Tu Es Petrus

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that people are trying to pray Obama out of office. At least, it doesn’t surprise me. When it comes to anything pertaining to current use of religion, I am generally nonplussed, but never really surprised by anything I see.  I look at it this way – religion is a rock. You can stand on it and proselytize, sit on it to rest, brandish it as a threat, or throw it as a weapon. But it is, in all circumstances, still a rock. The only differences are how and by whom it is being used.

Christianity may be a majority religion in this country, but I am under no obligation whatsoever to be or even feign being christian. I am not religious and I never have been. I am not even a vague non-observant christian. I was raised in a religion-free household and, to my memory, at least one of my parents was an atheist, however impermanently.

Times change, however, and times can change people. Today, both of my parents are religious – to the point that occasionally makes me personally uncomfortable. I don’t mean in any way that they should change what they do or that I think they are wrong. In fact, I think religion and involvement with the Church has been a good move for them. They are much more involved in community and more social than I have ever seen them be. But it is strange to hear them talk about religion and church as if it has always been a central player in their lives. The first time I got an email from my Dad with the sign off ‘God Bless’ it really through me for a loop. But, like I said, even though I personally do not believe that organized religion is unequivocally good in general (or good at all for me as an individual), I think it fills a need for many people.

So, when I hear about people trying to pray Obama out of office, I am not shocked or outraged. I neither like nor agree with the message that (1) they are an organized group and (2) they have God on our side. I don’t like it when I feel like people are threatening me with religion, but I don’t exactly feel threatened, either. Seems to me like any god worth his or her salt would be pretty happy with Obama, but then again (1) I am happy with Obama and (2) everything I know about Jesus comes from Jesus Christ Superstar, so my view is clearly tilted.

Which brings me to another point: who owns Christianity? Who owns Jesus? Lately, there has been a lot of disagreement over what it means to be a “Christian” — to the point that some feel the need to rewrite the Bible to reflect their opinions. It appears that many conservatives do not like the idea of a ‘love and peace’ Jesus and would like to get back to the whole fire and brimstone style, apparently because the peace and love style is at odds with a conservative sociopolitical agenda. Which seems a little hypocritical to me. People have been using religion as a justification for eons; but now, when religion is used to counter their arguments, they insist that their religion has been co-opted and perverted by their opponents.  To the point that they have to rewrite the Bible?

Why bother? Why not just form your own opinion? Or do you have to have religion on your side? Are we still stuck on the concept of the righteous fight? Does the ‘moral majority’ need God/the Bible on their side in order to keep going?  Do you not know what is right and what is wrong unless you can find a passage in the Bible that can be interpreted (or manipulated) to support your feelings and opinions? Some may think I am doomed to hell, but I cannot imagine being so bound to something that I can make no move, physically, emotionally, or intellectually, until I have received its imprimatur.

The idea of using God/religion/church/faith/prayer as a weapon or tool is as old as religion, it is true, but using religion as the primary focus of a political agenda is, at least for the U.S., fairly new. And clearly is causing a very unnavigable rift in the Republican party. And now the same group that insists it is their right to define the Republican party is now also insisting that it is their right to define evangelical christianity. If I had a dog in either fight, I would be pretty damn riled up.

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13 Comments

  1. Lorie said,

    November 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Wow… I have not heard of anyone trying to pray him out of office! I pray for him almost daily as I do of all our leaders because the Bible commands us to do so. If anyone is trying to interpret the Bible into anything other than the literal meaning of the text then they too are in opposition to what the Bible teaches and commands.

  2. southern female lawyer said,

    November 19, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I think Lorie gets my point. Which is that people either put their faith first and let the rest fall into place, or they put their politics first and reverse-engineer the rest. As an a-religious person, I put my values first and let the rest fall into place.

    I feel very uncomfortable engaging in any sort of pretense of being religious. It feels, well, blasphemous to me. Just because I neither practice nor support another’s religion, that does not mean I should not show respect to other’s beliefs. Do unto others, and so forth.

