With God on our side (or not)

I didn’t intend my post the other day about the Big Island Senate appointment to focus on religion.

I truly thought the county Democrats did a good job of making their nominations in an open and accessible manner and wanted to draw attention to it. That’s why I put the rather mild comment about the interviews being held at a hongwanji at the end.

That said, I thought some of the responses proved my point, which was that many church-and-state concerns expressed lately in Hawai‘i seem targeted specifically at Christianity rather than generally at religion in public life.

Several who commented on my post tried to justify this bias by drawing distinctions between the practices of Christianity and Buddhism. I don’t recall any fine print in the Constitution to the effect that religions can be treated differently under the law according to what faiths the cool kids favor.

Religion is an intensely personal and sensitive issue to people of all faiths (or lack thereof) and we need to be rigorously even-handed in addressing it.

In the wake of the Arizona tragedy, many of us have asked those who engage in inflammatory talk about guns and violence to please think about the consequences.

Insulting a person’s religion has the same potential to inflame, and we must be equally careful to choose our words with the consequences in mind.

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36 Comments on “With God on our side (or not)”

  1. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Over the past kazillion years as a political activist, I’ve rented church facilities to do political things – that is, Democratic Party things.

    Furthermore, I belong to a church which rents its facilities to a wide variety of groups.

    I can speak first-hand that it never occurred to me that I was crossing the line nor that I had to be A True Believer to rent the facility at a resonable price. And, although I never served on the church committee overseeing facility rentals, I am sure that we never required anyone renting space from us to support our beliefs in any way.

    It’s when churches “endorse” candidates that the line gets crossed.

    David, if you want to see something really gross, then attend a meeting at a nearby Neighborhood Board. The Chair announces that the group is about to pray and anyone who objects can get up and leave. It is never said out loud – and don’t bother to come back – but it’s pretty clear that’s the message.

    But it’s technically legal according to the Attorney General’s office which issued an opinion several years ago after someone – not I – complained.

  2. MynahBlog Says:

    Most Neighborhood Boards I’ve attended do more swearing than praying.

  3. Household God Says:

    In Marsh v. ChambersMarsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983)[1], was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that government funding for chaplains was constitutional because of the “unique history” of the United States.

    A 6-3 majority, led by Chief Justice Warren Burger, relied on the “unique history” of legislative prayer, pointing out that only three days before Congress adopted the Bill of Rights in 1789, it authorized the appointment of a paid chaplain to lead prayers, a policy that has continued ever since.

    “In light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society,” the Marsh majority found. “To invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, an ‘establishment’ of religion or a step toward establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”

  4. WooWoo Says:

    Dave was right the first time. If the GOP held an official selection meeting at New Hope, the anti-Christian groups would go nuts on it. But they don’t call themselves anti-Christian,’cause that looks bad. They say it’s about separation of church and state. But it’s not. It’s about being anti-Christian.

    And this is my take as someone who is not Christian.

  5. Michael Says:

    This has nothing to do with
    religion yet it is mentioned.
    If it was meant to be left out,
    someone else would have brought the
    subject up in a comment.

    Seems rhetoric is in play. Whose
    passion is now stirred?

  6. Craig Smith Says:

    You know the reason so many of the supporters of the separation of state and church are targeting christianity is because they are the number one violators of the constitution.

    When was the last time you heard of a buddhist trying to convert anyone? Or demanding that their religion be the one that gives the invocation?

    So christianity takes the hits because they are the ones out there violating the constitution and the laws of the State and the country.

    So once they stop violating the law they will stop being such open targets.

    As for the insulting a person’s religion – gees that happens for some just by telling them they cannot violate the law by having a christian only prayer. Again if they kept their religion out of government then there would be no need to even talk about and no chance of offending their religious beliefs.

  7. WooWoo Says:

    Craig-

    You argue quite eloquently against yourself. My questions are

    Do you start as a supporter of separation of church and state, and then find the GOP/Christianity link as a specific violation? Or do you start out as a critic of the GOP and Christianity, and then find the separation issue as support for your position?

    To put it another way, did you find evidence first, and then a suspect? Or did you determine your suspect, and then go looking for evidence?

  8. Craig Smith Says:

    I never mentioned the GOP in the above post I see you are falling victim to your own post.

    Christianity and the GOP are not interchangeable.

