Welcome again readers, to Culture War Reporter’s second installment of “Explaining American Politics to Non-Americans” [Part 1 here], in which yours truly attempts to explain the chaotic carnival that is our great democracy.
This week, we’ll be looking at the Republican party. Or parties, if things keep progressing as they do.
But let’s dive right in.
I won’t pretend I don’t have my own bias but I will try to be as fair as possible.
Exactly when and why that stopped being the case is still a matter of heated debate.
Some would cite that the “Red Scares” (anti-communist witch hunts) of the 1950s pushed the party increasingly towards aggression, militarism, and social conservatism. Others might argue that as issues of civil rights, poverty, and the war in Vietnam caused many African-Americans to shift towards the Democrats, leaving the party almost exclusively in the hands of the white tycoons.
In spite of this shift, Republicans nevertheless have consistently managed to gain and often dominate American politics, the Reagan-era in the 1980s seeing massive cuts to government spending while increasing intervention in Latin America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. The short-lived presidency of H.W. Bush, however, would see the abrupt end to the Republican Golden Age, with economic downturn and issues from within the party leading to Democrat victories in the 90s.
Public outcry ensued as a result of OSC’s viciously homophobic views- including a statement advocating the overthrow of the American government should gay marriage ever be legalized.
EVAN: I am going to be honest and admit that I am counting down the second until this is over, when I get to finally play my copy of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm.
That being said, this relates back to our talk because OSC’s views are deeply founded in his religion, Mormonism.
GORDON: Now back in that post, Evan asserted that OSC’s views were “reprehensible, regardless of where you stand.” Could you expound on that a bit for us?
EVAN: Well, the general consensus of the internet [from what I could tell] is that OSC is free to believe whatever he wants. If a man believed his cat created the universe he would, by anyone’s standards, certainly be wrong, but would not necessarily be chided for it.
People drew the line at Card’s support of organizations that were actively boycotting the legalization of gay marriage in America, as well as, like you said, advocating the overthrow of the government.
Homosexuality as a sin is something I think on almost every day, due to my belief that the Bible is without errancy and my observation that there is, from what I can see, absolutely nothing negative about a healthy homosexual relationship with another person. That being said, I am not about to cry that we burn down Parliament [or the White House, whatever] simply because the government allows two men to wed.
GORDON: So ultimately, your issue with OSC is that he shouldn’t let his personal views lead to him commit drastic acts?
EVAN: My personal issue, I suppose, is that he takes a stance that I’m already extremely uncomfortable with having and pushes it to its most extreme. That’s my honest answer.
On the surface, and certainly where I was last week or whenever it was, yes. Essentially that was where I was coming from, that his cry to overthrown the powers that be was an overreaction.
GORDON: And that’s certainly something that’s fair.
I often hear the argument that “You can’t force your religious views on others,” usually using a homophobic, sexist, or totalitarian agenda as an example. My issue with that has always been that you never hear the same people making that argument when something positive is on the table.
I’d probably reference John Brown, MLK Jr., Bonhoeffer, or Malcolm X as examples.
EVAN: I definitely agree with what you’re saying. Just regarding basic good behavior you never really hear people saying, “How dare you tell people to tell the truth and not murder and steal! Stop pushing your antiquated morals on the rest of us!”
GORDON: Exactly. That brings me to the core of the issue I wanted to hash out a bit: is militancy really a bad thing? Earlier today, I came across this image:
And I was kinda bugged by it. The implication seemed to be that Jimmy’s only two courses of action are silence or rage. I mean- if a friend posted something on Facebook I thought was incorrect, I don’t think I’d just ignore it.
EVAN: I rarely do when it comes to misspellings, grammatical issues, and anything regarding comic books.
GORDON: Exactly. If something is important to you, you should speak up about it, right? Heck, you shouldn’t you take direct action on it?
