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Religious Identity / Secular Politics

Katie McDonough writes on

"State Senator Jason Rapert, the man behind Arkansas’ ban on abortion at twelve weeks, may have been elected to office to serve the 85,000 constituents in his district, but, he says, he only really serves God."

Are we electing politicians or theologians?

According to Isaac Kramnick, professor of government at Cornell University, "It was Thomas Jefferson who established the separation of church and state. Jefferson was deeply suspicious of religion and of clergy wielding political power."

Why is religious identity so important?

In 1989 or 1990, around the time Bishop Maher in San Diego was denying the sacrament to pro-choice Democrat Lucy Killer, because of her position on abortion, someone in the Catholic hierarchy complained about most Catholic politicians being pro-choice, saying one could find a better pro-life voting record from a Baptist or a Mormon than from a Catholic.

Most American Catholics are pro-choice.

Pro-lifers are willing to put aside their religious differences for the cause of life!

In the summer of 1992, my friend Tim Parks, whom I met through Life Chain, was proud of the way differing Christian denominations were willing to put aside their differences, and come together for the cause of life.

Pro-lifers will listen to respected pro-life columnist Nat Hentoff, a self-described "liberal Jewish atheist," rather than refuse to listen to him because he is an atheist.

Pro-lifers will listen to Nat Hentoff without crying "red!" because of his left-liberal political leanings.

And pro-lifers will listen to Nat Hentoff without making any anti-semitic slurs or gestures:

(e.g., muttering "Jew up!", "Jew ever", "always Jew!", anti-semitic yawns, pointing their fingers at their noses, sticking their legs out mimicking a dog taking a leak, etc.).

Pro-lifers will listen to Dr. J.C. Willke, former head of National Right to Life, whom I believe is Catholic (and we all know how much born agains *love* the Catholic Church!).

Heck, pro-lifers will even listen to A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Hindu spiritual master who brought the 2,200 year old Vaishnavaite bhakti tradition (popularly known as Krishna Consciousness) to the West, and his designation of the unborn as a "baby," over Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher (inventor of "situation ethics") who said, "There is no such thing as an 'unborn baby.' The fetus is gametic material."

If I can borrow from the lyrics to bhaktin Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders' "My City was Gone" (Rush Limbaugh used the opening notes from that song in his radio broadcasts in the '90s), "I was stunned and amazed" when the Republicans put aside their religious differences and nominated Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in 2012.

The only exception I can think of to pro-lifers putting aside their religious differences:

At Life Chain in 1992 was an older woman, a Catholic, who wrote to me that contraception is not a solution to the abortion crisis, but part of the problem!

At one of the planning meetings for Life Chain, she told everyone about a young eighteen year old Mormon boy who wanted to help the pro-life movement, but she said no matter how hard he tried, they were never going to accept him as a fellow Christian.

I don't even claim to be a Christian, so for me the point is moot. I follow a religious tradition centuries (if not millennia) older than Christianity.

(According to secular scholars like Dr. Diana L. Eck, a professor of Hinduism, the Vaishnavaite Hindu religious tradition can be traced back to at least the 2nd century BC.)

I'm merely claiming to be part of mainstream secular American society.

In the late '90s, I exchanged emails with Tim Parks, while he was in Hong Kong, serving as a Protestant missionary, preaching in China.Tim was honest enough to acknowledge the similarities as well as the differences between our faiths.

Tim, aware of how rampant anti-semtism is within Christianity, said he sincerely apologized for any anti-semitism Krishna devotees might have faced.

In a 1982 interview, George Harrison was asked, "Oftentimes you speak of yourself as a plainclothes devotee, a closet yogi or 'closet Krishna'..."

And George Harrison said in response, "I think it's better that it is spreading into the homes now. There are a lot of 'closet Krishnas,' you know."

The other side treats us like a "cult" and wonders why?

Religious intolerance exists even among liberals.

In San Diego, during the '80s, Diane, a member of FOLK ("Friends Of Lord Krishna") our congregation, and who is pro-choice, told us that she accidentally disclosed her identity as a worshipper at the Krishna temple among family members, and one of her relatives, an older woman, became alarmed.

Diane said she had to placate her, saying the Krishna temple is her place of worship, the devotees are her friends, etc.

Similarly, a few years ago, we were celebrating my birthday at Golden Lotus, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Oakland.

The beautiful bhaktin Kim Grant merely made a passing reference to a couple of older guests, Walt and Johanna, about "...the temple in Berkeley where we worship," without disclosing our religious identity...

Even though Walt (who passed away recently) was an atheist and a political liberal, and Johanna, a follower of Muktananda's Siddha Yoga, was previously vegetarian for eighteen years, and still morally opposed to vivisection (animal experimentation).

And we were dining at one of two hundred vegan restaurants worldwide run by followers of Buddhist spiritual master Ching Hai, which Veg-News (a slick, trendy vegan periodical out of San Francisco) unsuccessfully tried to discredit as a "cult" (rather than seeing them as allies in the spread of veganism), forcing Zen Buddhist spiritual master Dr. Will Tuttle (author, The World Peace Diet) to come to their rescue!

On pilgrimage to a Krishna temple in Santa Cruz, CA with Kim several years ago, I pointed out that there are so many different denominations within Christianity:

Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, etc...

With differing views on the divinity of Jesus, the afterlife, grace Vs works, the Trinity, etc...

