There be dragons!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Letter from a student



Hello, sir,

I hope things are going well with the new school year. I am very busy, but also very happy here at college.
While enrolling for classes, I decided to sign-up for an English composition class. It's my favorite one so far.
There are only about 18 kids in the class. Last week we got broken into small "peer-review" groups to help with edits for our first paper. I just got through my edits for both of the students in my group. After having read them, I feel it necessary to say thank you for your help with my writing over the years.
Attached is the BETTER of the two essays I had to critique; I think you may find it interesting (if not entertaining) to read.
Good luck with the rest of the school year, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks.




Thanks so much for the email. Great to hear from you.



That essay - sad. Sad to me that so much earnest goodwill in that writer seems to have been so squandered by an educational establishment incapable of proposing anything greater than feelings and unable to suggest any heroes besides Abe Lincoln and MLK. The lines that hit me the most were these:

But I don’t believe that my life has a plan or anyone’s life has some plan that it must stick to. In essence things do happen for a reason, but no one really knows what that reason is. So living, dying, is the best we can do and making ourselves happy within being born and dying leaves no room to ask these questions.

That this writer doesn't see any "plan" to life is a travesty. But not seeing a plan seems obvious by his style of writing. Seeing a plan, seeing order in the universe is a delight, but it is a task - not an easy thing to do, that. I think the natural tendency of most humans is to see only the darkness. If, then, we are to engage in that arduous climb out of the darkness to see the light we have to apply ourselves to the equally difficult task of learning the forms, the orders, the proper grammar and syntax of hope.

Language is a big part of this and when I was teaching you to write I was only secondarily concerned with your grade or your being able to compose a good college essay, or being able to critique the unfortunate work of another individual. What I was mostly concerned in, and still am, was not so much the success of my students but their acquisition of the ability to see the light. I think that training students to compose accurate, meticulously spelled and rewritten essays following an ordered format is as integral a part of this overall process as is learning philosophy or theology. What do we have to hold ourselves to if not the rigorous exactitude of language and the ideas which that language conveys? If we call God "Abba" it is a very different thing than calling him "Moloch" - our belief will follow our language. Without such rigor we can't really engage in that strenuous activity of seeing "the plan" and thus being happy. Then all we're left with is living, eating, sexing, crapping, drinking, despairing, dying - it's the "best we can do" (and Cancun spring break becomes the New Jerusalem).

I'm glad to have helped you get out of the cave.




Now go back into it with mercy and happiness.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tragedy of Christ

Most commentators suggest that the Passion of Christ does not fit the formal definitions of tragedy as laid forth by Aristotle.
I would argue otherwise and suggest that, human nature being what it is, it seems unlikely that the Gospel writers living in a culture surrounded by Greek Tragedy as the major idiom would have not employed that artform to tell their story. They must have used the elements of Tragedy or elements of the popular story forms available to them. It just is too unlikely that the Gospels sprang, fully formed, from the heads of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Consequently, I suggest that the Gospels do indeed employ the Aristotelean forms of Tragedy in order to convey an extremely profound insight into the nature of LOVE.
Aristotle says that:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality—namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.

