The midterm elections are soon to be here. Maybe it’s time to talk about God.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Is she nuts? Two topics you’re never supposed to bring up in public – religion and politics – and she wants to talk about them. But here’s the thing, Dear Ohio: It’s not God who is killing this country. It’s religion.
Specifically, it’s the desire of some religions to harness the power of government to force us all to do as they believe we should on any issue they choose. It seems as if they want to ban personal conscience if it does not comport with their own beliefs. If they are successful, then much of what we have accomplished as a society will be turned back to a time when the law was unconcerned with the suffering of those who did not hold power.
A list of the conduct religious powers are apt to remove from personal conscience can be garnered from the current public dialogue:
Public protest against government, racism and any other source of harm would be barred, unless it comports with prevailing religions.
Everyone would pray in school, majority rule governing the kinds of prayers deemed acceptable.
Abortion would be illegal, although the religious are apt to fight among themselves about whether there would be exceptions for situations in which a mother’s life is at risk.
The religious would also have to hash out the rules they prefer for use of contraceptives; some being in favor, some not.
It’s pretty clear they will still allow us to kill any adult as punishment for a variety of offenses. We will still be able to kill any human being with a different uniform, language, culture or country, provided they have been designated an enemy, although not necessarily by Congress.
Poor women will not be allowed free or low-cost contraceptive or prenatal health care, although they and their doctors will be punished if a fetus is not carried to term and delivered.
Prayers of the dominant religion will become mandatory in public ceremonies, and the Ten Commandments will become commonplace in our courtrooms. People who seek goodness from other sources will be encouraged to keep their beliefs to themselves; in any case, those beliefs will not be recognized as legitimate sources of conscience.
And of course, we will have to condemn same-sex marriage, and eventually perhaps, same-sex couples.
Come hell or high water, our free will to seek goodness in our own way, or to carry on our own conversation with God, whatever we perceive this greatness to be, will be subjugated to the parameters of those in power. We will call a halt to the expansion of tolerance, compassion, mercy, empathy and love. Those have never been the hallmarks of virtue among zealots.
But at times in our American story, these virtues were allowed to animate our public dialogue, because we honored the separation of church and state. We believed that sincerely held beliefs underlying conscience should be protected from government interference unless there was a compelling reason. Where once it was illegal to marry outside one’s own race, our courts now recognize that love can be colorblind. Where once it was possible for states to ban married couples’ use of contraceptives, our courts now see this as a decision within the privacy of marriage. Where once a child could be thrown out of school for not saluting the Flag, our courts now acknowledge individual conscience cannot be overcome by a mandated pledge. And certainly, we cannot forget that now, two people who have forsaken all others to be in a marriage, can do so even if they are the same sex.
Now, however, there are a substantial number of religious Americans who believe that government power must be acquired in order to impose their sincerely held beliefs on all of us, regardless of whether these beliefs conflict with our own personal conscience.
If this acquisition of power goes on unabated, we will stop the evolution of our laws toward greater understanding of suffering and greater tolerance for our differences. We will build fences around people’s consciences so they can’t escape and interfere with the salvation others are trying to achieve. We will turn back the clock to the good old days when racism was part of church-going, family planning was without reliable tools, women’s wombs were simply a repository for the posterity of churches, and non-heterosexual persons could be condemned to a life of solitary atonement for the misbegotten conduct of Mother Nature.
No laws of any nation can protect every decision of conscience from punishment. But the founders of our country took care to ensure that government’s hand would be stayed in a variety of settings in which individual conscience would not survive unless it was shielded from the tyranny of other people’s religious dictates.
If history and present conflicts have taught us anything, it is that men and women cannot rely on religious dictates alone to tell them what is right, for there are plenty of wrongs that can be done when we dispense with individual conscience. When we abandon conscience in favor of what someone else swears God wants us to do, we must accept the soul-crushing consequences that we impose on the lives of those whose lives we seek to control.
Conscience is like a whisper in our hearts – sometimes even a shout – but always an intimate, running dialogue with a source of decency we each may characterize in different ways. Once that conversation is silenced by fear or punishment, once it is enslaved by the dominion of others’ beliefs, courage is gone. Conscience is gone. And however we characterize it, God and goodness are gone.
Perhaps, Dear Ohio, we should be careful in voting for political candidates and public policies that submerge the conscience of all Americans under the religious dictates of only some Americans. For one day, it could happen that the dominant religion could change, and those who now seek power to conform all law to their faith might find themselves oppressed by those of different persuasions But then it will be too late, for church and state will be one, and conscience will belong to those in power.
The midterms are almost upon us, Dear Ohio. It’s time to talk about God.