I struggled with this post. It’s different from most in that I’m not writing directly about American politics and I am not trying to write on top of the news. This post is about context. Specifically, a context rooted in faith. My faith. Intellectual suicide? I don’t think so. Let me explain.
One of the things that most fascinated me when I started following American politics from across the Atlantic while I was living in the UK, was how openly politicos talked about faith. If anyone with political aspirations in Europe did anything more than attend a sterile Easter service at a state church, Europeans would write him or her off as a religious nut. Not so in the United States.
Despite his moral flexibility and playboy approach to saving the world, Bill Clinton was raised Southern Baptist and regularly sought the counsel of religious leaders like Jesse Jackson (who coincidentally was having an affair while counseling Bill on his Monica-related troubles). We all know that George W. Bush was a man of faith. His faith was positively troubling as we witnessed his crusade of a post 9/11 foreign policy that permanently sullied America’s image abroad and did more to draw religion-inspired battle lines than any American move in decades. As cerebral as Barack Obama is, he was famously aligned with the controversial preacher Jeremiah Wright as a member of his flock when Wright spat out the words “God damn America.” Multiple presidents have sought to address social problems through government funding of faith-based humanitarian programs.
Apart from the faith of recent and current American leaders, the American political landscape is hugely influenced by the religious right which, although somewhat fragmented currently, is enormously influential in any election. This group of evangelicals ranges from run-of-the-mill casual believers with nominal conservative values and a penchant for apple pie and Nascar to raving lunatics that bomb abortion clinics, harbor closet (or devastating open) hate for minorities and spend their free time trying to legislate the teaching of Creationism in schools and the flying of racist confederate flags in front of state buildings.
More than once on CultureMutt, I have critiqued the evangelical contingent in America. I grew up as Seventh-day Adventist and as a current member of this conservative evangelical community I feel particularly responsible for the messages that come out of the evangelical camp. That’s why I:
Blasted Beck over his ridiculous critique of church social justice programs: Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant
Found this way to lure young male congregants hilarious: Pound the Other Cheek: The Advent of Christian Fight Clubs
Thought that this approach to evangelical sexual morality was extremely naive: Virginity 2.0 – Post Cherry-Pop Purity.
Sincerely hoped that religious crazies and their know-nothing dogma were losing steam: Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo
As faith and politics are very intertwined and as I am so drawn to talking about both, I thought it only fair to say a few words about where I personally stand when it comes to religion. Some of my readers have, in one way or another, asked me what I personally believe in. If you have read CultureMutt over the past several months it won’t come as surprise that I am a cultural and political liberal. When it comes to religion, I hate evangelical cheese and over-simplification of faith; I look for vomit buckets when I hear of attempts to legislate Christian morality; I am pro-choice; I am no literalist when it comes to my approach to reading religious texts; and I am all for gay rights, including the right to marry.
Having said all that, I do believe in the transcendent, that there is a presence that far eclipses the limited human perspective. I am a religious tourist and have found meaning in all of the major world religious traditions. My best friend is a Muslim and through my conversations with him I am drawn to a monotheistic approach to faith. I am convicted by the Christian narrative of a compassionate deity that redeems humans in the grander cosmic sense as well as in our day-to-day reality.
What I feel most passionately about when it comes to my faith is this focus on bringing redemption in the here and now. I don’t believe, as some do, that actively practicing faith requires an end to intelligent thought. Rather, my faith challenges me to use critical thinking in finding a humane response to human problems. I believe that authentic faith breeds understanding, generosity and compassion. This is why I am passionate about fighting for social justice and finding systemic solutions for today’s social problems. Poverty, illness, lack of education, drastic social inequality, racism – in my book these are very real manifestations of evil and I support a faith that combats each.
I don’t think I am entirely “right” in my articulation of reality and faith. I know I have a lot to learn, that I am doubtless wrong on multiple fronts. I’ll listen to your thoughts because they will enhance my understanding of reality. I intentionally held off on articulating any personal religious convictions on CultureMutt because this blog is not meant to be a forum for the discussion of the fine points of doctrine. I simply thought that a little context at this point regarding my personal faith-related convictions would help explain where I am coming from. Looking forward to your thoughts.