin" to not vote in the 2004 election, although that particular sin is surely not specified in Biblical text.

Prior to the 2004 election, the Rev. Pat Robertson said, "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout . . ." However fearsome and vengeful Robertson's Lord may be to others, George W. Bush gets a pass. "The Lord has just blessed him [Bush]. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."

"It doesn't make any difference what [Bush] does, good or bad . . ." Robertson's God will permit one to do whatever one wants as long is one is a person "of prayer" and blessed by his God. One might reasonably ask, however, whether this same God chose any or all of our other presidents, or if George W. Bush is the sole example, set apart by some divine right achieved through his supposedly being "born again." Apparently once President Bush attained this state of holiness he can do whatever he wishes because "It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad . . ." Now there's a mandate sent from Heaven worth having. How fortunate can fortunate son George W. Bush be?

An important question posed by the Falwell agenda and Robertson's seer-like pronouncement is whether or not God needs help in electing God's favorite candidates. According to Robertson, God had already determined the election of George W. Bush well before voting took place. Was voting even necessary, since in Robertson's view the president was not chosen by the "will of the people," but instead from God's fervently fundamentalist desire? (In races for House and Senate, were the Republican winners chosen by God but the Democratic winners chosen by some other entity? Are Democrats and their "liberal" cousins instruments of . . . Satan?)

One reason for a separation of church and state is that matters get murky when it comes to religious "values" relative to practical politics. Pious politicians, after all, have been frequently known to lie, cheat, deceive, obstruct, steal, help line the pockets of friends and supporters, belittle the poor and needy, engage in illicit affairs, kill the innocent, permit torture, violate international laws and treaties. The meaningless "campaign promise" is standard political practice, a well-tested "value" practiced by those seeking elective office. As Molly Ivins recently noted "values" in relation to politics is an oxymoron.

Despite the high-minded, super-virtuous God talk involved in our political discourse these days, there seems to be a strong subtext of anger and hate simmering to the surface with increasing regularity, whether about homosexuality or a woman's right to choose. The Rev. Robertson has called homosexuals a "two per cent minority," and presumably only a modest number of same-sex couples would choose to get married. Therefore, because so few same-sex couples would get "married" compared to heterosexual couples, the drive for a marriage amendment would seem more about punishing the so-called "gay lifestyle" rather than about protecting opposite-sex marriage. We know opposite-sex marriage will go on just as before, whether or not same-sex marriage is sanctioned by law. Similarly, the great fundamentalist-evangelical outrage over abortion has not been applied with any evangelistic passion to an undeclared and possibly-illegal "war" in Iraq. As Sister Joan Chittister observed to Bill Moyers, many who would make abortion illegal support the Iraq conflict and do not object when pregnant Iraqi women and their unborn children are killed through a non-medical procedure Sister Joan calls "military abortion."

The United States has had a life-long problem with the interference of religion in the political sphere. Years ago my mother (a teacher and a Catholic) knew she stood little chance of obtaining a public school teaching position if her prospective employer knew of her religious preference. Therefore, when asked about her religion, she would always say she was "open to conviction." Today, whistleblowers who want to "do the right thing" are not held in high regard, and laws to protect them from retaliation are generally ineffective. Honesty, it seems, has never been valued too highly in government-related circles.

The founders knew how dangerous it was for government to be dominated by any religion or for religion to be dominated by government. When our current fundamentalist-evangelical leaders propose the election of ever more "conservative" politicians, what they are really asking for is the election of politicians who hold a specific fundamentalist point of view, surely a move toward state-based religion, a government infused with and controlled by religious dogma. It is the "ownership society" owning the sole right to God, where the President of the United States once properly born again can do no wrong. It is theocracy disguised as "conservatism." Can one imagine a better reason to sever church from state?


Doug Giebel is a writer and analyst who lives in Big Sandy, Montana. He welcomes correspondence at dougcatz@ttc-cmc.net

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