Religion and Politics (Yes, Really!)
I am writing this because I know that, some years from now, I might want to remember this election. I'm hoping that I will. At the least, I think this election represents a turning point for me in terms of political awareness and in definitely finding where I stand on issues I hadn't much considered before and in finding my place under the very broad cultural umbrella "American."
Religion in Politics
The other day, I was reading a few articles about Sarah Palin's religious beliefs. She's been connected to all sorts of wonky things, like having witches cast out of her and belonging to churches that work to expel demons and practice "spiritual warfare"; she's been associated with the Pentecostal church, an organization that promotes the idea of a personal connection with Christ through talking in tongues. (Which, incidentally, was featured in The Scarlet Letter. Shall we bring back stockades and crimson badges of shame too??)
So, of course, people jumped on this, which of course caused some Christians to have that kneejerk shout of "Persecution!" and claiming that Palin was being unfairly singled out for her religious beliefs that have nothing to do with her suitability to be the next-in-line to the Presidency. (Arguable, but ...)
Now, in all honesty, I do empathize with Christians of all stripes--even the fundamentalist ones--who practice their beliefs quietly and don't go about trying to foist their ways upon heathens like me. Their brethren give them a very bad name, and just as I treasure my right to my own wonky set of beliefs, so I think this should be preserved for others too. But, at the same time, I hope that with both history and current events showing their religion, in general, to be a nastily intolerant and sometimes downright violent one, then they can understand how people like me nearly dislocate an optic nerve from rolling our eyes so hard whenever we hear a Christian shout, "Persecution!"
But this discussion of Palin and her religious beliefs got me thinking about religion in politics beyond Christian fundamentalism. This election is being hailed as one that has broken all sorts of barriers in terms of making the highest office in the land open to more than just old, rich white guys. But one major barrier remains: I don't think that a non-Christian has a snowball's chance in Hell of ever making a serious showing in a Presidential race in today's world. And no one is talking about this.
Of course, I'm thrilled that the Presidency is now achievable by women and minorities. (I hope that tomorrow will underscore several times the latter!) But does anyone honestly think that if an atheist or a Moslem or a Wiccan or even an innocent fence-sitting agnostic like me ever ran for President, that we'd stand a chance?
Presidential candidates are always asserting their faith. They always belong to a church and that affiliation is broadcast as though it matters (look at Obama's trouble with Jeremiah Wright and now Palin's questionable associations); there is the stock footage of them walking out of church with their families; there is the requisite "Gawd bless America!" at the end of every speech. They are always asserting their faith with the clear understanding that it must be a Christian faith. The lone non-Christian candidate that I can remember was Lieberman in 2000, and I remember lots of delicately anti-Semitic, "But what if there's an emergency on a Saturday? On his Sabbath??" as though Lieberman had never contemplated this contingency, and though people never ask the same about what Christian candidates will do if their duties take them from church on a Sunday.
Consider Obama: his campaign has spent much time and energy dispelling rumors that he is a Moslem. Not whether he was an extremist but whether he practiced the Islamic faith at all. Once his purported connections to Islam were over, the argument was over. I understand why his campaign couldn't say this, but I would have liked for someone to have asked, "And so what if he's a Moslem? Why does that automatically disqualify him?" Because it does. Does anyone honestly believe that Obama would be top o' the ticket tomorrow if he was a Moslem? Never mind that mainstream Moslems are far less scary than the fundamentalists Palin is palling around with ...
Personally, I would love a candidate who was either atheist, agnostic, or a religious minority. Not because I'm agnostic but because I think that these are the people who understand better than anyone why religious freedom and the separation of church and state are of utmost importance; these are the people who will protect religious freedom for all, not just those lucky enough to be in the mainstream.
So, as heartened as I am by Hillary Clinton (and, yes, Palin too *sigh*) that my gender no longer bars me from the highest office of the country, then I still can't believe that it would ever be a possibility for me, if I was interested in a career in politics. Because I'm agnostic, and that bars me from a lot of possibilities available to Christians. How is that fair? And why doesn't this bother fair-minded people a lot more than it does?
