There be dragons!

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.

1 comment:

  1. "Americans are just downright wary of anyone who might have beliefs that run contradictory to the basic principles upon which the country is founded."

    Who can blame them (us)? Any seriously religious person knows that one's faith is not just "some religion" or , to quote Homer Simpson, a building to be occupied once a week "just to hear some guy talk about how I'm going to Hell."

    A person's religion forms their core beliefs and principles, and, if practiced sincerely, effects the decisions they make in their day-to-day life. Hence, when Mitt Romney was running for Pres., I wanted to know exactly what his Mormon faith meant to him. After I found that out, I felt more comfortable supporting him. Likewise (not to beat a dead horse), but when Rev. Wright's comments became known, people were shocked because this guy was Obama's spiritual mentor for decades. Had Obama been taking his words to heart?

    Religion is a serious calling, and as such it should never be taken lightly. This country also allows people freedom to form their own political ideas. People are free to think communism or fascism works. Hell, people are even allowed to form Neo-Nazi organizations. Those political theories run counter to the guiding principles and ideals of our nation. Hence, people would be hesitant to vote for someone they found out was a commie or a fascist. So it is with religion.

    Were Tom Cruise to run for office, I would demand to know everything about scientology, and then I would vote against him.