Thursday, May 17, 2007

Some Disturbing Data and a Short Exhortation

In my last post I cited recent polling results concerning Americans and our faith. As I have lived in a few other countries in recents years, it constantly amazes/irks/bewilders/embarasses me that religion has so thoroughly infiltrated our political discourse. In no other Western nations can I quickly find anything comparable, and everywhere I go, one of the first comments I get from foreigners is how religious my country is. I almost don't believe them, but if you look at some more recent polls (and you can always take polls with a grain of salt and a communion wafer) it is difficult to dismiss the sometimes insidious affect that religion plays in our culture.

Newsweek Poll (April, 2007):
- "91 percent of American adults say they believe in God"
- "nearly half rejects the scientific theory of evolution."
- 26 percent said it was not possible to be both moral and an atheist
- "66 percent of American have no doubts God exists"

International Polling Firm LPSOS (Dec., 2006):
- 11 percent of those surveyed said it is "very likely" that Jesus will return to Earth this year
- 14 percent said it was "somewhat likely."

(personal note: I know things aren't great, but I don't think JC's gotta come down and wreck house just yet.)

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (Oct., 2006):
- 61% said that religious groups should express views on social and political questions
- 35% believe that scriptures are actual word of God to be taken literally (my italics and bold)

Barna Research Poll (1995): Study sampled both born-again Christians and non-Christians concerning their prejudice towards other religions. Breaks down like this:

% of non-Christians who view the impact as negative
Islam - 24%
Buddhism - 22%
Scientology - 30%
Atheism - 50%

...Now notice how drastically the percentages increase with the born-again Christians

% of born-again Christians who view the impact as negative
Islam - 71%
Buddhism - 76%
Scientology - 81%
Atheism - 92%

...And Now a Short Exhortation:

Why is it that we Americans exploit those qualities which divide us rather than embrace those which unite?

As was pointed out, with aestetically pleasing graphics, by BostonD a few weeks back, we are not acutally such a divided nation. Obama was correct in '04 when he said, "There are no red states; there are no blue states. There is only the United States of America." My faith resides in our populous's capacity to be, well, populist. I believe that we have many more things in common than the pundits would have us believe, yet we Americans do like our dichotomies -- Hamilton or Burr, Union or Confederacy, Celtics or Lakers; Tastes great! or Less Filling!, Jolie or Aniston, Alien or Predator, Freddy or Jason, O'Reilly or any guest he has on. Only in America can two beers of the same brand find a forum to compete, and for some reason I find myself always rooting for Bud Dry -- cause I'm an American and I like the underdog. After World War II we embraced Western Europe as allies, enacted the Marshall Plan, and provided for our burgeoning Middle Class -- the dichotomies seemed to be held at bay. Yet, soon came McCarthyism, the civil unrest of the 1960's, and 40 years of the Cold War. Due to the latter (and this is just a inchoate theory of mine) we formed ourselves not from the inside out, but in opposition to the ideology of Communism. Any form of it was and has since been met with knee-jerk disdain and dismissal. Today, while Western Europe enjoys many programs built upon socialist principals and ideas, our national identity has been so warped and manipulated that the French -- our allies for over 200 years, who indelibly influenced our founding documents -- are now our straw men.

According to Mark Buchannan in his NYTimes blog, this may just be a natural part of the human psyche:
"People experience real psychological discomfort – psychologists call it 'cognitive dissonance' – when confronted with views that contradict their own. They can avoid the discomfort by ignoring contradictory views, and this alone brings like-minded bloggers together."

...But I digress and this "short" section of the post is now overwrought with rambling ideas...

What happened to "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"? What happened to the distinct realms of Church and State? As I've said before, faith by it's very nature is personal, not communal. As exemplified in The Book of Job (as far as William Blake and Harold Bloom read it), Job's faith in the beginning of his book is one of easy piety and therefore incomplete in the eyes of God. Only after his "test" does he attain the more transcendent fulfillment of faith. For belief in the divine is, in itself, a hardship or (if you'll forgive me) a cross to bear. Faith can be both a crutch during times of emotional pain and the catalyst for similar internal conflict. In that leap of faith you're asking a lot of your god and even more of yourself. What you don't get to ask a lot of, however, is everyone else, especially those that do not take the same leap along side you.