So there's no reason they can't be accepting of Krishna devotees, too, as part of the American mainstream.

"But they (the different Christian denominations) all hate each other!" Kim exclaimed.

She's right.

It's possible that without church-state separation, religious strife would have torn our country apart.

A secular state is laissez-faire towards all belief and disbelief.

According to Isaac Kramnick, Thomas Jefferson was politically laissez-faire toward all belief and disbelief, incurring the wrath of Christians by his fervent defense of toleration of atheists:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only injurious to others. But it does no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

And according to journalist Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Jefferson clearly indicated in his writings that he was *not* an atheist!

"This country (the United States) wasn't founded by Christians..."

--fallen brahmana (ex-priest, and now another FOLK member), Ron McClellan, 1990

If the government is not laissez-faire towards all belief and disbelief, if it favors one religion over another (e.g., Nativity scenes on public property, instead of on private property where they belong; sectarian school prayers favoring one holy book over another; etc.), it sends the wrong message to anyone not in the religious majority (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Wiccans, Scientologists, agnostics, atheists, etc.)

It makes them feel like foreigners in their own country. It tells them that they are not welcome here; that they are second-class citizens in their own country; or that their faith (or lack thereof) is not as important as the majority faith.

There's never been any reason why, in a secular democracy, in the name of interfaith harmony, we can't all coexist in peace, respect and appreciate each other's holy books; respect and appreciate the similarities as well as the differences between our faiths, etc.

The secular left is more tolerant of all faiths and those of no faith than the religious right.

In 2005, for example, on the Democrats For Life email list, when the names of possible pro-life Democratic presidential candidates were brought up, Dave Six, a pro-life Catholic, merely commented about Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), "He's a Mormon. Is America ready?"

(Senator Reid, who now has a mixed record on abortion, raised eyebrows a couple of years ago, when he referred to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a pro-choice Catholic, as "hot!")

Pro-life Christians are willing to put aside their religious differences when it comes to the unborn. Why then, does religious identity make a difference when it comes to animal rights as the political strategy and/or solution to ending the abortion crisis?

And Christians in the West have embraced the past five hundred years of secular social progress, nearly all of which contradicts biblical tradition:

...democracy and representative government in place of monarchy and belief in the divine right of kings; the separation of church and state; the abolition of (human) slavery; the emancipation of women; birth control; the sexual revolution; LGBT rights...

I think it's odd they would suddenly become an obstacle to social and moral progress when it comes to animal rights, but that's what's going on!

I'd be more impressed if Jason Rapert were a clergyman, a religious leader, and/or a theologian proving himself to be a rational, freethinking individual, quite capable of distancing himself from his religious beliefs, scriptures and/or his house of worship when it comes to embracing veganism and animal rights!

Along the lines of Jason Rapert's professed loyalty to God, in a 1989 interview with the now-defunct Animals' Agenda, Reverend Andrew Linzey, author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals, and the foremost theologian in the field of animal-human relations, insisted:

" primary loyalty is to God, and not to the church. You see, I don’t think the claims of the church and the claims of God are identical...

"The church is a very human institution, a frail human institution, and it often gets things wrong. Indeed, it’s worse than that. It’s often a stumbling block and often a scandal."

Linzey expressed optimism from a study of history:

"Let’s take your issue of slavery. If you go back in history, say two hundred years, you’ll find intelligent, conscientious, loving Christians defending slavery, because they hardly gave it two thoughts. If they were pressed, they might have said, ‘Slavery is part of progress, part of the Christianization of the dark races.’

"A hundred or perhaps as little as fifty years later, what you suddenly find is that the very same Christian community that provided one of the major ideological defenses of slavery had begun to change its is a classic example of where the Christian tradition has been a force for slavery and a force for liberation.

"Now, just think of the difficulties that those early Christian abolitionists had to face. Scripture defended slavery. For instance, in Leviticus 25, you’re commanded to take the child of a stranger as a slave...St. Paul simply said that those who were Christian slaves should be better Christians.

"Almost unanimously, apart from St. Gregory, the church fathers defended slavery, and for almost 1800 years, Christians defended and supported slavery. So, in other words, the change that took place within the Christian community on slavery is not just significant, it is historically astounding.

"Now, I give that example because I believe the case of animals is in many ways entirely analogous. We treat animals today precisely as we treated slaves, and the theological arguments are often entirely the same or have the same root.

"I believe the movement for animal rights is the most significant movement in Christianity, morally, since the emancipation of the slaves. And it provides just as many difficulties for the institutional church..."

Christians have found themselves unable to agree upon many pressing moral issues -- including abortion.

Exodus 21:22-24 says if two men are fighting and one injures a pregnant woman and the child is killed, he shall repay her according to the degree of injury inflicted upon her, and not the fetus.

On the other hand, the Didache (Apostolic Church teaching) forbade abortion.

"There has to be a frank recognition that the Christian church is divided on every moral issue under the sun: nuclear weapons, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, animals, etc.," says Reverend Linzey.

"I don't think it's desirable or possible for Christians to agree upon every moral issue. And, therefore, I think within the church we have no alternative but to work within diversity."

Rodney King, who called himself a "poster child for police brutality," asked in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots of 1992:

"I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?"

Democrats For Life of America, 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, South Building, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20004 (202) 220-3066

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