Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post #90 - Role of Religion in Politics

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:18)

Although we can argue about whether the founding fathers intended to establish "a Christian nation," I believe it was faith in God that led George Washington to say, in his Farewell Address to the young nation, September 17, 1796:

"Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
"In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest."

Washington could have been talking about the U.S., “the Axis of Evil” and Israel. I am sure there will be those who say that the world is far different and more dangerous place these days, and Washington's sentiments are just that: "sentimentalism" -- not realistic or useful in the 21st Century. But Christians are accustomed to relying on guidance that was promulgated long before we appeared on the scene, including the scriptures, and we pledge to uphold the U.S. Constitution, now in its 225th year.

Tom Tancredo
I heard an address by Colorado congressman and then-presidential candidate Tom Tancredo in which he took pride – and scored points with his March 2nd, 2007 audience at the Conservative Political Action Committee – in saying that he would “never apologize for America.” Tancredo seems to have confused humility with humiliation. As a Christian, I certainly would never apologize for being a Christian or for loving my wife and family, but I would hope that I would be ever ready to apologize, and sincerely repent, for things that I -- or my country -- might do that were misguided or destructive. We all are fallible – as individuals and, yes, as nations. To say that we never would repent is to imply that “being America means never having to say you're sorry,” a position that paints us into a moral corner where we never want to be. As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote, "these days, to be called humble, obedient, meek, is almost an insult. We no longer see the grandeur and the strength of such an attitude.”

In a Christian Ethics Today article, Daniel Malotsky, a religion professor at Greensboro College, wrote about "A Presidential Apology." He said:

"President Bush has acknowledged on several occasions that mistakes have been made in Iraq...None of his public remarks has constituted an apology, and he scrupulously avoids any suggestion that the invasion as a whole was a mistake.
"..The redemption that the President surely desires is only possible by shedding the sense of his own -- and, by extension, America's -- inherent righteousness by admitting wrongdoing.
"...Though moral failure, Niebuhr shows, often arises by proceeding as though the gap between the ideal and the real does not exist, we are not well served by assuming that the gap leaves us in an amoral wasteland, in which survival (political or otherwise) becomes the only relevant criterion for determining our course of action."

In his book on Confession: the Healing Sacrament, Jim Forest writes:

"It is impossible to imagine a healthy marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If we have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, we confess what we've done, we apologize, and we promise not to do it again; then we do everything in our power to keep that promise."

Wouldn't this same idea apply in relations between larger groups of people – even nations? If it is not legitimate to apologize for the genocidal treatment of Native Americans, for our historical legacy of having owned other human beings, for the overreaction that led to imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, for our overthrow of democratically -elected governments around the world, or for torturing prisoners, then it follows that it is uniquely America's place to be above morality. 

A Guide to Iran was prepared in 1943 by the War Department for U.S. soldiers stationed in Iran during the Second World War. Recognizing the critical importance of Iran in the wider strategic situation, the government gave advice to the enlisted men:

"And remember always that you aren’t going to Iran to change or reform the Iranis or tell them how much better we do things at home. Their ways have been good enough for them for some thousands of years and they aren’t likely to change because you think they should.
"...They are two principal danger points. Their politics and their religion. Stay out of arguments of discussion of either. In the first place, you don’t know enough about them to have an opinion; in the second place, they aren’t your business; in the third place, you can win a lot more friends for our side by just being an ordinary, friendly American."

A bit simplistic? Perhaps; but this embodies succinctly the advice given by many Iran experts during this period of growing tension. It is also reminiscent of the guidance given by Ali (one of the earliest Muslim leaders) to a person of higher rank, the man he appointed governor for Egypt, in a letter of instruction:

"Let the dearest of your treasuries by the treasury of righteous action. Control your desire and restrain your soul from what is not lawful to you...Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects. Be not in the face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation...Never say, 'I am invested with authority, I give orders and I am obeyed,' for surely that is corruption in the heart...God harkens to the call of the oppressed and He is ever on the watch against the wrongdoers." (cited in Heart of Islam)

Born of fear, our school-yard bravado can get in the way of mature interaction with other players on the world scene. This bit of verse has been attributed to weapons inspector Hans Blix: "The noble art of losing face/ Will some day save the human race."

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