Certainly the Passion is serious & complete and of a certain magnitude. Further it is embellished with artistic ornament (esp. in John's narrative which is an incredible work of art). It involves mostly action, not just narrative and it arouses (or should arouse if people take it seriously) pity and fear, thus accomplishing a katharsis.
To this degree it certainly fits the definition.
Moreover, Aristotle suggests that Tragedy is the “imitation of an action” (mimesis) according to “the law of probability or necessity.”
A chain of events is set in motion which results in one and only one ruinous conclusion. Again, the chain of events, namely Christ challenging the Sanhedrin and submitting to Crucifixion, seems to lead by necessity to one seemingly ruinous conclusion.
The major problem seems to emerge from what is referred to as the "tragic flaw":
...the peripeteia is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended (often termed tragic irony), and the anagnorisis is the gaining of the essential knowledge that was previously lacking...
There is no flaw in Christ so his "ruin" in the crucifixion stems from his self-sacrifice, not his flaw. In him there was no guile. Consequently the Passion seems to defy the Aristotelean mode of tragedy; we have a great man, a king, brought to ruin not by his own mistake but by the mistakes or evil of other people.
But here I would hazard that the gospel writers are even more clever than we give them credit. As mentioned above, the gospels do not spring out of a vacuum; they are the artistic creations emerging from the cultural womb in which their authors lived. Consequently, the evangelists would have been familiar with Greek tragedy but also with Jewish mythology. According to the latter mythical idiom the Christian story is simply the conclusion of a longer story narrated in the Old Testament.
If then Christ is fully God and fully man, he is uniting the stories of man's ruin to the story of God. We certainly see in man's ruin a terrible tragedy; the rebellion from heaven and fall from Eden. Christ participates in man's tragedy in so far as he "shares man's smudge and bears man's smell." As man, he could have chosen not to antagonize the Sanhedrin, not to allow himself to be given up to his captors, to side with Peter and drawn the sword (or legions of angels).
In this sense, then, the tragedy is twofold.
First, that he by his very birth entered into a sequence of events that follows the law of probability or necessity. All men must die.
Second, that he willingly chose to take upon himself an action which he knew would lead to his death. Heroic and noble, but tragic. Yet still "...the peripeteia is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended." The "taken in blindness" part indicates that Christ would not have known what his captors were about. Consequently the Passion again defies the classical form of tragedy.
But what of the God part? Here, I think, is where the evangelists were looking when they conceived this great tragedy. They were looking back to the very beginning in Genesis to the moment God created man. The tragic peripeteia is a self-destructive action taken in blindness. What self-destructive action did God take? He created man. Man is the mistake that proves to be the death of God.
This may seem utterly strange and even antithetical to our theological understanding b/c of course God cannot die in the literal sense. Nor is man a mistake in any malicious sense or erroneous sense of that word. But mistake can sometimes mean risk or hazard. For instance, when we fall in love we run the terrible risk of ruination. In fact any form of love will result in ruin b/c the beloved will die. Thus if we love we ruin ourselves; die to ourselves. To not love is to not run that terrible risk of loss of the other and of self. But God is Love. He loved so much that he created this world and granted us freedom, and in so doing he set in motion an inevitable chain of events that would end in his having to choose is own death.
Some might say that this puts a necessity on God and binds him to a thing greater than himself. I'd say, no, there is no necessity put on God for he at any moment might have chosen not to love; but there is necessity, as Aquinas notes, in that God does not go against his nature and his nature is to love. Love prompted him to risk creating a free being that could ruin itself and love prompted Him to remain bound to His creation through love so much so that He "gave His only Son" to die at the hands of his captors.
Thus the Aristotelean definition of tragedy is fulfilled in the Passion; Christ's death is the inevitable result of God's initial generative love.
But the Gospels remain superior to Greek tragedy. In the tragedies redemption does not occur. Learning, wisdom, greater insight come to Oedipus, or Orestes, or Pentheus, or Jason - they learn the hard way. But they are not redeemed. In the Passion we have a figure suffering the tragic consequences of his initial "mistake" of creating through love a world that sought his destruction. But after the Passion comes the resurrection and in this the evangelists claim something remarkable about the nature of love.
The classical world authors conceive love as a dalliance, a pleasure, a treacherous illusion, but not as an enduring reality capable of bearing all things. For them, life was sorrow with occasional relief found in the pleasures of love. They could not conceive of a love that endured intense pain and triumph. The evangelists, on the contrary, are suggesting that love is the greatest thing. Paul says this outright to the Corinthians: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Such a sentiment would be unheard of in the classical world. Even the greatest of the classical writers, Plato, held that love was a longing for something unfulfilled; a force that drove one to near manic state. But not something that endured.
Only the Gospel writers, with their commentary on the Tragedy of the Passion, could inspire the claim that "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
If God was willing to risk the "mistake" of creating us as free beings, if he was willing to bind himself to us by that mistake, then he was also willing to suffer the inevitable ruin of himself that would result in our salvation. He could not leave his beloved to die. This eucatastrophe is what separates the Pagan world, with all its glory, from the Christian. Only the Christian world can claim "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
Love never fails.
And in that reality lies our hope.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Becoming a Man

This is a talk I gave to the Middle School boys:

Audio Clip

The Topic I’ve been asked to speak on is “What makes a man?” Or “What do we seek for you as a graduate of our high school?”

I think of no greater example of a real man than my father, Rollin A. Lasseter III.

My father honored those things most worthy of honor; church, family, the truth.

I remember that when I was very little, it was summer, and I was playing in the alley, running the hose down to make lakes and muddy pools in the warm sun for my soldiers. And I remember my father, striding out the door with his suitcase in hand. “Where are you going, daddy?” I said. “I have to go to my mommy’s funeral,” he said. And it struck me that here was my daddy honoring his mother.

