Sunday, November 1, 2015

Religion and politics

If you want to get into an argument, especially with someone you don’t know very well, the process is fairly simple.

All you have to do is bring up either one of the topics listed above, and you’re likely to get a lively, if short-lived, discussion. If you bring in some aspect of sex, which frequently involves one or both of the above topics, you’ve just raised the bar a little higher.

The History Channel just published an article the other day that got the wheels in my head turning again.

In 1505, Martin Luther was nearly killed by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. He vowed that if he survived the storm, he would give up his study of law, and become a monk. Due to his piety and Spartan life style, he became a representative in Rome for the German Augustine monasteries in 1512, After receiving his doctorate, he became a professor of biblical studies, but gradually came to question some of the teachings of the Catholic church.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Germany. His main criticism of the Catholic church was that the church was selling indulgences, largely in order to finance the renovation of the basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Roughly a year later, the Pope condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Catholic church. In July of 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull condemning Luther’s teachings, and gave him 120 days to recent them. When Luther refused to do so, he was excommunicated in January of 1521. The same year, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany issued the Edict of Worms, declared Luther an outlaw, and gave permission for anyone to kill him without consequence, eerily reminiscent of the fatwa that was issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989, after the publication of “The Satanic Verses”.

The Founding Fathers of our country wisely chose to separate church and state, but few people realize how far back the mingling of the two occurred.

Early in the 4th century, a man named Constantine was co-emperor of the western Roman Empire. His brother-in-law, Maxentius, was the co-emperor, and the two eventually became bitter rivals, which led to a war between their armies. Immediately prior to a battle in the year 312, Constantine had a vision of the sign of Christ in a dream, and adopted the sign of the cross before he and his army went into battle, where they prevailed.

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th Century, the Catholic Church became a prominent force in European politics, and religious wars raged for centuries. The Crusades themselves lasted for roughly 200 years, and sowed the seeds of animosity between Christians and Muslims that still exists today. “ The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a book worth reading, but you can read a quick summary by clicking on the link below:

the CliffsNotes version

Some of today’s commentators are aghast that Pope Francis has issued a radical call for action on climate change, arguing that he is not a scientist (he IS, but that’s besides the point).

Centuries ago, the Catholic church got involved in discussions of science, when they disputed Galileo’s belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His teachings were investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which forced him to recant his views, and caused him to be placed under house arrest for the last 27 years of his life. It wasn’t until October 31, 1992, that the Catholic Church admitted its earlier errors, and Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled.

When colonists first came to America in the early 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe, they brought their own prejudices with them. People were put to death simply because they disagreed with their pastors, or because they belonged to “the wrong faith”.

Although acknowledging that religion could be a positive force in people’s lives, the Founding Fathers were also well aware of the damage that could be done by incorporating religion into political life, and the separation of church and state was codified in the 1st amendment to the Constitution.

Very early in our county’s history, E pluribus Unum was adopted as the defacto motto of the United States, and it found its way onto the Great Seal of the United States and some early coins.

Over time, various references to religion crept back into public life. The phrase “in God we trust” found its way onto coins, when the Union Army determined that it could use all the help that it could get. The phrase gradually found its way onto other coins, and was first used on paper money in 1957.

The Red Scare of the 1950’s heightened a need for more religion in our society, and the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Two years later, “In God we Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States.

Due to a law suit filed in New York State in 1958, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1962 that prayer would no longer be allowed in public schools, and vast numbers of our society felt that America was certain to go straight to Hell.

Life would be a lot simpler if we could somehow truly separate religion from politics, but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Waye LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA, has declared that owning a gun is a God given right, a “fact” that many theologians agree is more than a bit stupid.

Every election brings forth a few politicians who believe that somehow God had called them to run for office. For the 2016 Presidential race, SIX Republicans entered the race because God asked them to. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have since dropped out, but Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Mike Huckabee are still going strong. Carson, in fact, is now leading in a number of polls.

All this talk of religion and politics can get tiresome very quickly, so here’s my advise:

If someone brings up either topic in conversation, switch to a different topic. The Cubs, after all, nearly got into the World Series, and the Royals are only a game away from defeating the Mets.

There ARE things in life that are more important than either politics and religion. Since our time on Earth is relatively limited, enjoy them while you can, and you’ll be much, much happier.

No comments:

Post a Comment