Friday, November 6, 2009

My Comments on the Religion Issue

The other day I posted a diatribe about how the issue of a common prayer or moment of silence at the daily convening of the Continental Congress has been hijacked by a few Fundamentalist Christians for whom, it has become clear, the agenda of the Congress itself has begun to play second-fiddle to their need to have a camp meeting every day. Toward the beginning of the discussion, I was naive enough to post the comment below. To be strictly fair, only one person made any insulting comment to the Fundamentalists, and that was a matter of perspective, since to my eye, the reference to the Flying Spaghetti Monster was tongue-in-cheek. But it set them off, so I included both. Here is the comment:

"The insults written above, hurled equally at believers and non-believers alike, are painful to read, and must be more so for those at whom they are aimed. I do not believe that they reflect the G-d of the believers nor the reason of the non-believers. It appears as if strong emotions rather than reason have too quickly held sway when some of us find that others of us do not agree with one another in every particular.

I, too, was told that CC2009 was not the province of one or a few Christian denominations, and yet I understand the need for those who are believers in the Christian understanding of the Eternal to find a way to secure the blessing of their religion upon their work. (I share the same need but not the same theology). I believe that this can be done with all the due denominational requirements at morning chapel, and then a more general blessing for the peace and prosperity of the United States and a restoration of the Constitution be done in full assembly.

In Hebrew, the word "Amen" comes from the verb root "agree" or "stand with." It would be very respectful of the assembly as a whole towards the differing faith traditions and lack thereof, to allow for a prayer or blessing or meditation that everyone assembled can say "Amen" to, without feeling that he or she is betraying the foundations of his or her faith or lack thereof.

If such is agreed upon, this does not stifle the speech of those with more specific beliefs, as they have the opportunity for it in their own remarks from the floor (within the strictures of the agenda) and in debate and discussion with others. But in a situation in which a prayer or blessing is offered upon the whole assembly, it is reasonable to expect it to reflect the whole assembly, and our respect, as those who love Liberty, for the individual differences among its members.

Certainly, those of us who follow religious traditions have habitual expressions that may be uttered with no intent at offense to others. Therefore, if we all agree to respect one another and to refrain from forcing our specific theologies upon the assembly, then we must also all agree to assign only the kindest motives to those who use those religious expressions in their daily language.

If the world is indeed watching us, I believe we should do our best to honor G-d and/or Reason by our love for one another and our ability to Live Liberty through the understanding and forbearance we show to one another.

Rabbi Hillel said:
"What is painful to you, do not do to your neighbor."
(A positive expression of the same idea is familiar to many Christians as "The Golden Rule.")

To have a certain religious expression with which I cannot agree, and which makes me betray the ancient tenants of my faith, imposed upon me without option to leave is painful to me. Therefore, I do not wish to impose the same upon my neighbors at CC2009.

Certainly, if the fact that I am not a Christian, and therefore (along with others who are Christian) do not profess a certain narrow part of the range of Christian beliefs means that I do not belong at CC2009, as claimed by a certain Christian above, then I respectfully suggest that obtaining a mass movement of American citizens from all walks of life to agree to the actions proposed by this Congress will fail.

This is something for the delegates to consider as well . . .

Most of what I said above was predictably ignored by the Camp Meeting crowd, because, well it was about the larger picture and really did not give them a chance to grandstand the superiority of their rather narrow version of Christianity among themselves. Then a number of comments were made in which those of us who would rather not see the entire convened assembly subjected to a sectarian prayer are "progressives", "communists", and "rebelling against [the Fundy C's] god. At this point, I was still trying to reason with people who I now know are incapable of reason. I said:

"I am feeling some consternation at the lecture delivered to those who have responded to this thread. It looks as if responses are being made to misunderstanding or misreading of what has been said. Only one person here who has not already withdrawn has threatened to withdraw should he not get his way in this matter of prayer, and that is Mr. _______. I may be mistaken, as I have other responsibilities that have interfered with keeping up with the discussion, but I have not seen one person threaten to withdraw from the delegation if a prayer IS offered.