    As for religion and politics, I feel that these aren’t the best partners and I wonder how much one is diluted by the other. One of the original goals behind the separation of church and state was to protect religion from politics and sham. I find it utterly repugnant when people ‘pretend’ to be religious so that they can curry favor with people. Does this bother people of faith? Or is it just now a given that politicians are either inherently or presumptively corrupt?

  3. southern female lawyer said,

    November 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I should also point out that, in my opinion, we can only define ourselves. A group can only be defined by the impact it has collectively and does not seem subject to individual definition.

  4. Lorie said,

    November 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I would also like to add that I believe who ever is tyring to use Psalm 109:8 to “pray Obama out of office”, is taking that verse out of context and using it in an unbiblical way. Obama professes to be a Christian, as such he should not be seen as “wicked and deceitful” as Psalm 109:2 states. Taking scripture out of context is dangerous and wrong.

    A Christian must remember Romans 13 that states that we should submit ourselves to the governing authority because all authority was given by God.

  5. southern female lawyer said,

    November 19, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I have a very deep faith – it is just not religiously-based. I believe very strongly that we have a duty to evolve morally and intellectually, and that we should always try to be kind and to examine our own behaviors in light of that. I know that I am guilty of making judgments on others based upon group attributes and it is a behavior I am constantly trying to curb. None of us are perfect and none of us are complete.

    I credit my parents with instilling these basic thoughts in my little formative brain, even though I suspect that they regret not raising us in a church. To me, or at least for me, this is not something that I have missed. I think the end goal of raising morally responsible children was nonetheless met.

  6. southern female lawyer said,

    November 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Well put Lorie – and thanks. I think the difference is perhaps that some people have already decided that Obama is ‘wrong,’ therefore Romans 13 does not apply, so they are taking what they perceive as the next logical step in the argument.

  7. November 21, 2009 at 10:54 am

    This is an intriguing post, Tracey. Thanks for sharing. I feel compelled to respond, though I don’t want to for fear I might offend. But, just a a few words, food for thought….

    When it comes to “organized religion”, I see religion as a morally and ethically neutral institution. How it is organized is what gives it value, be that value good or bad. It works exactly like politics. Political association as an institution is neither good nor bad, and it’s of course something that it is good we have the freedom to do–but do I like the fact that the Republican Party is a creature of political association? No. I think it flies in the face of everything that an ideal society ought to be.

    But that doesn’t mean that I automatically think that all political parties are bad. Well….ok, sometimes I do when I pick up the newspaper and read about what the Blue Dogs are doing on any particular day. But you get the point. From my perspective, the Democratic Party needs to be MORE organized, not less. And you of all people know what I’m getting at when I say that, in regard to a local party that is.

    So, back to religion, my point is that just because there are a lot of folks out there that have organized into clusters that fly in the face of the way things ought to be, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us ought not be organized. To dwindle into individualized pockets of postmodernized spirituality is effectively to hand over the entire institution of religion to the conservatives. God forbid we should ever do that with politics, and I don’t see why we should do it with religion, either.

    But you are right in saying that religion does tend to be used to fit into the agenda of either side. In my humble opinion, that’s just a fact that will never be overcome–it’s also one of the underlying premises for modern hermeneutics, i.e. one’s interpretation of Scripture is dependent upon who one is, what one’s social location is, and what one’s predetermined prejudices are. Schleiermacher knew this when he proposed his theory of the hermeneutic circle. But, the thing is that Schleiermacher also knew that prejudices are individual to us, and that no one has more of a right to an interpretation of Scripture than anyone else (at least not in terms of Protestant theology, the presupposition of which is that each individual has a right to interpret as they will).

    The point behind all of that, then, is that conservatives have no foreordained right to monopolize God, Scripture, etc. They have the right to express their beliefs, but they don’t have the right to force the culture to accept a univocal expression of religion. And so, for those of us who view the world differently from conservatives, there should be nothing wrong with our expressing our metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical beliefs in a “religious” language. Nor should there be anything wrong with us binding together in order to do so–we do, after all, have a right of assembly and the freedom of expression.

    But, of course we can always fall back on the idea that “all organized religion is bad!!!!” But, again, there are a lot of people that believe that “all politicians are crooks!!!” but we know better than that, and we certainly wouldn’t allow such opinions to dissuade us from political participation. So why should we cease to express our own values by way of religion?

