Is Christianity Confusing Religion and American Exceptionalism?

In this new Pew Forum poll, they take a look at the relationship between the Tea Party and Religious ideology. I encourage you to go and take a look at the findings. While I wasn’t surprised with the results in the least, there are too many factors to go into here. The poll as a whole got me thinking about the Tea Party’s seeming confusion of American Exceptionalism and Christianity. In reality, I’ve begun labeling (even if only in my own mind) the Tea Party as the “Christian Party.” I know that’s painting with a broad brush, and I know that not all Tea partiers are Christians, and I know that the official tenants of the Tea Party has nothing to do with Christianity…but let’s face reality and for once own up to it.

I came across another article while I was looking in to this subject which takes a different approach to this issue, but well worth the read.

Firstly, as for American Exceptionalism, I am among the first to see real specialty in the United States. Our growing diversity, the formation and rich history of the United States, and our continued growth as a society (traditional marriage just being one example).

However, I also am one of those who place our status as human beings over our status as Americans. I do not hold that the United States is perfect and always acts out of the best intentions. If we did always act out of highest regard for humanity, we would not still be a country today. I believe every country has to act out of self-interest while trying to behave itself at the same time.  I do not pledge allegiance to the flag (and haven’t for quite some time), not because I don’t love the United States, but because of a number of reasons having absolutely nothing to do with being an American.

In the summer of 2008, the rhetoric of the Tea Party became poisonous. We were all witness, if not in person then over the news, to the angry mob and groupthink mentality of hate spewing Americans who were fed up over what they view as high taxes (which means they haven’t seen this) and what they deem (from their religious views) as immoral. We also witnessed the genesis of the embarrassingly prominent Birthers movement, which was like putting a cherry on a dog turd.

Somehow, we’ve come to this place where America is viewed by many to be a Christian nation (thank goodness it’s not), and the way to show your Christianity in the political sphere is to be: pro-gun, pro-corporation, anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-social security, anti-government (in essence), laissez-faire, and treat the concepts of Communism and Socialism as issues of morality (along with carelessly interchanging them at will). Oh, and by the way, you also have to try to instill unfounded fear in the population and make sure to make ad hominem attacks on those who disagree. How is it that these ideas became entwined with what it means to be a Christian? I know there are plenty of Christians out there who are actually pretty socially progressive, and I appreciate that. However, they are either in the minority, don’t speak up, or are just completely overlooked.

Having everybody agree is not what has made America the nation it is today. Diversity of race, ideas, religious views, and politics is what makes America work. It’s messy, contentious, and often flat out ugly. I am the first to recognize that the majority of U.S. citizens fashion themselves Christian in some form or another. The real issue comes when we consider the rights of those not in the majority. Majority rule is a very, very scary thing.

Any politician is going to be dodgy when it comes to acknowledging that his or her religious views, or the religious views of his or her constituents play a part in the decision making. But once again, can we be honest? We all know that religion is the primary reason homosexuals are still unequal in regards to marriage. I don’t think there can be any argument that religion doesn’t play a role in the Tea Party or the Birthers, whether or not they own up to it. Religious views and outdated concepts of morality are consistently holding back the people in this country and getting in the way of the “freedom” of the individual that these same people are constantly espousing.

I find it troubling that the Christian Party is so active and powerful in this country. The thought that this majority is willing to step all over progress and individual rights while chanting “hate the sin, not the sinner” is sickening. Someday, perhaps, there could be an actual reasonable and constructive dialogue. Want to find a way to positively influence homosexuals and atheists and any other non-Christian that doesn’t live up to your outdated code??? Then take the plank out of your own eye first!

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Guilt

The second installment of my series on “Why I Won’t Raise my Children in Religion” has to do with the issue of guilt.  Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, quotes the American comedienne CathyLadman as stating “All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt, with different holidays.”  While she may have been exaggerating the point, I find truth there as well.

When I consider the Christian creation story, what stands out to me is the immediate entrance of guilt onto the scene.  This perfect, omniscient, omnipresent God creates the world and all that’s in it in six days…and it was good.  This God creates the perfect world and the perfect human (except God did mess up since it was an afterthought that he realized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone).  Regardless, everything is going swimmingly until Adam and Eve (perhaps Eve was most at fault) were deceived into eating of the tree of knowledge.  Even if you hold this story as true, you must realize that Adam and Eve couldn’t have been created perfect as they had an obvious curiosity that needed to be fulfilled.  Something was missing, they wanted to be like God.  They were not living according to their nature which is to pursue knowledge.  A favorite defense of this is that they were created perfect, but God also gave them “free will.”  Free will is a much offered explanation of Adam and Eve, and our situation since the fall.  I find this an argument that makes God out to be even more deplorable than usual because, according to the Christian:

  1. God gave mankind free will so as not to have “robots” worshiping him;
  2. Mankind chose to use that free will to reason and gain knowledge, in essence to not behave like robots;
  3. God punishes mankind for using the one thing he gave us that truly separates us from the other animals.

