In his New York Times piece today, Ross Douthat claims that America’s lack of a religious center has left us heretical and adrift. I take issue with almost everything Douthat suggests in the piece but being called a heretic really gets my panties in a bunch.
In 1633, Galileo was condemned as a heretic for getting behind the idea that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa, so calling someone out as one isn’t necessarily the best way to present an argument.
Douthat writes: “…But as orthodoxies weaken, churches split, and their former adherents mix and match elements of various traditions to fit their preferences, religion is more likely to become indistinguishable from personal and ideological self-interest.” He shouldn’t have said self-interest, nor suggest that a deeper commitment to church on Sundays would make this a better country. Don’t you go judging my belief in God, Ross. That’s what gets the liberal hairs on the back of my neck to stand up.
I certainly don’t have answers regarding the best approach to bringing us together as a nation. No one wants another 9/11 to be the culprit – but to infer that a tidy devotion to our local place of worship is the ticket is just plain ignorant. There are greater reasons than self-interest that make individuals drift. Many of the basic tenets of Catholicism, or at least the Christianity in which I was raised, are intact in my spiritual life. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus Christ was God on earth. On the other hand I find creationism, in terms of Adam and Eve, absurd, mostly because I believe that in the greater picture, God ultimately created scientists like Charles Darwin to dissect and offer the superior story of evolution (more complex, a better second act). My Catholic friends and I still laugh over Limbo, Purgatory, the plaid beanies we wore on our heads to church, and the incessant question, “How many venial sins make up a mortal sin?” (Answer: none. They’re like apples and oranges.) But no matter how much communion wine our angry monsignor drank before castigating us for leaving mass five seconds early, we heard the stuff that mattered:
God is love. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Those that I went to church with week in and week out for years have grown up to be Republicans and Democrats. All are Americans. And while this country is made up mostly of Christians, we are committed by the Constitution’s First Amendment to respect the individual’s right to worship as he/she pleases. I loved being in church this morning with my fellow worshippers and had a catch in my throat when singing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” The ministries at All Saints Episcopal Church are expansive and there is a tremendous amount of good work that emanates from their established community – but good work is happening everywhere. It rarely makes the news. Some of it is parochial, much of it is not. We come together, maybe not as a nation, but in groups that make up a nation and make a difference, whether specific to organized religion or not.
Douthat argues that, even though all of our presidents have been Christian, the three currently competing to be our next Commander in Chief – Romney, Santorum, and Obama - reflect Americans’ inability to “…agree on even the most basic definitions of what Christian faith should mean.” I simply don’t believe this is true. The issue, rather, is how we allow those definitions to affect the political landscape.
He goes on later to add: “Americans have never separated religion from politics…” And to this I agree, but whether in the post World War II boom in Sunday service attendance or now, when many Americans either sleep in, drift among churches, or worship at the altar of tournament soccer, we will be no better off as a country judging others on what they believe or to whom they pray. We should try desperately to separate religion from politics, as long as we remind ourselves to hold our elected leaders accountable to the Golden Rule found in just about every faith practiced in this country and throughout the world, one even my atheist friends try and adhere to:
Do unto others. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
“Divided by God” is the title of Douthat’s article. To that I say, bah! We’re divided by our ignorance. The sooner we allow ourselves to look around and realize we mostly all just want what’s best for our families and our neighbors, the more united we’ll become, as in: the United States of America.
Tomorrow I’ll return to the banality simplicity of motherhood, where hilarity will ensue. (The girls go back to school!)