Stoffa: Don’t let belief in God co-opt your voting decision



Gabriel Stoffa

Religious beliefs are a great thing, and if it makes you feel better about life, don’t let anyone tell you differently. But recognize that what makes you happy isn’t what makes others happy. As such, don’t let religion define how you interpret issues when voting for president.

Cathedral Age, a magazine from Washington National Cathedral, asked President Barack Obama and likely presidential contender Mitt Romney eight questions Tuesday, Aug. 21, concerning their views on faith in public life and in their personal lives.

In the interview, Romney said those who “seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God” aren’t following our founding fathers’ plans for the country.

Romney brought up the position of church and state, noting religion has been decreased in recent years. At one point, he said: “We are a nation ‘under God,’ and in God, we do indeed trust.”

Assuming he was focusing on the line in the “Pledge of Allegiance,” that little bit about us being a nation “under God” isn’t exactly true.

The original version of pledge, written in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy, read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1924 “the Flag of the United States of America” was added.

Despite its beautiful sentiments and adjustments to directly point out our country, the pledge was not formally adopted by Congress until 1942.

Then in 1954, “under God,” was added to make the version we know today: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The “under God” was added due to President Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraging Congress of its necessity to combat the rising Communist menace.

It wasn’t because religion is the cornerstone of this country’s politics but because the Red Scare needed to be combated through political maneuvering of something seen as the antithesis of Communist ideas. This idea was likely partly thanks to the following piece published Aug. 9, 1953:

Communism “regards religion psychologically as mere wishful thinking, intellectually as the product of fear and ignorance, and historically as serving the ends of exploiters,” according to “Communism’s Challenge to Christianity” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Now, Romney is probably as aware of these facts as most people are, which is to say he isn’t. Alongside this comes the debate over religion’s inclusion as the basis for our country and where we should go from here.

Religion was only mentioned in one place in the original Constitution: Article VI, paragraph 3, “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

And religion is again mentioned in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

If our founding fathers weren’t adding religion, maybe, just maybe, religion wasn’t intended to be a government factor in the public sphere; public understood to be the area the government works in, compared to the private sector.

But don’t think this is just a Romney issue. In the interview Obama was asked: “How does faith play a role in your life?” and he said, “At the end of the day, God is in control — and my main responsibility is to love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. Now, I don’t always live up to that standard, but it is a standard I am always pursuing.”

I’m glad to see Obama has a feeling of love and happiness thanks to his beliefs, but frankly I think as president his main responsibility is to keep this country moving forward and maintain the security of its citizens. He can have religious beliefs and lead the country, but the two need to be kept separate.

Neither Romney and Obama, or any other politicians, really need to mention religion as they weave their political webs, except as a way of manipulating people to agree with them; “rallying the troops,” so to speak.

Our founding fathers were all too familiar with war, and they used religion as a clarion call for us when battling the British for independence.

Historically, so many religions — Christianity and Islam for obvious examples — killed so many people in the name of “God” during religious wars and persecuted/punished/murdered so many people for choosing to believe differently from their particular brand of belief that it was a no-brainer to not let a religion be a deciding factor for the establishment of our new country desiring freedom.

But that was the past, we are already established as a country. Change must occur to allow growth. Religions don’t make war any more, wait no, that’s not right. I mean, religions don’t persecute those of differing beliefs… Oh, wait, there is still that whole anti-Muslim stance here, and then the whole “being gay is an abomination” statements from religious leaders and the like. Religions don’t grow a whole lot, which kind of hurts religion as a political basis.

I guess maybe, just maybe, our founding fathers had the right idea in leaving out any religious inclusion in government, and maybe we need to stop pushing religion into politics apart from a war effort. It was a great political maneuver for stability against opposition in war but, like all wartime decisions, should have been set aside when peace was again established.

So ask yourself: “Should religion be a part of government, or is keeping religion out of the public sphere — schools, government, etc. — in line with this country’s needs in this day and age, or should we toss out our founding ideas because we need a standard to fall in line behind due to the conflict constantly plaguing the world?”

With all that in mind, why is religion still a question in politics? The only answer I can see is that religion is a political organization, so why not treat it as one?

We already describe corporations as people, so why not go ahead and change some of the rules to make religions into full political parties. The “far right” is already essentially synonymous with the “Christian right,” be that an accurate portrayal or not, so let us just make Christianity a party — ignoring, of course, the various factions that Christianity breaks into, as that is like defining the Tea Party versus Libertarians versus Neoconservatives versus whatever else you like to label groups with.

Christianity seems to be the leading choice in America, so why not ditch the founding fathers’ advice to keep religion out since so many Americans have this burning desire to have politicians use religion, Christianity more often than not, as a basis for laws and just have it be the new trump party to battle those nasty folks waging a “war on religion”?

Religion is something you choose to affiliate with and dismiss ideas suggested by it as readily as people choose a political side and then dismiss certain representatives because they aren’t in line with personal desires. See, it works just like political alignment.

Now does that sound like a country you want, one where the Bible is the basis for our laws?

If you’ve read the Bible, you might have a few qualms with that idea, particularly because there are some highly questionable practices in many versions. Unless of course you think it is okay to just use pieces of our Constitution today to keep the peace, much as people adhere only to pieces of the Bible, and ignore others to suit government or personal needs.

Let’s stop trying to make decisions about politicians based on religious beliefs or willingness to cite God as the basis for their proposals. We are a country of ideas, and most of the popular religions don’t allow for the kind of freedoms and ideas this country is based upon.

Let’s make our politicians show what they want to change and how they are going to do it, not just try to appeal to how they might have something in common with us so we vote for them without their having to give answers we need to hear.

We can keep our religion, and we can live by our religion, but we have to allow religion to be secondary to government so that we can all continue to pursue, and someday share, equality.

Fun fact I: Bellamy was a minister and Christian Socialist. Christian socialism generally believes capitalism to be rooted in greed and would therefore be a mortal sin and not the system America should follow. And as to socialism, well, you can see the comedy in that based on the current throwing around of that label in a negative light. Especially since religious teachings of Jesus are arguably socialist in nature.

So with the current demonizing of socialist ideas, I guess it makes sense to say socialism has little place in government ideas, as religion isn’t supposed to have much place either.

Fun fact II: The original salute to the flag began with a military salute, and after reciting the words “to the flag,” the arm was extended toward the flag.

“At a signal from the principal, the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.’ At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.” — The Youth’s Companion, 1892

After that publication, Americans across the nation — government, military and all — began with the right hand over their heart and then extended it toward the flag, palm down.

Then World War II hit, and it was realized the Nazis used essentially the same salute, so extending the hand after saying “to the flag” was ditched.