We want all of you to graduate from here as men who honor family, freedom, your country, your church, the truth; all those things most worthy of honor. So I urge you, Become honorable men.

See, when I was young boy, my father was incredibly strong. I thought of him as a giant among men. I have a very vivid memory of him building a walkway down to the lake and heaving railroad ties about, 7 or 8 feet long, as though they were Lincoln logs. I remember him paddling a canoe into the lake in early spring to hack away at the ice with a small axe, his sleeves rolled up and chips of ice zinging through the air and clipping him in the face. I remember him carrying me in his strong arms up the hill when I lost control of my sled and slammed into a tree, cutting my scalp in a long, bloody line.

Being a man does mean being strong. Strength of arm. Strength of mind. Strength of soul.

We desire that all our young men graduate strong, robust, full of vim and vigor and energy. Good at sports, strong of arm, swift of leg. Mens sana in corporo sano. So Become strong.

But there’s also sacrifice. I remember that my father made a point to attend every one of my soccer games in high school. That cost him time. I remember that my father worked an eight-class teaching job and still taught at the local college on the weekends just so we could make ends meet financially. That cost him time and effort. I vividly remember my father coming through the door on a winter morning with his beard rimed with frost. He had been outside shoveling and salting the walkway so that us kids could walk to the car without having to trudge through the snow. That cost him in time and effort.

Sometimes, to be a man, means sacrificing your own time and effort in order that others might do well. Being a man means going out of your way to help those around you; putting others before yourself; working so that others might prosper even more than you do.

What we desire for you as men is that you come to put others before yourself; that you work for the good of other people and other things first. Become selfless.

When we were growing up in Three Rivers, MI, my mother raised a victory garden in our backyard. It was so successful that she bought some land across the road and started another garden there. We grew sorgum, pumpkins, potatoes and watermelon. And the watermelon grew and one in particular grew so big that we were going to eat it on Labor Day and have a big ol’ feast. Unfortunately, the garden was near the road and someone in the night came by and stole our watermelon. My father was remarkably self-controlled, though, and merely said that we would grow more. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,” he quoted, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” He was frequently this way; exhibiting those Roman virtues of dignitas and gravitas that were the hallmarks of self-controlled, civilized men.

We want our young men to be equally self-controlled. No running in the halls. No chewing gum. Be on time to class. Keep your uniform and hair neat. Follow the rules. These things promote self control. The more you can be self-disciplined the easier it will be for you to enter into that road of education which you will follow. Become self-disciplined.

My father had an office that was paneled all in cedar panels. The smell was exquisite. And as kids we would sneak back there to watch TV, or stare at the fire, or just be in his presence as he worked through the mountain of papers on his desk. Around the lentils of his room, though, he had stenciled the phrase, “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” It was a message of great trust in the Lord which has stuck with me ever since. Dad trusted God even when he didn’t understand Him or agree with Him.

Our young men ought to become men of faith. Trust in the Lord is no small thing, as you will discover with time. But it is an important part of being a man. We must trust that the Lord knows what He is doing, even when we do not see it or do not agree with what we see. To do this we must cultivate our faith through practice and through understanding. Become a man of deep faith.

You must take the time to listen to the world; observe the world; be still and know who God is. My father was the first person to teach me to draw. He taught me the crafts of poetry and of writing and of speaking. And in all these things he would tell me, “don’t draw what you think is there; observe it, and draw what is there.”

As young men you must learn to observe the world in all its glory and all its horror. Don’t shy away from knowing things because they are frightening and don’t abandon the beauty and glory of the world because things don’t seem to go your way. See the world for what it is, not what you want it to be. Become observers of what really is.

Yet action is vital too. My father took me to see Star Wars in 1978; it is a treat which I am sorry none of you will ever experience – seeing the first Star Wars when it first came out. We rode to the movie theater in our beat up old green Toyota; the sun was shining in through the backseat where I rode without a seat belt not knowing what I was going to be seeing but looking forward to it. The movie was, as you know, spectacular. I saw the first and then the second with my father. In the second movie Yoda says “there is no try. There is only do.”

My father followed this maxim even before Yoda did. He was always tinkering, gardening, writing, reading; he cooked and cleaned dishes, he was a chauffeur and a mechanic and an outdoorsman and a homebody. When he saw something that needed doing, he did it.

