Sunday, February 24, 2008

John McCain's Alleged Scarlet Letter

The recent New York Times article on John McCain was nothing but a witch hunt of gossip and innuendo. If the article showed anything of substance, it was that our politicians, of necessity, must work in a dark wood of ethical pitfalls and dilemmas. Contrary to the article’s intent, I was impressed by the priority that McCain gives to ethics and by the corrections that he has made after committing ethical lapses. Unlike other politicians who lie, rationalize and deny, John McCain has owned up to his mistakes. Unfortunately, for many people, that’s not good enough.

Puritanism is very much alive and well in the media and public square of America. The Puritans believed in an Elect, that God had pre-elected who was to be saved. They believed that the Elect were morally perfect, that the Elect lived among everyone else, but that no one could be sure who they were. The motivation to behave morally was that, even though you couldn’t know for sure, there was a possibility that you might be among the Elect. In that society, if you sinned, you were damned forever, with no possibility of redemption. That is the attitude that the media and most American citizens still have towards our Presidential candidates.

This is why the politics of “gotcha” among the media and politicians is such a popular sport—if they can catch you in a few or just one good, “gotcha,” you’re toast. With the media, any sin, hypocrisy, or excess of flip-flopping in a Presidential candidate’s past is sufficient to make them unfit for office, forever. That is one reason why, when politicians are accused of wrongdoing, they go into denial--if they confess and come clean, their career may be over. Net-net, wrong doing remains hidden, festers and is never expurgated. This legacy of Puritanism has made hypocrites of both us and our politicians. Ultimately, it reinforces the very thing that it overtly opposes. It is unfortunate that politics, government, and the public square in America are such a dark wood of scrupulosity, condemnation and hypocrisy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Christians and Atheists Together

I think we should form a group composed of Christians and atheists who want to have respect for each other and are willing to engage in dialogue, in an effort find common ground. Such a group would be good for both religion and political life. One of the group's goals would be to inculcate respect in churches and society at large.

A friend who is an atheist sent me this (used with her permission):

“so i have this new client at an onsite freelance gig. she's a very nice lady, but wow, does she talk about prayer and jesus a lot. i've kept my thoughts quiet and nod and smile, but i think she assumes i'm a born again too.

“she did ask if i didn’t like talking about god, and i was like, "oh on the contrary, i LOVE theological debates, i just don't want to offend anyone with my opinions, that’s all.

“she's a really nice lady, but i'm slightly worried that if she were to find out that i'm an atheist, she would treat me differently. then again, she knows i'm an artist. and most people should know by now that we're hardly saintly, lol.

"tonight is my 3rd official day at the job, and i've gathered that she seems kinda lonely to me. i overheard her talking on the phone to a friend along the lines of...'but you shouldnt condemn them, maybe they are sick in the head. we are supposed to pray for these people, not punish them or look down on them' and that struck me as a decent human being. she definitely means well, and i think she has the best intentions.

"i negotiated a lower rate for her since its an easy job for me, and its kinda fun. she's constantly praising my work and she said she already really likes working with me. she talks about being blessed a lot, and i don't really mind that at all. however, when she mentioned that men are higher in the hierarchy than compared to women, because woman came from adam's rib... i tried my best not to counter attack. i just said, 'i don't really know about that'

"yes, i held my tongue! i'm just gonna see how long this all lasts before we end up in some theological debate. as for now, i'm keeping my mouth shut. i like getting paid a decent hourly wage for really easy work."

One Reaction that I Have:

Believe it or not, I have been in her shoes, that is, fearing that I won’t be respected by a person who has different beliefs.

When I was a freshman in college, I had a roommate who was a member of the school’s Christian Fellowship. All of his friends were members of the Christian Fellowship, and so I got to know most of that group. Naturally, my roommate invited me to some of their gatherings. They knew that I was a Catholic, and one of the student leaders liked to make a point of criticizing Catholicism to me. This was 1973, and that particular student happened to be a Baptist from Texas. He was arrogant, close minded, and loudmouthed. One peculiar thing though was that many regular members of the Christian Fellowship, including another leader (who is a priest today) were Catholic. One time, after making a criticism of Catholicism to me, he turned around, and I heard him say to the people behind him that, “Actually, Catholics are O.K.”


The faculty advisor to the Christian Fellowship was very anti-Catholic. Once, the school hosted an “ecumenical” meeting of all the Christian denominations in the area. The Catholics were represented by a well-known Jesuit priest who was the president of Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City. To the Christian Fellowship members, the man who was faculty advisor expressed intense criticism of the Jesuits because, among other things, the formal name of the Jesuits is The Society of Jesus. (Can’t you think of anything better to criticize?). Once when I and others were sitting at a cafeteria table with the faculty advisor, unprompted, he took out paper and a pen, and drew a diagram explaining to me about God, Grace, Heaven, Earth and man. Now I had had 12 years of Catholic schooling where I was taught theology every day. The concept that he thought he was teaching me I had probably internalized by the 6th grade. I felt very patronized.

The problem with all these people is that they didn’t respect my Catholic beliefs or my integrity as a person. They didn’t know me well enough to be saying these things. I’m guessing that the people who were saying that Catholics were O.K. said that because they had gotten to know the Catholic members of the group. All of the members of the Christian Fellowship were good people. I’m just highlighting the imperfections of a few otherwise good people.

There were other “cultural” conflicts. Once I had said that I liked theology, and several of them expressed derision for theology. Their Bible studies were fine; I actually enjoyed those. I did not feel completely at home in their worship services. Catholic services are more impersonal, formal, and unemotional, whereas theirs were more casual, emotional, and personal. The difference in worship was not a big deal though. By the way, my roommate did come to a Catholic Mass or two. Afterwards, he said that it did confirm his pre-conceptions, that it was formal, rigid, and liturgical, and so on.

We have to respect the integrity and beliefs of others. Respecting the beliefs of others does not mean that you are accepting their beliefs. It is O.K. to disagree. Preaching, teaching, and evangelizing are fine, but don’t be obnoxious about imposing your beliefs on others.