Liberals and Conservatives
Before this election, of course, I knew the difference between liberals and conservatives. Once upon a time, I got a perfect score on the State-required "citizenship test" in high school. Yet, despite knowing their differing stances on the ideal role of the government and fiscal policy and personal responsibility, I always thought of liberals and conservatives in terms of the issues that tended to cluster around those larger philosophies. For example, liberals are "pro-choice" and conservatives are "pro-life"; conservatives want to privatize Social Security and liberals don't; conservatives want to shut off funding to many programs but never the military and liberals want to throw money at everything (including the military ... can I get a pacifist candidate alongside my religious minority? *sigh*)
Throughout all of this, I never understood Republicans much. My next-door neighbor Bob was born and raised in Carroll County and so is a red Republican just like 90% of the county, but I never understood why. He is an agnostic, and he has a gay son. From my perspective, being exceedingly concerned about preserving religious freedom for everyone and defending the rights of same-sex couples, it didn't make much sense that someone who has many of the same interests as me could vote consistently for a party that would happily force Christianity into his life and believes that his son can be "taught" to be straight and, until then, deserves to be treated as a second-class citizen.
But, of course, until this election, I mostly associated Republicans as the party favored (and largely populated by) religious fundamentalists because of my own concerns and interests as a voter. I know that that is just one facet of modern conservatism in the United States.
Yet the motley association of philosophies that is the Republican party never made much sense to me. You have people who defend states' rights calling for a federal amendment banning gay marriage; you have people who want the government to butt out of people's personal lives trying to make abortion illegal. You have fiscal conservatives voting for Bush, who was anything but fiscally conservative. You have conservatives railing against socialism while supporting a party that consistently votes for corporate welfare.
I know the Democrats don't make perfect sense on issues either. Gun control will always be a headscratcher for me. ("We love the Constitution! We uphold the Constitution! Except the Second Amendment! Piss on that!") But there does seem to my biased eye to be more consistency in the values liberals believe in than the circus of the filthy rich, religious fundamentalists, and those with a genuine, thoughtful belief in conservative ideals beyond their own self-interest.
I've seen it said that Sarah Palin is the one holding the mirror up to the Republican party and causing many not to like what they see. For example, numerous "intellectual" conservatives have jumped ship because of how thoroughly she denigrates anyone who uses his or her brain on a regular basis. When looking at the passion with which religious nuts and white supremacists have cleaved to her, I would jump ship too. I just have trouble imagining someone who has spent years studying and learning and developing a conservative ideology in the mob at McCain rallies screaming "Kill him!" about Obama or in a board room scheming for tax breaks and government subsidies for multi-billion-dollar corporations.
Well, this election has proven that I'm not alone in this. Apparently, a lot of conservatives have started wondering the same thing.
This election has proven to me that I am most certainly not a conservative. In my younger years, I called myself a fiscal conservative. Older and, hopefully, wiser, I no longer do so. When we used to get HBO in the House of Felagund, we used to watch Bill Maher every week, and he would often ask the following question of conservatives: If you don't trust the government to oversee things like health care and social security, then why would you ever trust a corporation whose primary goal is going to be making a profit on that entity, not providing optimal service to its "customers"? I know that there are problems with the government--heck, I work for them!--but I'd still gladly take a lazy and dull-witted bureaucrat any day over a leech trying to suck me dry of all I'm worth to add an eighth Cadillac to the fleet; I'd sooner trust myself to an organization that measures success in terms of how well it serves the population and not how much of a profit it has made.
For example, during a recent interview, Joe Biden was asked if Obama wanted to turn the US into a socialist country "like Sweden." During the final debate, McCain cracked that if people wanted the kind of healthcare Obama wanted to offer, maybe they should go to Canada or England. Bobby and I kind of sat in stunned silence for a moment after that and then slowly said to each other, "We want what they have in Canada and England" ... and yes, that evil socialist Sweden too! It seems to me that children in those countries aren't dying because their parents have the wrong insurance ... or none at all. And it seems to me that these "socialist" countries that require companies to give their employees things like sick days or can't fire people for taking a day off when a kid gets sick is much better than what we have too. (Like keeping company with Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland as only four countries without paid maternity leave! Yay us!)