We want our young men to graduate from here being doers not just spectators in life. See what needs doing in the world! How much needs you and your talents. Become a man who is a doer, not just an observer.

We want our young men to possess strength of mind. I remember my father giving me the farewell sendoff given to all the graduating seniors of Trinity School in 1988. Each senior had a faculty member “send them off” with a little speech at dinner. My father referenced works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey and Aristotle and Luther and Aquinas and Rousseau and Tolkien. I was proud and stunned at his erudition. How wise he was and how much he knew. But in that speech he said to me “Welcome to the conversation of men, fellow traveler on the way.”

The men that we graduate will, hopefully, know much, understand much, and join with the conversation that has gone on for generations. Attend to your studies; sure you’ll get into a good school, that happens – but more to the point is that you will be a young man who understands the world and joins in that great conversation of men that has gone on through the ages. Become men who are scholars.

Finally I remember my father facing his own death. The cancer was terminal, spread throughout his body; the infections had spread causing sepsis and toxemia; the tube was up his nose to help keep him from vomiting; the ostomy bag, the blood pressure monitors, the heart rate monitors, the bother of machines that made him seem to us, the observers of this giant among men, to be weighed down with sorrow. And as I sat with him on that last Saturday, in the grey light of morning when he was drifting in and out of morphine sleep, he turned to me suddenly and said, “All is gift. All is love.” There was a man. He died two days later. God rest him.

He proved in those last moments that his life was one of great love. To be a man is to be able to love, freely. All else is subordinate to that great task.

One day each of us will face death. Our hope for our young men is, sure that they graduate well, attend university, have a family, job, etc. But mostly it is, that in those last moments when you wrestle with the fate that faces us all, you too will be able to be free enough to say, “All is gift. All is love.” That is what it means to be a man. Become men.

The Winds of the World

A talk I recently delivered to the High School boys:

Audio Clip

I've been asked to talk today about women, rules, the law, the meaning of life, and other minor issues.
Well to put my thesis at the beginning of my essay I would say, Rules exist to save us from horror and guide us to happiness.

Recently I saw a bumper Sticker on a Monster Truck that said "No Rules". There’s good husband material, I thought. Why do we have so many rules? So many rules. What a drag rules are. I gotta be me. I gotta be free. I gotta express myself. Rules seem like so much sadistic oppression; or random power plays by "the man"; or at best they seem to exist in order to prepare us for the drudgery of adult life. What purpose could rules and obedience to rules possibly serve.

I am remembered of a passage from Robert Bolt's play, "Man for All Seasons".
William Roper says, "So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!"
To which Thomas More responds "Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

…the winds that would blow then?...
The winds of the world are gale force!
We all might think we are safe and don’t need the rules. At 16 we are all Nietszchean ubermenschen barreling along without any thought to rules or courtesies or manners.

You will notice, however, that the truck with the bumper sticker “No Rules” didn’t swerve into the other lane much. Rules protect against horror. They encourage self-control. They Set boundaries. They allow us to play the game better.

With the help of rules we can become men who stand up against the winds of the world.

The necessity for obedience to rules becomes especially acute with respect to women. In 1985 there was a movie called “Breaking All the Rules” directed by James Orr. Teenagers, bank heist, a little lovin'. All the things that occur in a normal teenager's life. In the movie the characters and the director break all the rules except that the very cute girls try very hard to get the strapping young guys to like them, the guys don’t want any form of commitment, but all complications work out in the end and everyone goes away happy. James Orr must have hit every major rule cliché existing in Hollywood teen flicks. “Breaking All the Rules” was about as formulaic and rule-driven as any teen movie of the age.

Girls sometimes seem a bit like this movie. They often say that they want a guy who is wild and crazy, but they don’t. What they want is a trustworthy man who will help them, guard them, sacrifice himself for them. This is a rule of nature which hasn’t been broken in the history of the world. Men must learn to control themselves!

The Jewish faith was the first to see this reality. To appreciate how monumentally revolutionary their thought was we must consider the cauldron from which it was born. The Jewish people were surrounded by Babylonians who worshipped the many-headed, all-devouring, female dragon/goddess, Tiamat. Quite the feminine image there. They practiced orgiastic rituals to stimulate the gods. They considered life cheap and slavish to the gods. Their empire was rampant with violence, infanticide, rapine, slavish status for women, pornography.

