Faith & Democracy


Along with many others, I have become increasingly distressed over the summer by the public discourse and conduct of some of my fellow citizens. At the moment, I am not inclined to describe this simply as “politics,” even though campaigns for the mid-term Congressional elections are underway and many of the issues over which opinion is diverging are also matters that are, to some extent, the purview of government.

Topping my list was the _Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin: The Riverside Years,_ now published in a two-volume set by Westminster John Knox Press. The writings of this preacher and social activist belong in the study of anyone who takes the Christian faith seriously.

Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the National Mall in our nation’s capitol has come and gone. Presumably both the litter and the loiterers have been removed. Now the event lives on only in the memory of those who experienced it or saw it on television, and in the articles and columns and blogs finding their way onto the Internet. This blog isn’t one of them, but it does grow out of a prominent theme at Beck’s rally: God and America!

The seasons of political elections come and go, each characterized not only by a set of particular issues but a peculiar tone to the public discussions and debates. Invariably the constellation of issues and challenges facing the country and its political leadership is anchored in but a handful of extra-ordinary issues, those that seem to evoke heightened interest and inspire civic participation, but may or may not actually point our way forward as a nation.

In terms of the current immigration debate, what do we Christians do--well, I guess, it applies to Jews too--with the fact that the model of our faith was an immigrant, and an undocumented one at that? According to the Christian scriptures, we live with it.

Before September 11, 2001, most Americans didn’t know what to think of Muslims, if they thought about them at all. Seemingly isolated terrorist acts occurred in various parts of the world, linked to Muslims who were militant and violent in their activism against Western cultural and political institutions and symbols. The U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. But for the most part, Americans were woefully ignorant of the religion of Islam. Then came 9/11.

Ultimately, it is inexpedient to faith and injurious to religion for one to claim to know the will or plan of God in partisan politics. As it always seems to turn out, it’s not all that good for politics either.

I understand that slightly more than half of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court believe that the Second Amendment right to own a firearm in this country is inviolable. They have now made that clear in their 5-4 decision on McDonald v. City of Chicago, striking down Chicago’s 30-year old handgun ban and extending to all the states the protections of the amendment. Okay, I get that.

_God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything_, by Christopher Hitchens. I am really disappointed with this book. Christopher Hitchens, the irrepressible, irreverent, irascible, and _irreligious_ journalist has emerged as one of the "new atheists," and I had supposed that I would find reasoned arguments in this book. Not so.

One could get the impression from the opening lines of the story about Jesus eating with and at the home of the Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7: 36 – 50) that this was going to be just a pleasant dinner party, a break from the sparring that kept the Pharisees and Jesus apart yet persistently and contentiously together. . .It took an uninvited guest to disrupt the spirit of good will that had, up to this point, characterized the evening.


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