Saturday, September 13, 2008

Religion and Politics

We've all heard the old adage, "Never discuss religion and politics in polite conversation." This is especially true after the bitterly divisive political climate created during this current administration. We increasingly speak about faith in politics, but compassion for opposing viewpoints has arguably diminished in recent years. Both candidates promise change, but will either of them inspire genuine respect for others? Will either of them create true solutions to the problems affecting millions of Americans today?

The current political climate has become a self-sustaining beast. It would seem no candidate can win without bending to its pressure to at least some degree.

As a case in point, John McCain once said, "Division and slander are not our values. They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or the name of the Republican party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party, and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."

I didn't always agree with McCain, but I admired his independence. Now he's chosen Palin as his vice presidential candidate, probably less for her leadership credentials than for her ability to energize religious conservatives. As McCain marches toward the White House, he begins an unhealthy dance with the very kind of pandering he once criticized.

Please understand my position. I respect the influence of religion in American society, but pandering doesn't help anyone. It doesn't even help the very people who would seem to benefit most. Like flattery, pandering is an insidious form of dishonesty. Under pressure, will McCain really fight for conservative causes of the people he once called the "outer reaches of American politics," or will he revert to a more habitual approach to the issues? So many conservatives seem desperate to shape the political agenda; they don't even see the insult given to them by John McCain's pandering, or even that of George Bush for that matter. In the end, they may have a platform that feels good, but lacking the substance they crave.

Lest anyone think me totally one-sided and unfair, I have at least one criticism for Obama.

Barack Obama began his campaign on the notion of dialog. In fact, I caucused for Obama on the belief that he presented the greatest likelihood of uniting Americans from every side of the issues. But as the Republican Party rallies behind the McCain-Palin ticket, Obama promises to sharpen his attacks. I understand the strategy behind his decision, but I truly lament the shift in focus. How will he create unity as he surrenders to the politics of division?

A nagging sense of disillusionment leaves me with several unpleasant questions. Do politics always inspire intolerance, negativity, and dishonesty? Will our nation continue to split along ideological lines? Is there no way to create a truly compassionate society in spite of deep religious and political differences?

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