Vol. 10, No. 11

March 14-20, 2002

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For God’s Sake, Keep Politicians Out of Religion

In the six months since September 11, Americans have sought how to define our better selves.

The images that mock us from television or the tabloids and glossies in supermarket check-out lines don’t do us justice in these altered times. It’s our purposeful selves we’ve been seeking, as we wondered how we might have behaved had it been us forced to take our own measure.

But one aspect of this search gives us pause. That’s the drive to equate ethics — which are civic standards we all share — with religion — where many of us differ.

We’re seeing the lines blur in Calvert County, where the County Commissioners not only want to start their meeting with prayer but want to put prayer in schools and workplaces.

And we’re seeing it in states, from Indiana to Pennsylvania, where officials want to boost morality by posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

When we’re looking for a higher purpose, most of us have been taught to turn to religion. It’s the rare person who hasn’t called on God to help us understand, and to guide and bless us in these troubled times.

But like our founding fathers, who created the world’s first democracy by separating church from state, we see danger in turning religion to secular purposes.

The greatest danger is that authority demanded by religion is absolute. Harness the omnipotence of God for secular purposes and you get just the kind of alliance that motivates most extremist forces disrupting the world and threatening America’s safety even to our counties and towns.

The second danger is that, because we all define God differently (and some people not at all), no matter what prayer we say, it will never be everybody’s God we pray to. And that will divide us in our search for our best selves rather than bring us together.

We have no argument with Calvert County’s — or Indiana, Pennsylvania or Tennessee’s — need to “sanctify” our public purpose. These are tough times, and to get through them, we’ll need our best selves, molded to the image of our national heroes.

But we still feel the need to gently remind elected officials that it wasn’t as priests, rabbis or ministers that we hired them. Where, when, how and with whom we pray is our own business and God’s business — not theirs.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly