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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Faith and public piety

This article in The Stranger today makes what to the non-religious and those in, for lack of a better term, more mainstream religions would consider an appealing point about Kerry vs. Bush on religion.  Bush wears his religion on his sleeve and parades it around for religious gain.  Kerry isn't reticient about his religion, but he doesn't parade it around or make a big show out of his piety.  Kerry's Catholicism has been a lifelong habit, but Bush found Jesus suspiciously soon before he entered a political life for good.  If both men were given a fair shake in the media, most Americans might actually relate more closely to Kerry's take on religion--that it's important but private and that public piety is actually pretty disgusting.  In fact, by the election, I'll bet a whole lotta people see it that way.
But the blubbering Jesus loving act that Bush puts on isn't aimed at mainstream America.  It's aimed at born-again Christians, specifically the fundie subset of born agains.  And they are going to persist in being impressed with his all show, no substance religious beliefs, because his act (genuine or not) fits into their belief system pretty well.  It does well to remember that being born again is about faith, not action.  It's about believing in Jesus more than any one thing you do.  Yes, sin is a big part of it, but the main thing is faith.
This is a big advantage for Bush.  You can make a huge list of all the terrible things he's done in the past that are outside of the fundie belief system, and it won't really matter because all he will have to do is purse his lips and say that was before he found Jesus and was born again.  Boom, pow, all forgiven.  Believing in Jesus and being saved gets you into heaven; the rest of us are hell-bound, no matter how moral of a life we've led.
That's all good and well and religious beliefs are religious beliefs.  But if you have a religious belief that states that faith is all that really matters and that works, etc. are nice but secondary, and it's also really important to you that you vote according to your religious beliefs, you have a problem.  You can't judge someone's religion by what they do, you have to judge them on what they believe.  But you can't be a mind reader, so you have to judge what they believe by what they say they believe. 
This might be the reason that fundies seem so determined to vote according to the number of times a politician can say, "Bible", "Jesus", "sin", etc., and also why they seem so quick to forgive someone's actions if they are playing for the right team.  Those are their actual religious beliefs--if believing in Christ in more important than doing the right thing, then saying you believe alot is more important than acting like it but not talking about it.
Still, I don't think that John Kerry should ape the annoying public piety that the fundies like to reward.  For one thing, it would come off phony.  For another thing, it would alienate his base, the mainstream of America that believes as he does, that piety is a private matter and politics are public matter.  And for the fundie base that loves the Shrub, it wouldn't work anyway.  He still supports alienating political stances, and if they really are voting their religious beliefs, they are going to refrain from voting for a Catholic over a professed born-again Christian, anyway.

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