Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, the new year is now upon us. I woke up trying to think about what I might try to add to my new blog as my first entry for 2008. Before I could come up with a subject that I wanted to spend a few minutes with, I found an editorial in my local paper (The Indianapolis Star) that articulated one of my viewpoints very well, and it was written by my own rabbi! Please take a few minutes and read the excellent opinion piece by Rabbi Sandy Sasso.

The first comment posted in response to the Rabbi's piece states that "Liberals are the ones attacking religions." My own response to this idiotic and ignorant comment (the fourth comment to the Rabbi's editorial):
Liberals are not attacking religion at all; instead, we oppose those who would try to use their own religious viewpoint to tell us how to think and act. I have no problem with anyone else's religion so long as it remains their religion and they do not try to force their beliefs on me. I'll believe the way that I want and I'll leave you alone; all I ask is that you do the same. Enjoy your religion in your home and in your church / synagogue / mosque / shrine or anywhere else, but keep it out of OUR government.
I guess religion is as good a point as any to start the year's discussion. After all, so many people allow their every thought to be guided by religion, almost as if they are absolved from needing to think for themselves and make up their own minds. Just witness the furor (well maybe not quite furor, but at least minor fracas) over the movie The Golden Compass which some people accuse of being anti-religion.

First, I would ask the people who claim that the movie is anti-religion whether they've actually seen the film. I have. There was nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- in the film that could be labeled as anti-religion. Perhaps the book is more anti-religious (I'm 75% through the book and so far, other than a few references to the Church and Pope, there is very little about religion in the story). But in any event, one of the central themes in both the book and the film is whether a powerful institution (call it the Magesterium or Church or whatever) should be able to tell people what and how to think. One person's religious doctrine may be another's Big Brother. So people who boycott movies like The Golden Compass are actually allowing others to make up their minds for them. If you go and see the film and dislike what it has to say, then you have made that intellectual decision on your own and exercised the valuable human skill of independent free thought. But if you don't see the film because your pastor or priest told you not to, then you are ceding your decision-making abilities to another. And I, for one, find that to be dangerous.

Religion can play an important part in your life if you want it to. That's fine. That's your decision for how you want to live your life and I commend you for your faith. However, the fact that you have chosen to life your life in a particular way or following a particular faith is your decision and it should be a personal and private matter. Leave me and my beliefs alone. Don't tell me how and what to believe and I won't tell you (well, I might if you read this blog, but you made the decision to come read it; I didn't shove my ideas down your throat).

Which finally, brings us back to the candidates running for office. Frankly, I don't care what religion a candidate is, which church he or she attends, or how often he or she worships. I do care about the issues facing our country and our planet and what each of those candidates would do to solve those problems. And I do care about whether those candidates will make decisions on the basis of their own intellectual prowess and upon advice given by well-chosen and well-qualified advisors or whether decisions will be based upon scripture and religious doctrine. Personally, I'm scared of candidates who fall into that latter category. Last time I checked, we vote for candidates, not for their pastor or their bishop or whoever else may tell them what they should do to properly follow their particular religious dogma.

Well, enough for now. We have an entire election campaign ahead of us and I suspect that I will have plenty more opportunities to discuss my thoughts about religion in the public and political sphere. For now, just think about how many wars have been fought over religion and its interpretation and how many people have been killed in the name of one god or another. That is one of the things that sets America apart from much of the rest of the world. We've managed to grow into the strongest country the world has ever seen because of the enormous diversity in thoughts and ideas. If we start allowing religion to play and become a more dominant and active part in our public political life, we will be starting down the road to being just like much of the rest of the world where religious dispute leads to violence and chaos. And that's not America or American.

Happy New Year.

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