Monday, August 18, 2003

Some of the Religion, Some of the Time

The quip at the beginning of last week's entry became this week's column. The column is also available at the East Valley Tribune website here. And, yes, it gave me yet another chance to use the Pirates of the Caribbean line. That's should pretty much beat it into the ground. Anyway, I hope I can shake the Unitarians among you right down to your unitards.

I did make some progress with one of my right-wing readers, convincing him that if Dennis Prager says something, that doesn't mean all Jews believe it. Another reader, who usually doesn't agree with me, also noted that we hear far fewer sermons against gluttony these days, and most of them are followed by invitations to a church supper. And how about Dr. Laura becoming a Christian? Talk about a trade that helps one team, anyway.

Selective Morality

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 17, 2003

When did the sum total of religion and morality in public life get condensed down to making abortion illegal and, while of course having nothing against homosexuals personally, insisting that they don’t do anything too homosexual?

I guess those big unabridged Bibles got too heavy to cart around, much less consult, so as a labor-saving device, the religious right trimmed it down to the really, really abridged version, opposing abortion and homosexuality. Oh, that and making my kids say a Len Munsil-approved prayer in school.

All that other stuff about helping the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the least among you, much less opposing capital punishment -- well, to quote Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s not a code, really, it’s more like “guidelines.”

Nice little morality you got there, which requires only that you impose your beliefs regarding abortions, sex, and prayer on other people.

To gain entry to heaven, just push other people around or, even better, have the government do it for you. It’s an even better deal than the "virgins in paradise" myth for suicide bombers. Bossing other people on earth must be fun, or so many people wouldn’t do so much of it.

“But government shouldn’t enforce charity,” some might object. Well, if government should get back into the business of outlawing abortion and homosexual acts, or requiring prayers, to fulfill religious dictates certainly not shared by all Americans, why shouldn’t government also get into the business of making sure we’re healing the sick, feeding the poor, and caring for the least among us? Aren’t those mandates somewhat more prominent in the actual text?

(Sure, the Bible does contain much fire-and-brimstone about homosexuality. It also commands that we should stone disrespectful children to death, but we’ve managed to interpret our way around that one. But the Bible itself is quite vague about abortion, which actually is a latecomer in this debate -- which only makes the reduction of all of Judeo-Christian morality to these issues, and only these issues, even more absurd.)

If we’re supposed to use the criminal law to make everybody, of whatever faith, behave according to what Tom DeLay and Pat Robertson say the Bible says, then what’s stopping us from revising the tax code to “encourage” people to act more religiously in other ways? If you’re willing to throw gays and pregnant women in jail to get them to behave as you believe, what’s the possible objection to a little coerced charity and doing unto others?

Why, when it comes to capital punishment, or autistic kids needing treatment, or sick adults unable to afford health insurance or prescription drugs, or illegal aliens dying in the desert, all of these people wanting to wear their religion on your sleeve suddenly become pro-choice? They can’t let government enforce that sort of morality. It might cost money! Instead, government should stick to that old-time supply-side religion -- the kind that lines the pockets of the rich, and requires devotion only from other people.

I missed the passage where Jesus urged that the wealthy pay less in taxes and control others’ behavior; maybe an additional sermon available only to Republicans explains the religious basis of this “trickle-down morality.”

These so-called moralists are thumping an amazingly abbreviated version of the Bible. If they really want more religion in public life, then bring it all in, not just the comfortable stuff that burdens only other people. Maybe if they push using government to feed the hungry and heal the sick and to end capital punishment, then their talk about morality and religion won’t seem quite so amoral and hypocritical.

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