  8. southern female lawyer said,

    November 21, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Casey, as always, thanks for your insight. I think it is different for me because it isn’t like I turned away from religion – it has just never been a part of my life. I know a lot of people who are vehemently opposed to organized religion in any form; I am not among them. I think that “faith,” “religion,” and “church” are three very distinct things. Almost everyone has some sort of faith, whether it be a religious faith or a faith in humanity, kindness, hard work, family, fate, community, or even in arguably negative things like fear, financial success, power, etc.

    Like I said earlier, religion and church are the means by which faith is controlled and organized. From my outside-looking-in perspective, it seems to me like religion and church are like very specific drugs – excellent when used correctly and for the right purposes, but terribly prone to abuse. And unfortunately, despite the good intentions of the founders of this country, politics and religion have become intertwined, and I think to the detriment of each other.

    And perhaps this highlights a core conflict between faith and religion/church – faith is inherently internal and individual, whereas religion and church are external and controlled by a collective. It is unavoidable that the two will try to shape faith. It is up to the individual to find the point of intersect (between what one believes to be right and what one is told is right) and guard it. And I would guess that this is difficult when one’s faith is rooted in a specific religion or church – in other words, when one’s faith is rooted in externalities rather than the internal.

    Of course, this is all just rambling from someone who has never had any external forces claiming dominion over her faith. I have been lucky in that I have gotten to choose my influences and discard those I find morally unappealing without having to question my own faith. But then again, I have no strength in numbers and, aside from my husband, have never had any political candidate claim to adhere to my beliefs. So I suppose there is that…

  9. Margaret said,

    November 22, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I’ve noticed that genuine Christians (I mean the good ones, those who are actually kind and honest rather than bigots and bullies) don’t brag on and on about their devoutness. They tend to just quietly and instinctively do the right thing.From this I gather that a person’s Christianity usually exists in inverse proportion to the amount of time he spends publicly and loudly gasing on about it.

  10. November 23, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I will represent an admittedly Christian point of view.

    In the scriptures, the epistolary authors talk about ‘weakness of faith.’ They specifically mean Christians who mean specific and dogmatic forms of prayer and ceremony to believe they are properly following the religion. While there is praise for those of ‘great faith’, there is a tender concern for the sensibilities of those of weak faith. Their beliefs are to be tolerated (but not encouraged) and nothing is to be done to make them feel like they are not ‘real’ Christians, but those of great faith are supposed to set the example so those of weak faith can improve themselves and do better and cast aside their more childish needs.

    When we talk about Christian zealots (or that matter when we talk about Shas in Israel or Al Qaeda in the Middle East at large) we must recognize that we are NOT dealing with people of strong faith in the manner we frequently believe. We are dealing with people whose faith is so dependent on crutches to maintain it that they would force their own views on their friends and neighbors regardless of the faith of their friends and neighbors. They do this not out of their ‘zeal’, in my opinion, but out of a fundamental weakness of faith.

    I find myself doing exactly what I recently criticized on my own blog, assuming the ‘true’ motives of others are my special insight beyond their ken. Perhaps I am wrong to do so, but I will forgive myself. This is what I believe and I don’t think the idea is broached often enough in the debate.

  11. November 24, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Heyya, Tracey. This post is in response to your response, aka comment #8.

    First, just to clear up one thing, I have not always been a church person. I grew up in what might best be described as a non-practicing Christian home, with the emphasis more on the non-practicing side of things than the Christian side of things. By that I mean to say that my mother was a decent and wholesome person who probably embodied a lot of good moral values, and who is a believer, but who is far from a Jesus freak of any sort.

    I didn’t really become associated with church life at all until I was 19. I did have some exposure over the years as my father and step-mother had gone to churches off and on growing up, and my mother had taken me to church just long enough to get my baptized when I was 12-ish, just because I guess she thought that was part of her responsibility as a mother in east Tennessee, but throughout my teens I was far from a church person of any sort.

