Monday, October 03, 2011

Unlikely Ally

Penn Jillette has made me uncomfortable in the past with his tirades against those who believe in a deity or deities. His atheism has always sounded too much like the rantings of an extremist, of someone wearing his non-beliefs a little too tightly around his ears. That said, I found myself nodding appreciatively and in agreement with what he wrote in this opinion/commentary in the Los Angeles Times.

Oh, the rant is still there, but it doesn't depend on deeply insulting reaches for nasty humor. He makes his point clearly and backs it up with a rather nifty historical survey on the role of religion, specifically the "Christian" religion, in American politics. Here's some of what he had to say in "Politics and the bugnut Christians":

When I was a kid, politicians wanted to avoid talking about religion if they could. John F. Kennedy couldn't duck the issue, being Catholic and all. So how did he address it? By reminding Americans that religion shouldn't be an issue, that he was concentrating on big things like poverty and hunger and leading the space race.

When he finally got around to talking about religion, here's what he said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." Can you imagine a presidential candidate talking that way today?

It's what happened after that, particularly after Roe v Wade, that galls him, just as it galls me, a Christian believer. We get candidates who blame natural disasters on a God who is punishing the country for not being Christian enough by the standards of the Religious Reich. We get divisiveness in campaigns against the "heathens" and the "godless" as defined by those far to the right on the religious scale.

It is Jillette's conclusion that rang so true I had to stand up and take a walk around the apartment to calm down enough to re-read his essay:

Let's just hope our politicians keep expanding the group of people they want to serve. Rather than embracing Christian as the magic word of politics, we can move on to the truly magical word: American. And maybe we can even go a step further and make the magic word "humanity."

Trust me: the second reading was every bit as satisfying as the first. Click on over.



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