  9. WooWoo Says:

    Craig-

    It was part of Dave’s original post, that there is a double standard. Dems can meet at a Buddhist temple to do official work, but Rs can’t meet at New Hope, at least not without drawing criticism about separation.

    And you didn’t answer the question.

  10. Kolea Says:

    WooWoo,

    Which Democrat has “gone nuts” over the GOP meeting at Hope Chapel? The one mention I saw of Hope Chapel before yours was Mitch Kahle. I don’t think he’s a Democrat. But neither did I see him “go nuts” over the matter.

    If Republicans do things to remind voters of their very close relationship with a particular variant of Christianity, they make themselves vulnerable in a way the Democrats do not with their meeting at a Hongwanji. There is no “double standard” at work here.

    Few people see Hongwanji as trying to use the Democratic Party (or elected officials) as a means to impose their group’s beliefs on the rest of society. Nor are the Dems seen as using Hongwanji as an extension of their campaigns by coordinating with Buddhist clergy to mobilize their congregations for political purposes. Both the GOP as a party and several of their major campaigns did engage in organizing of exactly that sort. It is because of this pattern of behavior than ties between the GOP and conservative churches arouse suspicions in a way the rental of a Buddhist meeting place by the Democrats will not raise suspicions, no matter how much Dave tries to insinuate it is the same thing.

    Dave had to project a crude understanding of “separation of church and state” onto unnamed “anti-Christian” Democrats in order for his charge of “hypocrisy” to stick. He was looking to provoke a squabble and he managed to do so. As a result, the main point of his posting, which focussed on the transparency of the Big Island Democratic Party’s selection process, did not get the attention it deserved.

    He now pretends his closing remarks were innocent and that those who objected are blowing things out of proportion exactly BECAUSE of an anti-Christian bias.

    Nonsense. He was looking for some fireworks and he got them. He did not prove his point about “anti-Christian Democrats.” He did, however, prove that he is unwilling to resist the opportunity to take a cheap shot, even if it sabotages his own journalism.

    Good work, Dave.

  11. Michael Says:

    “Under God”?

    Just words missing from our Pledge
    of Allegiance.

  12. David Shapiro Says:

    Kolea,

    There you go, as usual, straight for the personal demonizing to dispute suggestions that some on the left have as much need to tone it down as some on the right if we’re ever going to be rid of the poison in our political climate.

    You say I haven’t proved my point that there is an element of anti-Christian bias in the Democratic Party. OK, you have described yourself as a Democratic Party activist who has held official positions in the party. I’m going to post some “Best of Kolea” snippets from some of your earlier comments on this blog and let folks judge for themselves if there is an anti-Christian bias:

    Aiona has pledged to place state government in service to God.

    That should freak out anyone who may have a different conception of “God” from Aiona’s kindergarten/Sunday School infantile notion of a fearsome God-Daddy in the Sky. Or people of another faith. Or people who understand the world without positing the intervention of some supernatural fairy.

    ***

    The world was NOT created 6,000 years ago and anyone who believes that is not suited to wrestle with the problems of the 21st Century.

    ***

    I call BS on your “tolerance” of Christian fundamentalists. You simply don’t want to endure their scorn so you don’t call them on their infantile and authoritarian conception of God.

    Someone can believe the world was created 6,000 years ago and still be a wonderful person, but their understanding of science is infantile. They have abandoned adult reasoning in favor of a fairy tale.

    ***

    I believe people who embrace and propagate an authoritarian view of God adopt the authoritarian model for the family and the State as well. I believe people who willfully suspend rationality and the scientific method to the point of accepting a literal view of Creation, Noah’s Ark, the virgin birth of Jesus, etc., are being conditioned to abandon reason in looking at society and the problems facing us.

  13. Craig Smith Says:

    WooWoo there is no real question to answer since I do agree with your premise that the GOP and christianity are interchangeable.

    But I will say one does not have to go “hunting” for evidence that christians are the number one violator of the separation of church and state. You cannot name one other religion that tries to shove its believes down the publics throats through government, that even comes close to that of christians.

    There is no double standard since I do not view any building as religious. It is what you do in the building that can give it that defining quality.

    Like I said Tuesday if Dems held their meeting in the middle of a temple service or the attendees were forced to say a prayer to to go to the meeting Dave would have had something to grumble about. But that was not the case and EVERYONE knows that.

