It’s easy to look back on our lives and glorify earlier years as something special. But our memories are fallible. And, in reality, those days were seldom as good as we remember. There are, however, exceptions. One prime example is religion.
I remember growing up at a time when churches and synagogues were the pillars of communities. They were gathering places for life’s most important moments…places of joy for baptisms and weddings. They also served as support groups in times of sorrow when family members were lost. They also collected money for those less fortunate. And in many communities, traditional churches continue these are traditions.
Even more important, traditional religions taught good behavior based on principles such as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In my small Midwestern town, I cannot recall anyone proselytizing. One’s religious beliefs were considered private and personal. Indeed, the subject of religion seldom came up in gatherings, except at church. Everyone seemed to respect everyone else’s faith. There were no attempts to insert prayers before the Pledge of Allegiance in school; no attempts to install religious memorials on government property. There were, however, Christmas and Easter decorations in schools and in government buildings until they were, in my opinion, rightfully banned by the Supreme Court.
Fast forward to today when evangelicals proselytize at every opportunity. When they ignore the unethical, antisocial behavior of a president because they are convinced that he will give them the power they crave.
Today we have practitioners of the so-called “prosperity gospel” – the corrupted notion that God rewards true believers by making them wealthy. There are those who wish to hasten the “rapture” by unifying all of Jerusalem under Israeli rule, believing that only then will the next prophet appear. There are others who believe in the dominion principle, that only true believers are qualified to govern the United States. There are still others who believe one’s behavior is immaterial, that you can do whatever you wish as long as you declare your faith in Jesus.
For most of these, the Golden Rule has been relegated to the dust bins of history; a quaint notion that interferes with the business at hand. That business is raising money to provide a new mansion or jet for the pastor. Or to raise money and votes for representatives that believe as they do so they can make the US a Christian nation. Never mind that doing so would be blatantly unconstitutional and very much in contrast to the beliefs of our nation’s Founders.
Such a plan is antithetical to democracy. It would create a theocracy hostile to non-Christians…even to Christians who do not share the majority’s narrow religious view. In short, it would create a theocracy little different from the Taliban or ISIS.
If we are ever to make the US great again; if we are ever to regain our world leadership in matters other than military, we must stop focusing on the things that divide us. We must find a way to share the American experience. We must learn to care for one another; to respect one another; to talk with one another. We must commit to true equality.
That means rejecting faiths that proclaim their superiority over others; that try to dictate the behavior of others (that’s what the courts are for). And it means committing to the words and the intentions of the Declaration of Independence: “…that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”