As for me, what I said is that I would find a way to quietly and unobtrusively leave the room if the prayer is denominational; that is, a prayer that excludes me or others from being able to give agreement because of a specific expression of theology. My personal beliefs would allow me to say “amen” to a prayer to a Creator, but certainly not to the Christian trinity or any messiah or saint. Others may have difficulty with even a general prayer to a Creator. At first, thinking only of my own beliefs, I thought that such a general prayer would be good, but now, having read the concerns of others, I have changed my mind and advocate a moment of silence so that no one will be excluded.

What is the social purpose of public prayer and ceremony? It is to unite the group involved in common and solemn purpose. When such “civic religion” takes place, if some members are excluded because a majority insists on an overly specific statement of belief, then the purpose of the action becomes divisive and the overall purpose is not fulfilled. The ritual becomes meaningless at best, and at worst may project a false sense of conformity. The ethics that some people hold will not permit them to participate in it, and that is why even some who do hold various religious beliefs are made uncomfortable by it.

The United States today is far less homogeneous with respect to religion than it was in 1774. And even then, the founders demonstrate certain prejudices towards certain Christian sects (such as Roman Catholicism) as well as towards agnostics and atheists, that must have been divisive even in that day, given that Maryland was a Roman Catholic settlement and that other individuals may have been deists, agnostics, and atheists.

I believe that accusing anyone who disagrees with a particular viewpoint of “being childish”, weak or overly sensitive is an insult intended to enforce conformity. It is a bully tactic, and whether conscious or not, projects an air of superiority towards those who have real and principled concerns not shared by the speaker (or in this case, the writer).

Finally, with respect to the accusation of censorship: governments are able to censor and private individual are not. Censorship is an official action. And it is specific to a context. For example, it is not censorship for a presiding officer to remind a speaker on the floor to stick to an agreed upon agenda. It is not censorship for an organization to refuse to provide a platform for speech that does not meet with its purpose. It is not censorship for an individual to choose not to publish something with which he does not agree in a privately owned newspaper or blog. And it is not censorship for members of an elected body to request that the proceedings of that body include all members and are in concert with its overall purpose. Finally, it is not censorship for such a person to exercise his prerogative to politely leave a public prayer service that is being offered as a part of the official proceedings but excludes some members.

It was after this response that a new voice, a pastor, entered the fray. At first glance his words sounded reasonable, until upon closer reading, I realized that he was actively defining anyone who would disagree with an overtly Christian prayer upon the convened assembly as "non-believers" and therefore, in his mind, second-class citizens. However, it was a post he wrote a few days later that really revealed his mindset--one that, as we shall see tomorrow, is very close to that of the Christian Dominionists. In my next blog entry, I will discuss the issue it brought up and my final response of any length to that so-called discussion.


Activities Coordinator said...

Oy vey!

ChristineMM said...

Hi Elisheva, Just popped in to say hi. I was thinking of you.

Wondered if you saw Temple Grandin on her 3 hour interview on CSPAN BookTV that ran Nov 1 & Nov 6 weekends. I hope the show enlightens some people. She just cracked me up when asked about what she thinks of in-utero genetics testing to look for Autism. She said we'd have no scientists, no artists, and many things, all we'd have is a 'bunch of social yakky-yaks'. I cracked up. Love her candor.

In the first 2 hours she spent a fair amount talking about making productive people by steering those with Aspergers or on the spectrum to turn their 'obsession' into a career. I think sometimes, some parents I know are hung up on the label as an excuse for a child, already imagining them as a completely non-productive, dependent adult in their future years. Sad.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Activities Coordinator: Oy vey ist mir! Still, I imagine that we will manage without bloodshed. Which is the stength and beauty of the much-maligned 'American Way.'

Christine: The days have been just packed and I have not been able to watch those yet. Soon. When I need a break. I am eager to talk about it with you over internet.

Crimson Wife said...

Ugh! I don't think a narrowly-worded prayer is appropriate in that situation. Why be unnecessarily divisive? That said, I don't have a problem with some sort of general appeal to a higher power, even if that ticks off the atheists. A moment of silence isn't the same thing. Done properly, a public prayer is like an inspirational speech.