August 23, 2005 - 10:11 pmCIVICS 101
A couple of recent news items have gotten me pondering civics again.
First, the drafting of Iraq’s Constitution. They’re debating just how much it will be dictated by Muslim law, or shari'ah. Now, the problem inherent in this debate is that shari'ah, to the best of my knowledge, has the same irreconcilable dialectic as Christian law: that of the unpredictable wrath of the abusive alcoholic father god vs. the vast and generous love-is-all-you-need hippy type spirit. You know, the old testament/new testament thing. They’ve got it too. Every Islamic fundamentalist who claims to be following the letter of the Koran when they beat one of their numerous, oppressed, burka-clad wives and deny their daughters access to education invokes the same religious license claimed by every right-wing Christian nut-job who picks and chooses their bible verses to suit their own fascist notions of morality, claiming abortion is not okay but the death penalty is. Sorry, but same.
Second, this benevolent sentiment from none other than the very Reverend Pat Robertson, who, speaking of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, suggests “that we really ought to go ahead and do it [assassinate him]. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.” Now, when a highly influential and respected (in many circles) religious figure does far more than merely hint at or suggest his political leanings, essentially leading his flock down a path paved with the war-mongering rhetoric of a particular political party, what does that say about the role of religion in the politics of a country where there is a supposed distinct separation?
Yeah, I’m stumped too.
The reasonable-minded among us know that the big questions of religion will never be answered. Is there a God? Was Jesus the son of God? Is Allah the same as God? How about Buddha? Will Tokelosh strangle me if I sleep too close to the ground as the Zulus claim? And is it really okay to sell my daughter into slavery as the Old Testament asserts? Or is it, in fact, just turtles all the rest of the way down? These questions are as esoteric as the philosophical debate over how many alternate universes there are in string theory. Makes for great pub discussions, but, really, who the hell knows?
What I do know is that civic behavior cannot be governed by such open ended theories. No one has the ultimate answer as to whose God is the almighty, so no group has the right to impose their God’s laws on the rest of us.
However, to be fair, religious law and civic law are historically somewhat parallel in most cultures simply by virtue of the fact that the original purpose of religion, besides explaining our origins and reason for being here, was to govern behavior. Thomas Paine reminds us in one of his many essays on the subject of religion and government that "the root of the word [religion] is the Latin verb ligo, [which] comes [from] religo, to tie or bind over again."
But what happens when there is a divide? What happens when one of those esoteric questions pops up and my God says something different from your God?
Well, the obvious answer to that is easy (for the “liberal elite” like myself, anyway): you are part of a community, a city, a state, a country, and a world. Regardless of your personal religious views, while on this planet, you have a responsibility to your fellow man to be a good citizen, to follow the laws of your community, your city, your state, and your country. I mean, duh, right?
Well, maybe not so “duh” to more people than you may imagine.
I heard Julia Sweeney (of Saturday Night Live fame) recently lamenting the loss of her belief in her Catholic God. Describing her moral crisis, she said something to the effect of (paraphrasing) “Without God, what motivation would there be to do the right thing? Why even bother to be good?” Julia’s dilemma exemplifies the question that, unlike her, many people have not bothered to ask because they blindly view civic law as a direct extension of their religious moral code. The question for her had always been “Will I go to hell for this?” rather than “Will I go to jail for this?” or, even more fundamentally, “Is this the right thing to do?”
So, what exactly did my main man T.J. and the rest of those radical upstart founding fathers of our great nation have in mind when they suggested “separation of church and state?” I mean, I don’t think it’s specifically called out anywhere in the Constitution, unless you count the vague Establishment Clause embedded in that whole broad stroke First Amendment thing that guarantees freedom of religion along with so many other freedoms that seem so irritating to the current administration. Do you think that one little clause in that one big amendment is enough? Because it seems to me it should have been more explicitly stated if that’s really what they were aiming for, and I think it is. What they were shooting for I mean. The whole gray area around this subject is such a constant source of contention that, I don’t know, maybe it’s time to spell it out a little more clearly.
Here’s what I suggest for the next Amendment, right there in plain English, right under the (proposed) federal ban on gay marriage, we need to insert these words:
God does not run this great country; educated men and women do. If you’ve got a problem with that, you belong in Libya, Sudan, or Afghanistan. If you want to pray at school, fine. Just keep it to yourself because the rest of us don’t want to hear that shit while we’re studying evolution. If you think women are property or are in any way less deserving than men because you’ve read between the lines in your God’s book, see above – we don’t have time for your bullshit. If you think you can make laws about how two consenting adults have sex, you’re a repressed fascist pervert and have no business making decisions for the rest of us. If you’ve misread your religious text yet again, and think killing a human being is okay at one stage of life but not at another, go fuck yourself because that’s an irrational power trip. If you’re more concerned with how your fellow human beings come into this world and go out of it than you are with the quality of life they have while they are on this planet, bugger off to the next life, would you? You’re using valuable rainforest oxygen.
care to comment?