Religion is one of those things which is something of an mystery to me. Logically, I understand that it is (supposedly) a path toward spiritual enlightenment for those whose souls cry out for some level of harmonious existence within the chaos of a world full of upheaval of every stripe. However, as I try to grasp the way it is practiced, I tend to see a manner of thinking among its adherents which makes me question its usefulness in the Grand Scheme. No doubt, many individuals like myself who question the disconnect between what supposedly religious individuals say and do see a gulf between the preaching and practice of proclaimed faith that at times seems to span infinity.
Last month, Muslims in Afghanistan—including Afghani military personnel—who took offense to the accidental burning of copies of the Koran, took their vengeance out on six U.S. servicemen (the same servicemen who helped to liberate their country from the oppressively “religious” Taliban régime) by gunning them down, while at the same time illustrating their frustration with the American presence in the country.
Recent news items have spotlighted the African-based ethnic insurgency calling itself “The Lord’s Resistance Army,” which has been engaged in human rights abuses that includes the forced conscription of male children, and the forced prostitution of female women and children since the late 1980s. Led by a self-proclaimed “spokesperson for God” Joseph Kony, the movement claims among its aims, to be working towards the establishment of a theocratic state in Uganda (although recent news reports fail to disclose that the LRA was mostly driven out of Uganda. And like many spiritually “enlightened” and “holy” movements before it, uses the most reprehensible tactics in its effort to impose its view of the world on others…the least of which include kidnapping, rape, murder, and object-lesson mutilations.
And in America, so-called “Christians” have impugned the religious convictions of President Obama to levels which transcend simple disrespect, including by those seeking to replace him as Commander-in-Chief in the upcoming November 2012 elections.
A few years ago, the president was forced to quickly distance himself from controversial words (as well as membership in the church) of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, whose fiery videotaped sermons condemning America for its historical mistreatment of African-Americans led to further demonization of the president.
When it’s all said and done, like many things in American politics (and indeed, in the personal lives of many individuals), religion is a tool…a means to an end, to be used as any other. And in the hands of adept politicians and manipulators, it has become every bit as effective a weapon as mudslinging, character assassination, and labeling those to they are opposed to.
Take the current Republican primary for example. Last month, Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum attacked President Obama’s worldview, stating that the president had a “phone theology,” and not a theology “based on the Bible. The ethnocentric nature of Santorum’s remarks notwithstanding, the freedom of religion right of the First Amendment in no way either promotes, nor compels the president or any American to choose one religious belief over another. But when rightfully challenged on this point, individuals like Santorum and his Evangelical brethren most often will reflect the argument back on individuals by implying a level of religious persecution against those who support and share his beliefs.
The fact of the matter is that the secular state is not anti-religious (although the same cannot be said for secular culture). The separation of church and state was designed to protect religious liberties, not promote them. However, religious zealots like Santorum tend to purposefully distort this reality, equating the absence of (any) religious influence in public policy and the effort to maintain the separation of church and state with an active effort to suppress religious liberties. It’s a disingenuous tactic at best, and it simply plays to the ignorance of those who rely on sound bites and talking heads to shape their thinking, as well as caters to those who perceptions and understanding may be similarly distorted and seeking validation of their beliefs.
Former Pennsylvania Senator and Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum,
Religions and their respective doctrinal precepts among their believers—along with human emotions—have done enough to create social and political divisions all over the world since the introduction of monotheism. And sadly, most adherents do not even stop to think about their beliefs and why they embrace them. In most cases, they are merely choosing to believe what they learned from their parent, and their parents before them, and so on. And even in the rare instances where individuals are able to separate themselves from the socialization (or is it “indoctrination”) into their belief systems, they still tend to ignore the purpose of following a particular spiritual path in the first place—to enlighten their souls and to create a level of respect and co-existence with their fellow human beings. In theory, religion is supposed to make believers better individuals. But human ambitions being what they are, have spurred believers to take what are supposed to be spiritual precepts—guideposts for creating better lives and better living—and turn them into yet another means of obtaining what they want. There seems to be just as many confused, duplicitous, and troubled individuals who function under the auspices of “believers” as they appear to be among their “secular” counterparts.
And when these dynamics are thrown into the arena of politics, you get what we have today—a society fragmented along so many ideological lines where arguments and counter-arguments seems to be the goal of governing, not the creation of substantive policies that make lives better. Religion in politics has been used to justify everything from war, support of the death penalty, and abortion clinic bombings, to racism, gay marriage, and rejecting universally affordable health care. And we are the adults.And we are supposedly the adults...
Imagine if the 1962 decision to ban prayer and religious worship in our public schools had not been enacted; our children and their schools would be every bit as socially fractured as our society and our political arenas (in retrospect, great idea).
I suppose that when it comes to religion, who needs "clear thinking" when people have their faith?