Staff Editorial: a Secular Stance is the Proper Stance
There are a lot of columns in newspapers these days, from people much brighter and educated than myself, talking about what is wrong with America. Sure there are a lot of things wrong, but there are also a lot of things right. However, wrong or right, are both relative terms. Personally I think concern is a better word for a columnist to use.
My biggest concern about this country has do to with religion. Some say we have "lost our moral compass" and equate that with a lack of religion in all aspects of life. Yet many statistics show that as many Americans as ever say they are religious and a very high percentage attend church weekly.
My guess is that we aren't missing religion, we are missing spirituality. Do we get so hung up on the mechanics of religion that we forget about what a true spiritual experience is. Is the ritual of attending church every week, just that; or do we go because we truly feel a spiritual feeling there, and carry it into our everyday lives?
I think religion has also crept too much into national politics. Many Americans scoff at the way middle eastern countries are run with Islamic leaders running their governments or Islamic factions within countries that crush other religious beliefs, particularly when they are affiliated with any kind of political movement. It seems, to many, like religious totalitarianism. Yet are we moving toward that in this country as well?
Religion was seldom an issue in a presidential race until 1960, when John F. Kennedy did his famous speech on being Catholic. Kennedy was elected, and whether you liked what he did or didn't I don't think there was any sign that anything he did was directed by the Pope. Of course, presently we have the controversy with Mitt Romney, and his LDS faith. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
People equate conservative with Christianity and liberal with non-believers. Yet myself, being kind of in the middle with some very conservative views and some very liberal views about various subjects, I have many friends on both sides of the political spectrum that fit into all kinds of religious categories. I have some friends who are very conservative that are proclaimed atheists. I have others that are liberal that are profound Christians. Politicians have always looked for blocks of votes that could support them, and after all these years you would think religious and non-religious people would learn that what many politicians say is only to get the vote of those blocks. In the political arena religion becomes a tool, not a way of life.
This country has become great because we have been able for the most part to tolerate the fact that people of other religions and belief systems live around us. Now note I use the word tolerate, not accept. While we officially accept the fact that someone of a different religion lives next door, we in the privacy of our homes or religious groups have often groused about the differences. What the official and formal word is, is often very different from what the word on the street is. Religious struggles have gone on within our society since the beginning, but yet we have still kept an open enough mind to continue to let people of religions we don't agree with into our country. Ours is a nation founded on individual freedoms, yet managed by the overall groups well being.
Many deride a secular society, but that is what has made us strong. Some will say our fall from the grace of God is what is weakening our nation; I say it is the divisions that some of those that make that statement have created. A lot of people look back to the founding fathers of our country, and what many of them said, to support their point of view of what was pictured for this nation. Personally, as far forward thinking as those men were, I think few, if any of them, could picture a country where a woman and a black American would be some of the front runners for the presidency. I don't think they could picture mosques standing next to Christian churches or Buddhist Temples erected in cities around the nation. I am not sure, despite the words "all men are created equal" and a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion they could see beyond their western European Christian minds what this country would become in the future. Their vision was far reaching and the documents they designed to operate a government for the people have worked well, but if they were here today, I am not sure, knowing what we know about some of them individually, if they would grasp the complexities that their original intentions have created. The best thing about our constitution is that it is a living and evolving document; not one set in stone for all time.
There is a precedent for religion to take a large hand in government in our country though. Local and state politics have often been dominated by religious groups in various places in the country. For years it was almost impossible to get elected (and still is in some places) in this state without being Mormon. Growing up in Utah, a non-Mormon, I examined that, but mostly came to the conclusion that it was a function of the bulk of the population was LDS and they wanted to have people in office that fit their thoughts. That is the way a democracy works; majority rules. But the rights of the individual are still guaranteed by the constitution, regardless of who is in power, locally or nationally.
In my view, to rule a nation that is as diverse and as large as the United States, the people in charge need a secular stance, with that moral compass in their hands and an eye toward understanding all of their citizens concerns and needs.