Tuesday, November 02, 2010

God and Country

For god and country sing
So loud that rafters ring
And people loudly pray
For victory in the fray
And to humble enemies
In politics and life
So we may so please
Ourselves with ungodly strife

As we center on the mid-term elections and live through the endless billions of dollars in political advertising, I am reminded of a time when my Uncle Steve returned from WW II and presented our family with a captured Wehrmacht issue leather belt with a silver colored buckle emblazoned “Gott Mit Uns.” “God is with us.” Most of us now see that slogan as presumptive, at best, and yet the attempts to bring God into war and politics never cease. My major objection to the sloganeering is that God does not fight wars or run for office and those who invoke God in their partisan endeavors do not speak either for God or me (or you). This alone may be the leading cause supporting atheism, but it does nothing to advance the cause for humanity. It does seem to assist in the pursuit of ignorance in that we can inject God into the trivial or the bizarre to immunize our lies from inspection or to attack the opposition. In recent weeks, we have witnessed the commingling of images of the Constitution, a deliberately non-sectarian document, with religion to immunize the Constitution itself from analysis and to tie “original language” to some undefined fundamentalist concept that was omitted by the writers.

This political season has resounded with cries of returning to the basics, but with images of violence, political and media programs of intolerance and deliberate violation of the Ten Commandments in other ways such as bearing false witness. Why pretend that God is on our side? If he/she were, then the basics are really twisted and God is more capricious than constant. That is probably not as good a bet as the possibility that some people scam the God thing and pretend that anybody who disagrees is sinful and worthy of condemnation, or stoning or maybe a bombing as a teachable moment.

In the bad old days of yore, the Soviet Union (then officially atheist) claimed freedom of religion. You could have any religion you liked. Unfortunately, you could not simultaneously do so and have a job. Jobs were controlled by the State and only professed atheists could hold jobs. Back in the mid sixties, I was on an assignment in eastern Turkey and visited with the pastor of a church in Diyarbakir that dated back to the early third century. The priest was exasperated because, through social pressure, Christians could not practice their religion and simultaneously hold jobs in a way that reminded me of Russia, but without any official sanction. His parish was down to about a dozen families and failing rapidly despite the many bones and relics in dusty shrines. The Baptist church in town was simply blowing in the wind with a few pigeons roosting on the ledge of a broken window inscribed “Gift of the American Bible Society.” More recently, Christians were murdered in their churches by fundamentalists in Iraq despite “Freedom of Religion” being enshrined in their interim constitution.

Here in these United States, we also profess freedom of religion and yet there are a couple of unique twists here that do not exist in most other modern nations. We seem to mix the religious with the profane in unique ways. It is not unusual in some parts of our country to have a common prayer before a football game or a civic meeting although it is sometimes a silent prayer to avoid embarrassing anyone. I vividly recall praying the Lord’s Prayer in junior high and being extremely conscious of the prayer being the Protestant version and not the one I learned as a young Roman Catholic. It was uncomfortable. I also recall living in the American South and traveling in the rural areas in the early sixties. Billboards and local fliers actually depicted John F. Kennedy as the devil incarnate or as a minion of the Pope who was also of the devil. This was true in Georgia and Alabama and it reminded me that the First Amendment right of free speech was never coupled with the responsibility to be either civil or truthful. In some ways, this was a fear of the unknown for them because Catholics were rare in staunchly fundamentalist rural areas. It was simultaneously frightening and comic. Anti-Catholic/anti-Kennedy billboards were interspersed with the more ubiquitous “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards.

Another twist that makes our nation curiously unique in this blending of religion and life is that politics and power may directly join into an explosive mixture resulting in groups such as the Ku Klux Klan that have shown tremendous negative power in our nation. It is a militancy that is reminiscent of the current Taliban. It is also reminiscent of the strident mixing of patriotism with religion. The result is that unless you personally subscribe to a particular brand of fundamental religion, you may be called unpatriotic, or worse, a traitor, but at least a “Socialist” or perhaps “Nazi.” Once this happens, then the degeneration is complete. We see the ends-means inversion where extremists screaming for liberty have lately physically attacked those who do not agree with either the means or the ends. Fundamentalism then also justifies vile lies in order to reach some ultimate truth. Election season only highlights the phenomenon. It is always with us. Sometimes it is under the surface as when we see hyper-patriots wave the flag a bit too much and sometimes it becomes a full blown assault where God is the club used to beat the crap out of logic and imagined enemies. It is ironic that Jesus is quoted as reminding the Pharisees to separate God and country when he asked “Whose image is on the coin?”

The ugly truth is that when we use God as the point of our spear to impale our enemies, we defile ourselves, our neighbors, and that very God that we pretend to love. It is also ironic that the very same First Amendment to the Constitution that permits all speech, including hateful speech, also prohibits the union of church and state. Reactionaries will demand the union of their fundamentalist beliefs with the state in the same breath. We must join to deny it. In this election, we have seen Tea Party violence against adversaries in isolated cases and we have seen the media glorify the activity. Don’t be fooled. As long as we merge God and Country, there will always be a fundamentalist fringe. Tea Party signs are only recycled hate from other groups and earlier times. It is an old idea with a new name. As for a “return to the basics,” women could not vote and married women could not enter into contracts. Slaves were worth 3/5 of a person for representation. Search and seizure was physical and not electronic. The new burden on our society is to actually read the Constitution and the amendments to embrace them with a discussion of how they apply instead of forging them into weapons to bludgeon our neighbors.

George Giacoppe
01 November 2010

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