EVAN: I’m going to bring up an experience of mine that essentially no one knows about:
When I was much, much, much younger I thought it would be a good idea to evangelize to a classmate [this was in 8th Grade, I think]. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, because they were quite satisfied with their own religious beliefs, and reasonably so.
The thing is, I was coming from a place where I thought I was doing the right thing. After all, if Christians really do believe that Jesus is “the way the truth and the life” and that no one gets to heaven except through him, isn’t there some sort of responsibility to tell others? And if there isn’t an onus, wouldn’t you want the people you care about to get in?
So yes, it was important to me, and no, I don’t think I went about it the right way. But I did take action, for better or for worse.
GORDON: Let me throw you an extreme scenario:
The government has decided to start indiscriminately throwing minorities into internment camps, dragging ’em out of their homes in the middle of the night because, I don’t know, if you don’t, the terrorists win. Do you take militant action?
EVAN: Would I directly oppose the government, you mean?
EVAN: Do I count as a minority?
GORDON: For the purposes of this example, yes.
EVAN: If I was not a minority I would probably act in the same capacity as those who hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.
As a minority, I’m honestly not sure. I’m not particularly disposed to act violently, so I suppose I have to ask what you would deem as being “militant action.”
GORDON: But one way or another, your actions would be rooted in your understanding of your religious/moral code, right?
GORDON: So it’s not so much an issue of extremism, even in regards to religion- it’s just a question of the issue itself
In this case, OSC is a jerk not because he advocates the overthrow of the government, but because he makes that threat over something so benign as Adam and Steve getting a sheet of paper.
EVAN: I suppose it is contextual, yes. Though I’m sure there are people out there [myself not included] who would equate gay marriage with throwing babies into the Nile.
GORDON: This is indeed true. with that in mind, How do we address the question of the separation of church and state?
EVAN: That’s a really great question. I guess we have to ask how well of a job we’re doing with that at the moment.
GORDON: Not knowing the ins and outs of Canadian politics, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make so much of a universal statement. Speaking for myself, I prefer a pretty staunch elimination of the cosmetics of religion in my government.
Get “In God We Trust” off my money, take “Under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Though in total honesty, that’s more from a distrust of government in my religion than vice versa.
EVAN: The whole issue that “money is the root of all evil,” so why do we have religious institutions that have a net worth that goes into the billions? Yeah, I can be pretty into that sentiment.
GORDON: A very interesting topic, considering the elections currently going on in the Vatican.
EVAN: Well, the question we were presented today is what role does religion have to play in our increasingly secular world. In terms of Christianity, my hope is that its role is a positive one.
That Christians [myself included] can be seen as loving and not hateful [see: The Westboro Baptist Church], as giving and not selfish [see: most people in general], as willing to consciously process what we believe to be the truth instead of sticking to them blindly because they’re what we were told.
Christianity has changed a lot over the centuries without straying from what it is at its core. We can keep changing, we should keep thinking.
GORDON: So at the end of the day, religion becomes a social movement, rather than a distinct community or culture?
EVAN: I think that as a culture Christianity is, ideally, a social movement.
GORDON: So how do you reconcile other religions with this?
EVAN: Honestly it depends on the religion. I think Buddhism, when done right, more or less works along the same lines.
Are we counting Scientology as a religion and not a cult?
GORDON: Oooh. Them’s fighting words. Let’s call it a religion, for now.
EVAN: I suppose I would like every religion, Scientology included, to stick to my format of what I would like Christianity to be. If you hash out logically that alien soul debris is the cause of every human’s problems, more power to you; I have done the same thing in believing that a man who was also God died on a cross and was resurrected.
What’s really important is that we act on the positive aspects of our religious beliefs [taking care of the poor, not being dicks to one another] and really thinking upon our beliefs. Like I said, homosexuality as a sin does not at this point in my life make a lick of sense to me, and I continue to struggle with reconciling that with the rest of my faith. Make sure what you believe makes sense to you.
So as a TL;DR, do good things and think.
