Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Religion Becomes a Tool for Power the Public Gets Squeezed Out

I watched a panel discussion last night on the domestic holy wars in the United States, where the debate was between the Evangelical Right and the Evangelical Left. Christian Conservative vs "Progressive" (their term) Christian Liberal.

I expected a showdown but was surprised to learn, at least so far as this panel went, that there was not that much of a divide. And I realized that those on the right, did not reflect the "values" of the more radical "Religious Right". The political movement that is making all the noise.

In fact one statement by a Christian Conservative was quite compelling. He warned that Evangelicals must be careful not to allow themselves "to become tools in someone else's power game". He specifically mentioned the Tea Party, which as we know, is heavily financed by the corporate sector.

Because their voice for Christianity is about war, hatred and greed, while the Christian Conservatives on this program, sought peace and claimed that any religious decisions made, must place human dignity above anything else. They wanted Climate Change addressed as well as income disparity, poverty, healthcare and the Aids crisis.

And they believed that government must take a more active role in addressing these problems, saying among other things, that a nation could not "foodbank themselves out of poverty".

I was floored. Since Stephen Harper has latched onto the Religious Right, and the American dollars behind it, many of us have felt that we must fight religion in politics, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

But it's not religion we should be fighting, but the exploitation of religion that has become "a tool in a power game."

The Globe and Mail has been running a series on Canada and our move toward secularism. I think the biggest problem is that many mainstream religions fail to inspire. Instead it has become a God and Country shouting match, with one side wanting more religion in politics while the other, like myself, want none.

And yet, religion has played a large part in the development of our nation. Only it was done quietly. Politicians and other decision makers, used their own moral values to move us toward a Just Society. They placed a high regard for human dignity above everything else, and they did it not by preaching from the pulpit, but by practicing their faith.

We are a Christian country by tradition, and part of that tradition has been tolerance. But the new Christianity, as represented by the Religious Right, is intolerant of anyone not buying into their narrow beliefs. That is the kind of religion that has no place in politics. And yet that is the kind of religion that Stephen Harper has allowed to dictate.

And all because of his own naked self-interest.

There was one part of the discussion that bothered me though. It was in relation to President Obama and the fact that polls are showing that an increasing number of Americans believe that he is a Muslim.

But why is that question even being asked? It's the question that's helping to plant the seed.

If pollsters repeatedly asked Canadians if they thought Stephen Harper was gay, eventually many people might start to think he was, simply because we had heard the reference so many times.

And yet being Muslim or gay are totally irrelevant, and not things we should be concerning ourselves with at all. A better understanding of our diversity, is the best way to move forward.

One of the panelists last night, felt that Christians should seek common ground, because people who pray together are less likely to "demonize" each other. But if your faith allows you to "demonize" anyone, the problem is not who you pray with, it's who you listen to.

You don't have to be religious to be good, any more than you have to be good to be religious, and the common ground we should be seeking, is one that embraces people of all faiths, even those who faithfully believe that they don't need religion at all.

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