Sunday, May 20, 2007

Politics and Religion

But first, two random things.

1. If you don't have a balance ball, you absolutely must get one. They are only about $25, and they are fun. And the workout DVD from Gaiam kicks your butt. I'm thinking of buying one for my desk at work because my chair is horrible and broken (I smashed my finger in it this weekend).

2. My stomach hurts. I was supposed to go into work today, too, but I didn't because who wants to sit at their desk when they have stomach cramps

3. As a bonus, the new Robin Williams movie looks amazingly stupid.

OK. We talk about politics a lot at work. No surprise, considering what we do and who we do it for. Here in south Louisiana, and I suppose in the South in general, that also necessitates discussing religion. And, needless to say, the media has been discussing politics, religion, and politics and religion a lot over this past week, given the death of You Know Who (I like the idea of casting Jerry Falwell as Voldemort. Sorry, God and J.K. Rowling).

All of my immediate co-workers fall somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum, ranging from right next to center to pretty far left. In terms of religion, though it is a whole 'nother ballgame.

My boss grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, Catholic university, and even considered becoming a priest. Just one hitch - he's gay. Needless to say, the Catholic church wasn't the most hospitable and supporting environment to come to terms with your sexuality. He no longer practices any religion, but would probably describe himself as a Christian Humanist, with overtones of Buhddism.

Another co-worker was raised Southern Baptist, in a family full of preachers. Yeah, he rebelled. A lot. He no longer practices anything either, but would probably agree that he is culturally Christian.

My final co-worker (we are a very small department, but growing by 2 in the next two weeks) was raised by academics who were not involved in any religion at all. She could be considered, at most, agnostic, but still culturally Christian, thanks to being raised in south Louisiana, where the Catholic church is imbued in every aspect of society.

Then there is me. Raised Catholic by a Catholic father (who, interestingly, also considered the priesthood) and a Lutheran mother. I never rebelled as a child, or really, as an adult. I've taken a couple hiatuses from the active practice of my faith for a variety of reasons, but not actually from belief. And in the past couple of years, I've realized that I am more comfortable in the Lutheran Church than in the Catholic Church for a variety of theological reasons (I've written about them briefly in the past, perhaps I'll go into more detail if someone asks nicely).

Now, what does this have to do with politics? Plenty. With very few exceptions (most of them residing in the two Lutheran congregations in town and the UCC congregation), being Christian in this city means being Republican and conservative. Even most of the Catholics I've encountered are Republican, which is a direct contrast to the Northeast. If it comes out, that you are an active Christian, people assume that you love W, support the Iraq War, oppose legalized abortion and stem cell research, and think the death penalty should be applied more frequently.

So at first, I kind of shocked my coworkers when I agreed with their more liberal viewpoints. But the interesting thing to me is that we arrive at those conclusions for different reasons. I believe in some kind of universal healthcare because I take seriously Christ's instruction to care for the least among us. I believe that we should be out of Iraq because there are innocent lives being lost for no reason - there is no justice in this war. I believe in the importance of stem cell research because I believe that knowledge is a gift from God, and if the researchers are able to use their knowledge and embyros that would otherwise be destroyed to save lives, that must be a gift as well. And I believe the death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of true repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. (I'm choosing not to discuss abortion here, because my thoughts on this issue would fill pages themselves, and to summarize them in a sentence would be to be misunderstood).

Today, no fewer than three Sunday political shows I watched and/or listened to discussed whether or not there was anyone from the evangelical movement prepared to fill Jerry Falwell's shoes. They discussed the usual suspects, and added in a few "hot" names - Rick Warren, Jim Wallis, some guy in Florida, etc. They said the interesting thing about these new guys is that they believe that as important as the hot-button issues of the Republican Party are (abortion, immigration, same-sex relationships) are, they are so focused on the moral message of the Gospel, that they are ignoring Christ's compassion. These contemporary messangers of the religious right (though I might argue against putting Wallis in there) support AIDS research and assistance for Africa. They are all about environmental issues. While they are against amnesty for illegal immigrants, they believe in providing humanitarian aid.

What does all this mean? I have no idea. I do know that I still firmly believe that politics and religion should not be bedfellows under any circumstances. I believe that separation of church and state exists to protect both entities. And though I support funding faith-based agencies that provide human services, I believe those agencies should not prosletyse or preach, unless their clients specifically request such action.

I suppose all this is just to say that I have a proposal to work on and I don't want to. It was this, or my rant about the education system in the country, and I don't have what I want to say about that fully formed.

I'm going back to my proposal now. If I get bored, expect my thoughts on stained glass windows. They are many and varied.

1 comment:

Dudley Sharp said...

you write:

I believe the death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of true repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.

All death does that and God certainly approves of us dying because of our sins. That is why we die. biblically speaking. We all, also, have the opportunity for repentance, forgiveness and redemption prior to our deaths, be it from execution, murder, cancer, car wreck or old age issues.

I hope these references are of interest, below.

Sincerely, dudley sharp,

(1)  "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at
(2)  "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective" at
(3) "The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)", by R. Michael Dunningan, J.D., J.C.L., CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003
(6) Forgotten Truths: "Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty", by Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007