Church, State, and the Whole Crazy Thing

I seldom have debates with people about religion or politics.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that those are arguments you can never win.

So instead, I’ll take the passive-aggressive route and write a blog post about religion and politics.

When it comes to my belief systems, I’m sort of purist.  I don’t have much patience for people who like to hand-pick things to believe in.  The Bible is a great example of this.  People like to pick out certain verses of scripture that go along with the things they want to believe.  They take that and run, while completely disregarding the whole message.

Our constitution is another good example of this.

Folks love to talk about freedom of speech and of religion, but usually they think it only applies to their speech and religion.  When someone offends them, suddenly their beliefs in freedoms get a little murkier.  Just lately, the whole “separation of church and state” thing seems to be of growing concern.

Here’s the thing: if you truly believe in separation of church and state, then it has to be all the time, not just when it’s convenient or easy.  Same-sex marriage is a real hot button issue, and to a lot of people it doesn’t have anything to do with church and state, but I think it has everything to do with it.  Who is opposed to same-sex marriage? The various religious communities who say that marriage is sanctified by God as the union of a man and woman.  Those religious communities have every right to believe that.  (Freedom of religion, remember?) So from my perspective, the government can’t come in and tell a church they have to allow same-sex marriage.  If a church doesn’t want to do that, then they don’t have to.  It shouldn’t be up to a vote or a town council whether it’s okay.

There’s a flip side, though.

If a government wants to allow a non-religious civil union between same-sex partners, then the church has no jurisdiction to stop it.  Right?  Separation of church and state.

Here’s another one that I find particularly outrageous: some Catholic-based institutions were recently mandated by the Department of Health and Human Resources to provide abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization to their employees.  Then the government (aka the state) stepped in to determine if the Catholic Church’s protests to this mandate were valid.  Here’s a little lesson for those who don’t know–the Catholic Church does not believe in abortion at any stage, artificial contraception, or voluntary sterilization.  The government has no right to step in and make the Church violate those beliefs.

However, this country is strongly Protestant, and so most of have been brainwashed into thinking that the Catholic Church has waged a war on women and women’s rights.  In short, based on the public reaction, people think the government should be able to tell the Catholic Church what to believe, and how to practice those beliefs.  The Catholic Church has had these same beliefs for centuries, and millions of Catholic women believe in them just as strongly–no, correction, they believe in them even more strongly than the men, since it affects them personally.

How would we feel if the government suddenly stepped up and declared that Baptists having church on Sundays wasn’t appropriate anymore?  Maybe the government might decide to appoint ministers to make sure a fair and equal message was being spread to all.  Can you say “communism?”

So my point is this: separation of church and state means just that–separation.  Freedom of speech and religion applies to everyone, not just Baptists and people who share your opinion.  The government has no business sticking its nose in people’s religion.  I certainly don’t want them telling me what to believe.  I have a hard enough time figuring that out for myself.

What about you?  Do you need the government to guide your religion?  Do you want them telling you what you already believe is wrong?

I didn’t think so.

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A Matter of (not so) Great Faith

I am a Doubting Thomas.

Well, that could be an understatement. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, when Jesus arose from the dead, one of his disciples (Thomas) insisted on seeing the nail holes in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side.  So history refers to him as Doubting Thomas.  Well, let’s put it this way–I would have probably asked Jesus for two forms of ID as well.

Being raised by a Baptist minister means I have quite an impressive body of religious knowledge.  The Grandfather has a very cut and dry view of things, religious or otherwise.  It is how it is (in his mind) and everything else is wrong.  He has great faith and little doubt.  He believes in God’s plan.

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that there are two things you don’t discuss with your friends–religion and politics.  You are just asking for an argument.  There is no doubt that some people will be offended by my view (or lack thereof) of all things religious.  But it’s been on my mind lately, and since I never have learned to keep my opinions to myself, I figure I might as well get it over with.

Is every single little thing we do controlled by a higher power?  Some people may not realize this, but I am very open-minded person.  I always try to consider all points of view, to the point of being paralyzed at times.  I also always try to think of things with common sense and logic, and I can’t help being a little doubtful that God really cares who wins a football game, or a NASCAR race (hail Mary fulla grace……) If you believe in God, and that He created us, then you know He gave us a brain, and the ability to make choices.  Why is that?  If everything was laid out on a path that we cannot deviate from, then why aren’t we just a bunch of puppets on strings?  It even says in the Bible that if you “honor your father and mother,” your days will be long on the earth.  Doesn’t that imply that we have a choice about how we are going to live our lives, and if we can lengthen our days, can’t we perhaps shorten them as well? Food for thought……

I go through religious extremes.  Sometimes, I think it would be easier not to believe in God at all.  I see my sister, and my daughter, and others like them, and I can’t help but ask, “What’s the point?”  This summer within a few days of each other, three people under the age of thirty lost their lives in two different car accidents.  Three families devastated and changed forever.  When I think of my daughter, sometimes I wonder if maybe I did something bad that sort of trickled down on her.  To quote Stephen King, “….if you put your ear to that door, you could hear the winds of madness blowing inside.”  In other words, I don’t even want to know.  Yeah, it would be easier not to believe in God, because the alternative is just too damn depressing.

Then, at times, I go to the other extreme.  Dave Barry (one of my favorite humor writers) says he believes in practicing as many religions as possible, “just in case.”  I think this is a sound theory.  I’ve always been fascinated by Catholicism.  I don’t think a priest can abolish your sins, but it sure would be nice if he could.  I just like the formality of it, plus I think it’s cool that they believe so much in things that others view as “superstitious.”  Also, the bingo and drinking thing is pretty awesome.  Baptists have to drink in secret and confine their activities to pot luck dinners and baptisms.  Let’s face it, once you’ve seen one person get dunked in the water, you’ve seen them all (I’m going straight to hell, aren’t I?)  The only other major hobby of Baptists is getting mad and splitting off to form another church.  Eventually, each Baptist will attend church alone, in their own building (now popularly being called a “worship center.”)  But I digress. 

Anyway, religion is a tricky subject.  I want to be one of these faithful, highly confident people who don’t fear the future, or question the present, or wonder if God even exists at all, but I’m not. I don’t know how to be.  Sometimes I wonder if He created our universe, and then turned us loose.  Then sometimes I wonder if we drove Him away, or disbelieved Him right out of existence.  It’s a circular thought process that never ends for me.  I’d hate to find out God doesn’t exist, but I’d doubly hate to find out He does, and that He’s pissed at me for doubting Him for most of my adult life. 

All I can do is hang out here and ride my fence, I guess, and try to cover all of my bases.  I’ve got to go.  I don’t want to be late for Mass……or Temple.


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