GORDON: Fair enough- but what about when it doesn’t work? There are plenty of vile groups out there whose diseased, twisted “logic” has led them to some pretty nasty conclusions. They’re obligated to act on those beliefs, right? How do you deal with conflicting agendas?
EVAN: How are they acting on these beliefs?
GORDON: Let’s say they’re banning the Hijab for Muslim Women; passing legislation on it.
EVAN: I’d say that infringes on basic human rights, and that people should stick to the words of public awareness campaign “If You See Something, Say Something.” People should protest.
GORDON:Certainly something we don’t get enough of. And with that, dearly beloved, we are out of time.
EVAN: It’s creeping me out that you’re calling our readers that. Or me. That’s even more troubling.
GORDON: Imagine if I actually did have a cult following. How awesome would that be?
EVAN: Extremely troubling.
GORDON: I for one believe our readers have learned their lesson- I’d like to leave them the option of offering an “other” topic in the comment section.
EVAN: Guys and girls, this week we talked as much as we could upon the topic for the week, and were only able to get so far. So in addition to us possibly discussing what you want us to, next week you can possible look forward to us discussing:
GORDON: Violence in media: How much is not enough?
For those of you who don’t know, Billy Graham’s name has long been synonymous with “famous Christian guy.” To put that into more quantitative terms, he has been spiritual adviser to US presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, and as of 2008 has had an estimated lifetime audience of 2.2 billion. Christians the world over look to him to be a powerful representative of their faith.
Roughly two weeks ago US presidential candidate, and Mormon, Mitt Romney visited Graham at his home. At some point during their time together, the 93-year-old Evangelist told him, “I will do all I can to help you.”
Shortly after this the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association [BGEA] took down a reference to Mormonism as a cult on its website.
This has, as most any action in the political sphere, provoked all sorts of public outcry, some of it mild, some of it extreme to the point that Graham’s whole ministry has been dubbed “a sham.” Basically your typical response to an event that combines two of the conversation topics you’re not allowed to bring up at the dinner table.
The viewpoint of Mormonism by mainstream Christianity aside, what’s truly important is what the man himself believes. While on the BGEA website I found an actual answer by Billy Graham, undated, to the question “What is your definition of a cult, and how do cults differ from Christianity?” His answer is as follows:
Cults differ widely from each other, of course, but they often have several characteristics in common. (Your local Christian bookstore can suggest some books that describe cults in more detail.)
One characteristic is that cults reject the basic beliefs of the Christian faith—beliefs that Christians have held in common for almost 2,000 years. Instead, they say they alone have a full understanding of the truth about God, and the only way to know the truth is to be part of their group. Many cults have their own writings also, which they either substitute for the Bible or add to the Bible.
Cults also often have a strong leader—one who demands total obedience, and actually claims to speak for God. This is very dangerous, of course, because he or she may lead others into disaster. Remember: Only Christ is worthy of our allegiance, for only He is God’s Son. The Bible says, “Through him you believe in God … so your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).
Pray for your brother and ask God to help you share Christ’s love with him. Cult members are often very resistant to outsiders, but pray that in time he will see this group’s false claims. Most of all, may his experience challenge you and your family to a deeper commitment to Christ.
Let’s break down his definition in regards to the Mormon faith.
Cults reject the basic beliefs of the Christian faith.
Judging by the qualities of cults that Billy Graham lists, Mormonism hits two out of three. Why is it then that his organization took down the reference to the Church of Latter-Day Saints as a cult?
Ken Barun, the organization’s chief of staff, is quoted as as saying: “We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”
Have politics, then, trumped religion in this case? A debate on faith is avoided in order to bypass a possible issue of contention with a presidential candidate, one that Graham directly endorses. Cults are described as groups that espouse “false claims,” but apparently that can be ignored in light of Romney’s campaign.
While it is unfair to cite the holy life Billy Graham has lived as invalid in light of his recent actions, his decision should nonetheless be viewed for what it is: a sign of weakness in prioritizing the politics of this world over a commitment to spiritual truth.