Saturday, November 26, 2016

Religious Liberty vs. Theonomy 2016

I posted on Facebook the other day regarding my dismay over President-Elect Trump’s choice of advisors and cabinet members.  My objections included, first of all, that he has chosen many of the same men whom he ran against, and beat, in the Primary!  Republicans voted for Trump as their candidate precisely because they were fed up with the GOP establishment and he, being a formerly libertarian-leaning “outsider,” represented change.  But, now he has appointed that same entrenched establishment to help him run the country, thereby defeating the voters’ desire for change.  I also said that one of the things I had liked about Mr. Trump was that, in contrast to most of those far-right guys, particularly Pence, Cruz, Carson and Romney, he was not a “religious wingnut.”

I had taken it for granted that people would understand why I object to America being run by “religious wingnuts,” but then one of my young friends from India asked, “Why are you against religious people?”  Realizing that he did not understand what “wingnut” means in this context, I proceeded to explain that the term refers not to all “religious” people, but specifically the far-right extremist fundie evangelical variety who, despite being a minority among religious Americans, are the loudest, and who want to inflict their own particular repressive religious agenda on everybody else via the political process, i.e. theonomy, in clear violation of our Constitution.  

I explained that because I am religious myself, I support the First Amendment freedom of religion, which necessarily also includes freedom from religion, the separation of church and state wisely established by our founders.  (1)  Therefore I am against religious extremism and State imposition of religion of whatever variety, whether it be Islamic Sharia or Christian Dominionism.

My young friend replied, “You are not religious!”  My feelings might have been hurt by that accusation, were it not so obviously false as to be laughable.  The fact is, I am indeed “religious” by more than one definition of the word, and very deeply so, and I am not ashamed to admit it despite the popular stigma associated with “religion” in America today, thanks to the fundies (both Islamic and Christian) who claim to speak for all of us and manage to make “religion” look bad.

Many people today, understandably wanting to avoid that stigma, refer to themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  I, however, cannot make that claim, although I am a mystic and therefore certainly “spiritual.”  As I have described elsewhere (2), “God” for me is not a “belief” per se, but rather, a label that I put on my personal experience of Ineffable Love with which I am blessed thanks to Grace as well as a lifetime of serious yoga practice.  My emphasis on direct experience of the Divine is what attracts me to the ancient Liturgical churches centered on the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, as opposed to the modern evangelical denominations who deny the Deep Magic, regarding Communion as “merely symbolic” (which is rather odd considering that they take everything else in the Bible quite literally while denying Jesus’ words in this one matter), and celebrate the Lord’s Supper only infrequently when it does not interfere with their long-winded sermons.

I am officially “religious” in that I belong to an established religion, the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion.  According to tradition (3), this is one of the oldest Christian churches, having been founded at Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea, who brought with him the cup with which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, the Holy Grail in the Arthurian legends.   This all happened a couple of thousand years before the upstart “Religious Right” emerged only very recently in American history and declared itself to be the One True Christian Faith, as Frank Schaeffer explains in his very informative book (4), “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.”  

I am also “religious” by a second definition, namely, “a member of a monastic order, especially a nun or monk.”  I am such a Jesus Freak (5) that I wear His ring.  Even my religious relatives were mortified when I became a Third Order Sister and spent 14 blissful years living as a celibate monastic.  They were relieved when I eventually settled down with a mortal partner.  I remain a Sister, as Third Order religious persons living outside of the convent are permitted to marry.

Despite all of the above, my young friend continues to insist that I am not “religious” because my church, along with other mainstream churches, does not share the fundie dogma which he has somehow been indoctrinated to believe is the One True Christian Faith.  I find it puzzling, and a little alarming, that the American Religious Right could manage to persuade people in India, especially given that India is a former British colony and one would think that the Anglican tradition would be firmly established there.  Perhaps Indians find the Anglican Church to be an unpleasant reminder of their former colonization.  In any event, fundamentalist missionaries have been targeting India quite aggressively (6) and with apparent success, based on the fact that I am hearing their agenda from the mouths of kids over there.