The other day, on the discussion board for one of my classes, we were discussing topics for a research paper, and one guy was writing about how he wanted to compare Italy and the US in terms of "progress" and how "progress" is not always a good thing. How one can, indeed, have too much progress and we reach a point where stagnation is the best thing we can do.
In this, I realize that I absolutely cannot abide with the conservative ideal here. Stagnation is stagnation: It's good for growing mosquitoes and little else. What makes us unique as humans? It is our ability to adapt to nearly any circumstances. Look at some of the most forbidding lands on the planet and you'll still, likely, find humans there. We're scrawny and weak, and our sensory capacities can't even come close to most of our cousins in the Animal Kingdom, but we can live and survive almost anywhere because we can adapt to almost anything. Which requires progress: seeing our current existence and always imagining something better and working to achieve it.
I simply cannot imagine why someone would want to live in a society without progress. In fact, even beyond the human species, isn't it the way the world works that everything is always evolving toward something better? Isn't it against the laws of nature to dig in one's heels and insist on staying put or *crosses self* going backward? That doesn't mean that everything that we try necessarily equates to progress, but don't we have to keep trying? Isn't that the point??
Sarah Palin has caused me significant discomfort. Not because her beliefs are at such odds with mine--I usually revel in this, the opportunity to sharpen my rhetorical and verbal claws on someone like her!--but because she has made me question my sexist inclinations. Which, for a strident feminist, is not comfortable introspection.
When McCain first announced her as the VP candidate, I--like 99.9% of Americans--had never heard of her. But I was thrilled. I remember talking to Bobby on the phone and saying, "At least he picked a woman! I think it's so cool that he picked a woman!" Despite the fact that I had decided on Obama long before the primaries were even over, I really didn't want to contemplate a Republican candidate who was a completely boorish misogynist, which McCain's beliefs on abortion and lack of support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act led me to believe he might be. There is a chance he could be President, after all, and I really didn't want to live under such an administration (again).
Of course, I quickly came to realize that, yes, he had picked a woman--but why, oh why did he pick the scariest woman in the entire US?? I can't even say "the scariest woman in the continental US," which would be my normal rant! No, she is the scariest woman in the entire US.
I happily jumped on the bipartisan bandwagon of people who loathed Sarah Palin. I honestly felt sick to my stomach watching her wink and wiggle during the VP debate.
But because I am a navel-gazing liberal, my reaction to her was not off-limits for analysis--far from it! I wondered how I would react to a Palinesque male candidate: someone who was good-looking and charismatic and played to the audience. Was my reaction to Palin so negative because she was a woman?
I like to think that even a handsome, cutesy boneheaded male candidate could not win me, especially if he was of the same deplorable mindsets on some issues as Palin is. I don't know that he would get under my skin the way that she does ... and maybe that makes me sexist. However, I think part of it too is that women have worked hard to get to the point where they can compete with men in terms of abilities and need not fall back to being "hot" or "cute" or playing to a camera. If the woman's two brain cells had ever met, I might forgive her for being annoying. McCain annoys me too, especially when he's on the split-screen during debates and looks like he's sitting in a wind tunnel--what's up with that? Biden's very bright white smile and tendency to refer to himself in third person annoys me. But McCain and Biden, when it comes down to it, are intelligent people and have earned their respective places on the ballot tomorrow. With Palin, I get the impression that she was picked for her appeal to the ugly underbelly of the Republican party and because she's "hot" and "cute" and not above using sex to sell the Republican message, not because she has anything legitimate to contribute in terms of experience or ideas.
How deplorable--that we should finally get a woman in the VP spot on the Presidential ballot and she has to be a woman chosen for her bass-ackwards values and her "sexy librarian" looks. Is this really what women have been working for?
So, on the night before the big day, these are the thoughts that have been wrangling in my brain for the past few months. Now, it's off to watch the SNL Presidential special and let's hope that the next post I make comes with celebration!