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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Renewing a Vision

I've been thinking some lately about goals. One of the images I carry from my childhood is of a poster in some classroom that showed a bullseye target with several arrows hitting the ground in front of it. The caption read, "If you aim at nothing; you're bound to hit it." There's nothing earthshaking in that statement, but it's a nice visual - and sometimes visual aids make all the difference.

As I approach the one year anniversary of this blog, it occurs to me that I've really been aiming at nothing. I've basically used it as a soapbox to spout on whatever topic happens to cross my mind that day. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that - it's led me to thinking in depth about some topics that might not otherwise have stayed in my mind long. But I'd like to be able to say that there's a reason for what I'm doing.

And the truth is, there was a reason when I started blogging. I had discovered long ago that the narrow construction of faith advanced by the Religious Right was just too confining. It was, to me, a hollow religion that required little of its adherents - from my perspective, that list of necessary "to do's" included: 1) Oppose abortion; 2) Fight against the "gay agenda"; and 3) Vote Republican. Even questioning one of these central tenets seems to necessarily lead to charges that a person isn't a "real" Christian or that they need to pray (presumably to change their ways and toe the line) or something similar. To be fair, I want to state that not everyone on the right would fit that mold, but, for me, it was too often the case. I also know that there are plenty of people on the political right that wish the Religious Right would just shut up and go away - and the sooner the better. These groups, from my point of view, seem to have little influence over either the Religious Right or the political right - though the struggle for the latter is much more contested than for the former.

But I also found that the left side of the political divide was also too confining. I discovered that there are some people on the left who just don't "get" religion - or, to be more precise, faith. They believe it is something you wear inside you, never showing it to anyone and never speaking of it to anyone. Any mention of Christianity, in particular, was met with charges of being a right-wing nut-job. Yet some 76% of Americans readily identify themselves as a Christian. Now, this is down significantly from the 1990 survey, but it hardly stands to reason that the Religious Right makes up over three-fourths of our country. It certainly isn't true of me.

There is a small group on the left that are somewhat vocal about simply hating all religion. I know I've gotten my share of hate email because I have the gall to identify myself openly as a Christian. Religion is the "opiate of the masses" and it keeps people fat, dumb, and happily distracted from what their leaders are doing. There is also a group on the left that are simply anti-Christianity - they readily defend Muslims, Hindus, and all manner of minor religions but are caught up in a struggle against "religious oppression". Too often, these groups are the left's equivalent of the Religious Right - fanatics who refuse to see the possibility of any legitimate position that isn't the one they've taken.

The bigger problem with the left, however, is the overwhelming number of "separationists", as I will call them. They will kindly listen to any discussion about faith, values, and politics. Then they will nod sagaciously and say something to the effect that, "I believe that religion and politics should be kept entirely separate." This has led to all types of superfluous arguments about what the meaning of the Constitution is and who meant what when they wrote things down more than 200 years ago. From my admittedly non-neutral position, it's all a bunch of misrepresentations (to be kind) by both sides. A pox on both your houses!

My purpose in blogging, which I've tended to stray from fairly easily, is to show that a person can remain a Christian and still be politically liberal. In fact, I've tried to show that my liberal politics grows directly from my Christian faith. To ask me to leave my faith outside of the polling station is like asking a fish to get out of the water. It shows a complete disregard and misunderstanding of what faith really is.

Because of the recent success of Tim Kaine, Jr in Virginia - who deflected criticism on the death penalty against charges that his Catholicism would prevent him from signing a death warrant by saying that he will obey the law of the land rather than the dictates of his faith - I'm told occasionally that it is possible to do what I hold is impossible. Kaine, I'm told, proves that you can leave your faith outside the door of your politics. Again, I think this completely misses the truth of the issue. If a bill to outlaw crossed Kaine's desk, who really thinks that his faith would not play an important part in his decision to sign it or not? Since Virginia limits its governor to only one term, there would be no electoral consequences. If Kaine is really opposed to the death penalty - regardless of whether it is because of church doctrine or scholastic discipline - then he would sign it and be proud of it.

What Kaine is saying is that his faith teaches him to obey the law of the land and that he is willing to pay the spiritual price for doing so. He isn't leaving his faith behind, he's wearing it like a shroud. It simply leads him to a different stance that what we are used to seeing from someone who is open about their faith.

I believe in religious freedom. Faith teaches that there is more to life than just dying with the most toys. There is a "Great Accounting" that comes afterwards. If it does nothing but make use kinder to our fellow humans, then it has not been a waste of time. But because no one on this side of death knows for certain what comes afterwards, we cannot reject the claims of dissenting, or divergent, faiths. We must embrace a society which allows all of us to speak openly about our innermost beliefs - and when some of them conflict with others, we should respect each other enough to allow those differences to thrive.

Faith can be an opiate, and the addicted will give up everything they love for more of it. But it can also grant liberation, tolerance, and understanding. American values include the right to worship as is dictated by the whispers in the deepest corners of your heart. Faith is accountable to no one but God - whatever God your faith follows. It is our right as Americans, and it has remained a vital reason why the "poor huddled masses" reach for our shores. It is a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence claims that it is a right bestowed upon humanity by our Creator directly, without intervention by man.

This is why I began blogging: so more people could feel comfortable speaking unpopular truths about their faith and how it impacts their politics. I can't promise I won't stray - in fact, I'll say that I'm very likely to stray before the end of the week. But I will do my utmost to return to that reason. My efforts may occasionally miss the mark, but I will never quit shooting for it.

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