In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann suggested to a crowd of her supporters that both the hurricane and last week’s earthquake were signs that God is angry at America. She pivoted immediately to suggest that God’s anger stems from too much government spending. I recall when this sort of politics & preaching was the exclusive domain of Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and the execrable Westboro Baptist Church. But here we have someone who, as nuts as she can sound to a liberal, has a decent shot at winning the nomination – to say nothing of front-runner Rick Perry, who held a massive prayer rally before jumping into the race and has suggested that global warming is a lie, evolution isn’t real and Social Security is a giant Ponzi scheme – this from the man who had insurance companies take out secret policies on retired Texas teachers and then cash in huge when said teachers ‘passed their finals.’
Excluding weddings and funerals I have not attended a regular church service in 20 years – but I would not go so far as to say I am completely non-spiritual. I have my questions and my doubts, and in my quiet moments I am given to ponder the meaning of existence. If there is a grand design to the universe, I have to believe it is bigger than anything that can be codified in language or filtered through the voices of intermediaries. I don’t know what that is. I don’t presume to be smart enough to understand it. But every day, I’m trying. My faith, as it were, is that the journey to uncover the answer is likely more meaningful than the destination, the answer itself. And that works for me. It probably won’t work for you or anyone else. I’m not going to try and push it on you – it’s not my place. Much as I would ask you the courtesy of not forcing your beliefs on me.
However, not being religious doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand and pretending that it isn’t worth learning about other faiths. Growing up in an overwhelmingly Christian community at a time when you still had to recite the Lord’s Prayer following the national anthem at school every morning, you still retain a lot of this stuff. And as an adult I’ve read the Bible and other texts about Jesus and his message. I’m not quite sure if it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke or John where he says that senior citizens should die in poverty while Wall Street loses their retirement funds. Or if it was on that extra tablet of Commandments that broke in History of the World, Part I, where it said “Thou shalt cut taxes for the rich.” One should never make the mistake of assuming that all Christians are rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives. I’d go so far as to say that despite their protestations to the contrary, most of these rabid right-wing, small-government conservatives aren’t really Christian – at least not in the way I understand the Biblical Jesus Christ would want them to be.
I respect people. I don’t murder, steal or cheat on my wife. It’s not my business to dictate how two consenting adults should love one another. I think women should control what happens to their bodies. I think evolution is a fact. I think no one should have to fear going bankrupt if they get sick and that higher taxes are a pittance for a clean and beautiful planet. I’ve made mistakes and hurt people in the past, but overall I’ve tried to lead a good life. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann would probably think I’m going to hell. But they wouldn’t say that because they truly believed it. They’d say so to win votes – which is the most cynical exploitation of faith. And they know it too. In the States you can lock in a solid bloc of the electorate simply by repeating “Jesus” and “tax cuts” ad infinitum – and the votes you’ll win are from the people who are most in need of charitable help and most likely to be wounded by the loss of government programs those tax cuts will entail. Michele Bachmann says that God is angry at the United States – I suppose it never occurred to her that He might be angry at the politicians dropping His name to win elections.
I do like the following quote from the Gospel of John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” And this one, Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” I don’t see a lot of that in the Republican front-runners for the presidential nomination, or in the people who support them – they seem to be a little mired in Leviticus. I suppose that they are perfectly entitled to hold those opinions and run on them, as objectionable as I and other liberals might find it. But for Perry and Bachmann to be claiming God is speaking through them and that they alone have the wisdom to interpret natural disasters as endorsements of their platforms makes them seem less like legitimate presidential contenders and more like the guy on the street corner with the warnings of doom on his cardboard sign. That they have a better than ridiculous chance of being elected should give everyone – including Christians – reason to pause, and give some serious thought to that timeless question – what would Jesus do?