A right royal mess it was. And into this mess came the book of beginnings; Genesis which proposes that the purpose of creation is not the gods, not man, but woman. She is the paragon; the intent of all God’s creating. Why? Because she is the life giver; she is beautiful; she is the help mate who completes us.

Men ought to be devoted to the protection of women.

We see the same sentiment in the ten commandments. Normally the commandments are read 1 to 10. From the unity of God come all the other laws in descending order. I would propose that the Jewish culture saw them more as a ladder that ran both up and down. The ten commandments can be read 10 to 1 as well. See, without governance over our sexuality (number 10; “thou shalt not covet”) the vision of the unity of God (1) is not possible. “Know, oh Israel, that the Lord your God is One.”

All codes of chivalry since have, as their goal, the protection and honoring of women.
Western culture itself is based upon the honor and respect of women.
Indeed, cultures, as Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, ought to be defined by how they treat their weakest members.

The Jews were so serious about this image of self-control of sexuality that they engaged in circumcision as an obvious and painful reminder of that need for controlling that immense power. One look at that and you’d know they meant business.

Note also that the devil attacks Eve first. Why? Well, the demonic forces, whatever they be, want to rend asunder, tear up, grind and destroy the weakest and most precious things first. After that glorious source of hope, a good woman and the family she creates, are gone, men quickly descend into monsters… horrors.

Look around you at our current culture. Women are portrayed as cheap, slavish, whorish; sex is plentiful and grotesque; abortions are rampant; murder, rapine, perversion, pornography, violence, are rife or extolled by some cable channels or purveyors of cheap teen clothing; Movies like Saw I, II, III ... XVIII, and other forms of porn violence seem popular hits; Bratz dolls – Britney Spears – Madonna – Britney Spears & Madonna; MTV spring break; Grand Theft Auto – the list goes on. And we wonder why we have an education crisis.

These horrors are the marks of the diabolic which “tears apart & rends asunder”. The experiences of loneliness, anger, isolation, self-loathing which men suffer from all stem from engaging in these horrors which promise to give us happiness and leave us … alone. Truthfully, seeking the next “pop” leads to greater and greater excess in order to satisfy that unending pit of darkness, the only limit of which is horror.

The winds of the world are gale force!

Our sexuality as men is deeply tied with who we are; not just an addition, not just a hindrance to the greater realm of thought, not just a highly pleasurable diversion to wile away a few moments of boredom. How we treat the fairer sex, how we appear to them, how we speak about them effects us deeply.

Sexuality in its properly governed realm, marriage, binds us closely to a woman who should be our friend, partner, confidant, help mate. Abuse of sexuality leads to estrangement, sorrow, loneliness… horrors.

The Laws exist first and foremost as safeguards against horror. Moreover Laws exist to train us to be able to protect the weak & beautiful in order to see clearly. Ultimately, the Laws exist to train us to see the happiness which lies in the oneness of God.

How, then, do you treat the women in your life?
The Laws of chivalric treatment of women (opening doors for them, carrying their books, keeping your mitts off their person) help us govern our actions. The laws of chivalric neatness in appearance and comportment (cutting our hair, tucking in our shirt, dressing modestly) govern our appearance. The laws of chivalric speech (how we talk about women, how we talk to women, what we listen to or read) govern our words.

See, women often appear alluring to men; they use their sexuality, their beauty, to get what they want. I remember a song from 1966, “Devil with a Blue Dress On” by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. The lyrics ran...
Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo-fo, fum
Look at Molly now, here she comes
Wearin her wig hat and shades to match
Shes got high-heel shoes and an alligator hat
Wearin her pearls and her diamond rings
Shes got bracelets on her fingers, now, and everything
Shes the devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress,
Devil with the blue dress on

The problem is that women are not devils. Nor are they angels. They are humans like you and me; worried, tired, flawed, experiencing pain and self doubt, capable of incredible heights of greatness, yet needing salvation. If we, as men, do not control ourselves with law we come to see women first as angels – then as devils; and then we fall into loneliness. At such a point we can quickly become like the character in Beowulf, Grendel, the Grinder. The text of that great poem reads

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold, f
en ond fæsten;

Grendel this monster grim was called,

march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness;

He’s a horror living in the swamps - outside the golden realm of men and men’s law. Sort of a “No Rules” kind of guy. He eats flesh. Kills joy. Destroys property. Terrifies women. And he’s utterly, totally alone.