Just to bring this all back to our present political climate, I find the case of President Bush and his often mentioned religous devotion (relies on it for strength, reads a little of the Bible each day). His supporters (now dwindling down to 28%) are largely made up of conservative Christians. I have always been shocked by how he can rally this demographic as many of his policies appear a smack in the face of what I always believed to be Christian ideals. (I don't think I need to go through the litany of these policies: war, pooping on the poor, craven missue of power, abuses (both physical and of civil liberties).) I had initially planned for this post to be simply a list of the Beatitudes and then examples of how the Bush Administration has gone the other way, but then I read Nicholas Kristof's Op-Ed this morning, in which he points out some of Bush's oft overlooked accomplishments. Kristof (who is no Bush supporter) reveals the vast humanitarian legacy of this administration, one that actually exemplifies Christian values, thus begging the question: Why doesn't either Bush or his Christian followers talk these facts up more? Why does it take a notoriously liberal columnist to shed light on Bush's more laudable successes?

It would seem to me that we can all agree on and be proud of Bush's commitment to AIDS and Malaria in Africa, but we choose otherwise. It's easy to blame the media for our polarized society; it's even easier to blame Bush himself ("you're either with us or you're for the terrorists"), but ultimately we still have a choice in how we think. In summation to whatever this post has become, as we approach a seminal election and debate the timeline in Iraq, let's try to set aside the all-too-easy partisan rhetoric and accept our pluralism. One of the pillars of America's greatness is our diversity, and we must remain mindful to embrace these differences, for, in a great paradox of this great experiment, we are more united by our shared differences than divided by them.

16 comments:

Andy D said...

How does one even begin to respond to a post as far reaching and as passionate as this one? Well, someone has to take up the mantel of “Christian Conservative”. While the card carrying members of that group might not select me to carry their banner, I will try anyway.

I think I agree with the basic thrust of your post. I think we should all take a step back, look at our country and the things that unite us as Americans, and then look at our candidates for the President with fresh eyes. As I find myself saying a lot over the last week, my problem with the DNC is I don’t agree with its world view. I believe you have listed the war in Iraq in two separate posts as an example of Bush acting against the faith, so I will use the war as an example.

Iraq is a very complicated issue. I believe going to war in Iraq in hindsight was the right thing to do. I believe leaving Iraq today or anytime in the next year would be a terrible thing that our country may never recover from. We went into Iraq for a long list of reasons: WMD, UN resolutions, an evil and brutal dictator. The left always wants to please our neighbors and the UN. The UN had passed multiple resolutions (over a dozen) demand Saddam disarm and allow UN inspectors back into the country. He wouldn’t. If the UN is going to function at all, then its resolutions must mean something.

There is more and more evidence surfacing that shows Saddam had a relationship with Al-Queda. I don’t’ think anyone has tried to convince the public that Saddam was the mastermind behind 9/11. Saddam was seeking to work with Al-Queda. We aren’t sure how far down that path he had gotten, but it was only a matter of time. Everyone in the world (except a few real nuts) thought Saddam had WMD’s before we went into Iraq. While we haven’t found the huge quantities we thought before we went in, we have found some. If we are going to really look at politics with fresh eyes, then we have to ask the question, “Is there a potential that Saddam had WMD’s that he simply moved before we invaded?” This happened with his air force prior to the first Gulf War. Could it have happened again?

But even putting all of that aside, removing Saddam was the right thing to do. He was a brutal dictator who killed many, many of his people. He tortured others (and I don’t mean waterboarding) and would often send bills for the execution of prisoners to that prisoners family to pay. If there is evil in the world, Saddam represented that evil with power.

The fate of Iraq is still up in the air. The Iraqi people have been given a chance to experience freedom. They have been given a chance to give their children a democratic government. There is still a lot of work to be done. However, freeing the people of Iraq to determine their own coarse, free of the fear of Saddams evil is surely a Christian thing to do, and the right thing to do.

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