    The reason that I believe in organized religion is that I found a church that works for me. It would be somewhat inaccurate to say that it is “liberal”, at least on the political spectrum. Moderate would be more precise, but moderate in east Tennessee is generally liberal compared to the majority of churches here. The point, though, is that I was able to find a place where I could see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears that the people in the pews were not bigots or fanatics. Ok, maybe some of them were, who knows–it is, indeed, a moderate congregation that is home to folks of a diversity of views about politics etc. But the point is that on the whole, I was able to find a place that took the Christian faith seriously without falling into the televangelist paradigm.

    That said, I still maintain my points from my previous comment. I realize that a great deal of the people who profess faith in our culture are at the same time professing a world view that is in radical contradiction to what I believe. But I refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater, which for me means not letting others dictate my interpretation of God, faith, Jesus’ ministry and what it means for my life, and the ability to experience all of those things as a community with other semi-likeminded believers.

    All this having been said, since you are an intellectual who clearly does think about these things, I’d like to suggest two books to you.

    The first is “The Culture of Disbelief” by Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale. This book was made famous in the 90’s when President Clinton happened upon it and decided to read it one weekend at Camp David, then reported favorably on it in a press conference afterwards. Carter tackles faith and politics from a legal standpoint. He is on the whole, I think, a political liberal, but one who examines the First Amendment seriously and arrives at a conclusion not unlike the one I’ve suggested in my comments on your post. The book might appeal to you as a legal scholar with a love for politics.

    Second, while I’m not sure I’d recommend the book itself, I’d encourage you to check out wikipedia or whatever and read up on the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, who is known as the Father of Protestant Liberalism, or Liberal Theology. Schleiermacher’s first notable work is titled “On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers”. In that work, he makes a lot of similar points to those you’ve made in your post above, namely that one’s faith prerogative ought not be dictated by anything save one’s intution, i.e. faith is a matter between the individual and God and not the individual and the Church. The book itself is extremely dense reading (I’ve read the whole thing–trust me, it’s dense), but the points being made are great.

    Of course, all this having been said, what is interesting is that while Schleiermacher believed roughly the same thing you do–that one’s beliefs ought not depend on outside influences–he also was an apologist in his own right who sought to proffer a new model of the Christian Faith (his magnum opus is titled just that, “The Christian Faith”, and is considered one of the most important theological works since the Reformation, despite the fact that it is universally decried by conservatives). The point here is that I have always seen myself as being a kindred spirit of Schleiermacher–he walks that fine line between rejecting the criticisms of “cultured despisers” of religion, while at the same time being one of the fiercest critics of conservative theology. The idea, then, is to make a third way rather than being forced to retreat into fundamentalism or militant atheism. Which, again, was the gist of my previous comment above.

  12. SevenCell said,

    November 26, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Perhaps Emily Dickinson “Some keep the Sabbath” is apropos?

    Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
    I keep it, staying at Home –
    With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
    And an Orchard, for a Dome –

    Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
    I just wear my Wings –
    And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
    Our little Sexton – sings.

    God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
    And the sermon is never long,
    So instead of getting to Heaven at last –
    I’m going, all along.

    “Religion is a rock….” Cool thought. I pretty much line up with Casey above. I’ll throw in my own spin on Christianity. I have been fascinated by the symbol of the crucifix in this respect:

    If God did want to pick a message of self-sacrifice and wanted to enable that message to penetrate 2,000 years of greed, murder by the church ( Francisco Pizarro), etc. He chose the perfect symbol. The crucifix, to me, simultaneously represents a self-sacrifice and a “reaching out to embrace.” The body position is just too perfect for projecting both messages simultaneously. So, in a sense, the message survived IN SPITE OF the church, IN SPITE OF organized religion. And the message that I wind up taking away is not “believe or else.” The message I wind up getting is: “This is self sacrifice. This is what it looks like. Copy it. Its a good thing.” And you could argue that theology backs that up as well, depending on how hooked you are on the Constantine hand-selected Bible.

    Praying to oust the President? Leaves me speechless.

    Anywho – Great dialogue. You just made everybody get all serious!

  13. SevenCell said,

    November 26, 2009 at 12:04 am

    PS – Go Dawgs


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