When we do not govern ourselves we become Grendel; a horror.
As example of what I mean; I read this article the other day in the Sun: 16 Sep 2008;

FOUR teenagers horrifically slain by Satanists — stabbed 666 times each and then EATEN. After police arrested eight suspected members of the Russian ring, one said he did not expect to be punished because, “Satan will help me to avoid responsibility. I made lots of sacrifices to him.” Another said he had got fed up with God for not making him rich and that “things improved” after he started praying to the Devil.

The winds of the world are gale force!

In contrast The Lord says: I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

The habits of life must start now. Will you choose Chivalric or non chivalric actions? Governance of sexuality or rampant abuse of sex? Adherence to the law or flaunting of it? The choose is yours. But you have to be aware that the choices you make will have consequences.

Finally, what do women really want? They want to be liked, admired, loved; to be looked on with friendship and love, not as an object. What they really want is a man who is noble; not just another flirt, another fling. That’s a dime a dozen. They want a man who can stand up against the winds of the world, not a mister “No Rules”.

If you want happiness, if you want to avoid loneliness and the danger of becoming a horror, govern your actions NOW, your appearance, your words. Give honor to women. Stick to the law.

Make the right choice. Do not choose to be the Grendel with the “No Rules” sticker. Choose to be a man who honors women, who chooses the law of life, and who can stand up to the winds of the world.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An exchange on American Government

This is an exchange I had with a Greek correspondent of mine. I put his words in yellow to distinguish.

Something I cannot understand is the fact that a candidate is elected based on his religious beliefs(actually christian ones).Though I was like 14 years old I still remember Gore,Bush and their struggle to gain some more votes from the religious ones(much like now with Obama and McCain).
My point is:since America is a country with SO many ethnicities and religions,why does religion play such an important factor when,in my opinion,should play an insignificant or even no role at all??From what I know America really knows to respect a citizens beliefs(I really do),but making christian beliefs the main(and some times only) prerequisite for a candidate may exclude other people (and propably better than Obama and McCain) to be voted for.


It's a legit question.
I think that, barring religious bigotry and sanctimonious exclusionism (both of which, I don't deny, are widespread) there are some considerable reasons for emphasizing the religion of the candidates.

America has always had a strong Protestant Christian strain w/in its society. Only in the 18th and 19th century did Catholic populations begin arriving on these shores with the Italian, German, Irish Catholics displaced by persecution or war. The Chinese population (and hence Buddhism and Taoism) came to America during the 19th and early 20th century while the Cambodians, Laotians, Mung, and Vietnamese were really only part of the population after the wars in Southeast Asia (1950 - 1970). Jewish population has always been fairly prominent in America, probably b/c Jews were mangled and pushed about by every other country in the world (Russia esp.) I think that the contingent of Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox is prob. a phenomenon of the 20th century b/c of the terrible suffering that these groups experienced during that era. Islam only began to be part of the population (barring the Nation of Islam movement under Malcolm X) after the wars in Somalia and Northern Africa drove a large body of people here. Middle Eastern sons of the wealthy certainly traveled here to America for education, especially the young Saudis.
What's the point of this sort of history? Until recently America never really has had to deal much with a religious diversity as vast as the Christian/Muslim one. So finding our feet in these waters has been very tricky.
But why should it be? one might ask. Isn't America open to all? to a degree. Belief systems always effect the way one acts in the world (even if we think religion is a load of horse manure, it still is one of the most important factors for people in making their decisions about life). In so far as the belief system of a people is compatible with American culture/government they are assimilable into the "melting pot". When there is a strong opposition preventing a people from being assimilated, however, we have a problem.

So, for instance, the protestant belief in universal rights, tolerance of others, and fierce independence created this government. Loyalty to another entity on earth, it has been said, would compromise anyone serving in this government. Thus for the longest time Catholics were not in most political positions b/c of their allegiance to the pope. When Kennedy came to the presidency it was a watershed moment for Catholics b/c it disproved the idea that Catholics would be divided in their allegiance.

Similarly, certain religious beliefs in the Jewish faith have prevented men like Henry Kissinger from taking the oath of office even though he served in other branches of government.

Americans are just downright wary of anyone who might have beliefs that run contradictory to the basic principles upon which the country is founded. The system is founded on the idea of a single merciful God granting rights to his creatures (see John Locke), and if one person chooses to violate those rights they lose their own rights.

B/c Islam is perceived (for right or wrong) as a religion antithetical to those basic Lockean principles, a man professing submission to Allah would be looked upon as circumspect.