Copyright © by Len Holman, 2/10/11
If I were the Supreme Being, the Deity, the Head of the universe, I would be VERY happy to be given credit by the American President for helping him through the rough spots in his life. At last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, a noticeably grayer President than the candidate he was just two years ago, Obama told the audience that “[W]hen I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people.” I’m sure God smiled when Obama said that, but it might be a little confusing to neophyte American history students. They would know there was no religious test for political office in this country. They would know that our history is partly a fight to throw off the chains of religion which had bound other societies—so it must be something of a conundrum to see that no atheist person has ever been President, that any U.S. President must at least occasionally be seen going to church, that any candidate for President must—at some point—profess his religious values—that, in fact, there DOES seem to be a religious requirement to be President of the United states. And that requirement is always a Christian one (quick, for all the money in the world, name a Jewish president). The exception is: Hillary Clinton, whose plumbing was more commented on than her praying, as all female candidates for president would be. But sooner or later, the candidate is going to have to proclaim his (or her) fealty to the monotheistic Christian God. Allah need not apply. Kennedy addressed this issue head-on and was successful in convincing voters that Catholics were, in fact, Christians, too, even though many viewed them as similar to that weird adult cousin who sits at the kids’ table for family get-togethers—but he’s still family.
Americans proclaim, in poll after poll, their allegiance to religious values. The say they go to church. They say they pray like hell. They say they believe in God, who will make sure their favorite team wins the Super Bowl. And they expect their potential leaders to be of similar, if not identical, beliefs and behaviors. So even though this particular set of requirements don’t appear in the constitution, it is a de facto necessity, if someone wants the world’s worst job. God is surely on everyone’s mind lately, and it certainly can’t hurt to believe in something or someone higher than yourself, something you can believe in, something just and powerful, like Spider-man, but it must be a real problem for God—in His various forms, incarnations, and all those Bourne-like passports with all those names in foreign tongues—to figure out whether Obama’s prayers take priority over those of Egypt’s president or Iceland’s prime minister. God must have a tremendous filing system to keep all this straight. I’m sure, since Hosni Mubarak, for example, is not a Christian, and has a security force that regularly hooks Coptic Christians up to light sockets, that He—like any good President or Presidential contender—will not be listening. But as King of the Universe, he should be doing other, more important things, than shadowing the president and making sure God gets into the council chamber of the San Bernardino County supervisors, and the locker rooms of the NFL.
Now, I hear the cry from the land: “But the Founders believed in God!” Well, some did, and certainly most were Deists, but when it came to policy, to the public weal, to deciding what course to take, God was out in the heartland speaking to the Lakota about nasty coming events. Since the public was everyone, the Founders weren’t blinded by the sentimentality and blatant bigotry that religion had become even then and they realized that the “public good” actually meant everyone, religious or not, Christian or not.
So religiosity is important for the voters…but only certain kinds. It would be amusing and perhaps instructive to see a race for the nomination of a particular party between a Muslim and an atheist. The confounded voters would really have some problems then. A Mormon is really not a Christian in the sense that Huckabee or Beck or Palin is, not mainstream (except in Utah, where they are to that state as the Mafia was to Sicily), and an atheist is really beyond the pale, for how can he be trusted to make good decisions without the benefit of a visit from God or an angel or someone. Will we trust a person to lead this country based just on reason, facts, context, and experience? You might as well ask a mega-church pastor to give up his hot tub. It seems that if we go down this road, we will have returned to a colonial time where the self-righteous—persecuted by the evil English state—came over the ocean to the middle of nowhere to establish colonies and persecute those who didn’t believe as they did. Remember when the media—liberal, left-leaning ones—were wondering aloud and in print whether Dubya was trying to establish a theocracy? HE didn’t because he really didn’t know what one was, but his “friends and advisors” had ideas about it. Now we have the likes of Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and others who seem to think that “original intent” refers to the bible, not the Constitution. Obama had a hard enough time convincing some that he WAS a Christian, and the right kind, even after he dumped the egocentric Reverend Jeremiah Jones, but he still has about 25% of the population doubting he is fit to be president because he is other than a Christian. This is a pretty serious situation and a far cry from our founding years. It would beggar the imagination to picture George Washington being extolled for his excellent praying ability. No, he was extolled for his leadership, his rapport with his men, his virtue (in the Greek sense), and his integrity. It’s a wonder, in this day and age, that he is still mentioned in our history books.
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