Religion has through the ages guilted mankind into a faithful servitude.  It provides a constant denigration of mankind and who we are as fools who will never do right or know right without god.  I am tired of being told that I am not worthy of what god has done for me, when in fact, I have only lived according to the nature that he supposedly gave me.  I am tired of religion preaching to us how base and vile we are without the holy spirit.

The other night I watched the movie Religulous for the first time.  There was an interview with a U.S. Congressman who couldn’t say whether or not humanity would know right from wrong without God.  This was a U.S. Congressman!  The idea that we get our notion of right and wrong from a god that created us six-thousand years ago is insulting.  Religion specializes in the art of debasing humanity, and as a population here in the United States, we seem to embrace it.

So, I refuse to raise my children under an umbrella of guilt.  I will not tell my son or yet-to-be-born daughter that they are unworthy of anything.  They need to know that they have the potential for doing nearly anything they want in life, and I will encourage them to pursue that to the highest and most ethical degree they can.  I choose to raise my children to the best of my ability with an appreciation for the uniqueness and diversity of humanity, to question authority (even mine as painful as that can be), and to think for themselves; that when they are pursuing their utmost, they have an abundant capacity for empathy and compassion.  I think this is the greatest gift I could ever give my children, the confidence to be, love, and appreciate themselves.

Self-Interest

The first in a series of “Why I won’t raise my children in religion” is based on the subject of self-interest.  I ask that you stick with me here as the will take some explanation.

I have a personal philosophy that every significant action we as humans take is based out of self-interest.  When I say self-interest, I don’t mean it negatively.  In fact, it is self-interest that drives us to act humanely.  When driving down the road, I know that it is in my self-interest to obey the law in order to stay alive.  Likewise, it is also in my interest to make sure that I am not the cause of injury to another so as not to violate my values.  Our very foundation of laws and ethics are centered around each of us living as well and as long as possible.  I don’t believe that we obey authority strictly because we don’t want to suffer the consequences of not obeying, but that the reasonable person will obey because he or she knows subconsciously that the laws are there to preserve.  This is why civilization works.

The first issue I have with religion of any stripe is that it is perhaps the only activity in which we:

  1. Invent a figurehead (God) who is infinite, perfect, and conveniently inexplicable;
  2. Worship this figurehead for *his* infiniteness, perfection, and inexplicability;
  3. Decide to love this God and commit ourselves to a lifetime of devotion; all so we can
  4. ATTAIN SOME SORT OF PARADISE AFTER OUR DEATH.

My question is this, if there were no salvation, would all Christians love Jesus and devote their lives to him?  I think not. (Think Pascal’s Wager)  Religion is a way to try to pursue our own self-interest and gain a sense of belonging all while espousing the altruistic nature of it.  We can feel good about ourselves because we are part of a group that is devoted to “something greater than ourselves.”  In short, we love God because of what we can get out of it.

The problem is that this is not a true love relationship. It is far too one-sided to be any true relationship.  Trying to love an invisible, infinite, defineless being is pretty difficult.  Religion loses the relationship focus and becomes susceptible to political and ideological competition.  It also becomes less about the virtue of the core beliefs and more about knowing that my worldview is superior to yours because of all the other people that agree with me.  Indeed, religion and faith are tools to classify and divide, not to pursue the altruistic values in which they are shrouded.

Recognizing the inherent self-interest with which we all live our daily lives, we can see and appreciate the unique qualities and independent nature of every person.  We are all different; we look at the world from different perspectives.    We can think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions, and with the exception of our selfish behavior, be ethical in our dealings with other because we inherently see how that behavior benefits us in the long run.

The problem with this worldview is that we are also selfish. There are plenty of examples of how we act in selfish ways every day as opposed to acting in our self-interest.  I view selfishness as the “I want what I want” complex.  Damn the consequences.  Selfishness is different than self-interest.  Self-interest is acting in a way that agrees with our values and the values of society in order to be a productive and respected person in the long-run.  Selfishness is the short term interest that tends to go against our values and the values of society, and consequently, somebody loses.

When it comes to parenting my children, I think the trick is helping them to live according to self-interest, not selfishness.  If my son acts in self-interest, he will be ethical, helpful, loving, and good because he will inherently understand that living according to these values will be good for him in the long run.  However, he does not need the Church to set the rules for him and tell him how to act so he can earn his great reward after he’s dead.  No, living in the present, enjoying life now, and getting the daily reward of feeling good about himself for living according to his values is so much more pleasurable.