While we do have important doctrinal disagreements which I’ve addressed above, such as their taking the entire Bible literally except for the part about the Body and Blood of Christ, fundies aren’t really concerned about that.  Rather, they are mainly obsessed about sex:  who is doing it with whom and in what manner.  They are especially upset about homosexuality or what they call “sodomy,” and so are we, although for entirely different reasons.  The fundie objection to gay marriage and homosexual relationships is based, among other things, on a misunderstanding of scripture in regard to the story of Sodom, where visiting strangers regardless of gender were routinely gang-raped.  Never mind that gang rape has nothing whatsoever in common with gay marriage.  (7)

Scripture clearly states what the “sin of Sodom” was: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.  Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.…” [Ezekiel 16:49-50, Study Bible]  It is the latter scriptural definition of “the sin of Sodom” which is of greater concern in American politics today, from the standpoint of the mainstream churches like mine.  But, the far-right politicians who want to impose their own brand of religion on America in violation of the Constitution prefer to ignore this verse about helping the poor and needy, in favor of focusing on gays and uppity women.

It is worth noting that the only thing Jesus ever said about gays was when the disciples asked whether or not everybody should get married, considering that divorce is a terrible sin (one which did not prevent 81% of evangelicals from electing twice-divorced Mr. Trump, now on his third wife, as President).  Jesus replied that not everyone is called to marriage, including men who “are born eunuchs,” the word “eunuch” in those days meaning “an effeminate man who is unsuited to marrying a woman,” i.e. what today we call “homosexual.”  This is in direct contradiction to the fundie assertion that people are not born that way and being gay is a “choice.”  (8)

I’m not going to address “what the Bible does or does not say about homosexuality” any further here because that has already been done, with considerable thoroughness, by many biblical scholars (9) and in any case, it is not the topic of this blog post which is religious liberty and why I, as a religious American, do not want theonomists running my country.

But the persecution of gays is part of a bigger right-wing agenda which makes essentially all non-procreative sex a sin:  Babies!  The Right says Americans aren’t having enough of them, especially white ones.  Brown people will soon outnumber us, and we can’t have that.  This is a point of common ground between the white supremacist Alt-Right (which is not particularly religious), as represented by Trump Chief Advisor Bannon, and the Religious Right, as represented by McConnell, Rubio, Santorum, Carson and Perry, among others with whom Trump has aligned himself.  “Adam and Steve” cannot have babies and therefore ought not to be having sex with each other.  Women can have babies, and should be forced to have more of them whether we want to or not.  

Incidentally, this is why unlike the ancient liturgical churches such as Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican, the modern evangelical protestant churches do not support the vocation of celibate religious orders.  Whereas even the relatively misogynist Roman Catholic Church acknowledged female celibacy in a life of prayer as a legitimate calling, modern fundies say that woman exists not to serve God, but to serve man, primarily by having babies.  Therefore celibate nuns are shirking their God-given duty by failing to procreate.  As Martin Luther, the guy who started this whole movement, told the nuns, "your vow is contrary to God and has no validity - don't delay but get married."  He also said,  “If women get tired and die of child-bearing, there is no harm in that; let them die, so long as they bear; they are made for that.”

The Episcopal church was among the first to permit birth control which, at one time in America, was illegal even for married couples.  We ordain female and gay priests and provide wedding ceremonies for gay people, all of which makes my church heathen according to the fundies.  But, per the fundamentalist interpretation of scripture, we can’t be having this conversation anyway, because women are not permitted to be ministers and/or to teach men.  So everything I say, including the links that I may provide to articles written by male biblical scholars, is to be conveniently disregarded, even though Saint Paul said in Galations 28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Be that as it may, I believe in the principle of “religious liberty” as enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, and while I’m not a lawyer, I am pretty sure it does not mean, “The liberty to oppress or discriminate against other people based on your religious beliefs,” as Rafael “Theonomy” Cruz and other right-wing politicians and preachers maintain.  Thomas Jefferson stated in his letter to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, Connecticut on January 1, 1802:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” (10)

I think that pretty much sums it up.  Religion is a deeply personal thing and not to be legislated or imposed, as our founders knew.  

No, I am not “against religious people,” even in public office.  President Jimmy Carter was an evangelical but not a theonomist.  He did not inflict his beliefs on other people or try to make his religion the law of the land.  He didn’t just talk, he walked the walk.  In his retirement he has been an exemplary Christian and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to advance democracy and human rights, especially women’s rights.  President Barry Obama, with whom I attended school in Hawaii, where he was born, said his atheist mother taught him, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated,” and likewise “my” candidate, Gary Johnson, when asked about his faith replied, “If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from Christianity, it’s do unto others as you would have others do unto you...  The God that I speak to doesn’t have a particular religion.”

Amen.

***

(1) [When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination. --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67









(10) Thomas Jefferson letter to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, Connecticut
Categories: Religious Liberty
Date: January 1, 1802

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