    Keep in mind that people are “forced” to go to churches and vote and that is not a violation of the separation of state and church. It only becomes a violation if the voters are forced to listen to a prayer while they are there or say a prayer to get into the voting booth.

  14. shaftalley Says:

    politics and religion.can’t have one with out the other.the problem is not that dems/gop get funding,support and votes from buddhists/christians,the problem is they are in 24/7 mode of campaigning and fund raising,etc.it’s all about maintaing power,control and all the privileges.

  15. Kolea Says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for presenting some of my Greatest Hits. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by any of those quotes. Which is pretty good, given how we all sometimes get careless when we write. Those remarks stand up pretty well.

    I dispute that my hostility to Christian fundamentalism can properly be called an “anti-Christian bias” any more than my hostility to radical Islamist fundamentalists can be cited as evidence of an anti-Muslim bias.

    Some forms of Christianity ARE ignorant, infantile and bigoted. I am sorry you are unable to see that or feel prevented to say so honestly by some weird conception of religious tolerance.

    I have Christian friends and have no need to debate theology with them. I have adopted, as I believe I have written here before, an somewhat idiosyncratic standard for judging people’s religious beliefs: “by the fruit of the tree you shall know them.” Some people have grown into decent human beings under the influence of religion and draw inspiration from that influence. Other decent people have been influenced by other religions or by secular beliefs. Whatever makes ’em good people.

    Are you really so uncomfortable talking about religious beliefs that you do not allow yourself to see the relationship between various forms of bigotry and religious variants which reinforce those prejudices? I will make a broad, sweeping over-generalization and say all religious traditions have within them variants which are more universalist, more tolerant, more egalitarian, but also variants which are more authoritarian, more patriarchal and sexist, more prone to justify violence, more inclined to suppress sexuality, more hostile to rationality etc.

    Are all religious beliefs, in your calculus, necessarily equally beneficial or equally malignant? Are we really not allowed, for fear of being called intolerant, to differentiate between the more benign and more malignant variants of religious thought?

    You have really painted yourself into an absurd corner, Dave.

  16. David Shapiro Says:

    Kolea,

    Your addition to your greatest hits enables me to rest my case that you are Exhibit A of the anti-Christian bias I pointed to among some elements of the Democratic Party, so no need to discuss that further.

    On the broader question, I have no problem with frank and open discussion of religion or anything else. I just don’t see why it can’t be done in a civil and respectful manner rather than resorting to name-calling and inflammatory terminology that only serves to drive people further apart. It’s not helpful from the left or the right.

  17. el guapo Says:

    Shapiro, you used “cheap heat” on Tuesday to get a reaction to your story. You proved your point, but there’s a time and place for everything. Wednesday would have been a better time to mention the venue as it overshadowed what was really important, the openness of the process. You’re much better than that.

  18. Boyd Ready Says:

    Some years ago Mitch Kahle went after the Navy’s Boys and Girls club for some reference in their rules to believing in God. The Navy backed down. I objected and somehow got into an extended back-and-forth e-mail exchange with him, arguing the points at issue. He ended it by admitting quite clearly that it is Christianity he is opposed to, not other religions (for example, Hawaiian ‘Ku’ statuary outside the Army Commanders’ HQ building). He has an anti-Christian animus.

    And while it is true that Christianity, more than other religions, is associated with most American public religious rhetoric, it is not true that the ‘separation of church and state’ are constitutional principles. There is to be no ‘establishment of religion’ by the Federal government. This originally meant that existing establilshed religions, in Virginia and elsewhere, were not to be messed with by the Feds. It did not mean no State or other community could establish religion. In modern times it has come to mean a studied neutrality on the matter at all levels of government. Multi-culturalism, and tolerance for many ways of looking at the world, would seem to enable both strict neutrality and local option, unless we become some huge homogeneous secular mass of mortal strivers. Yet out church/state separation fanatics prefer primarily the anti-Christian bandwagon. I agree with David!

  19. Craig Smith Says:

    Come on David there is no anti-christian bias in the Democratic Party and you KNOW IT!

    I noticed you failed to even go after the fact that the chrisitians are the largest violator of the constitution and that is why there may appear an anti-christian bias but it is only because they are the biggest and in most cases the ONLY violator.

  20. Craig Smith Says:

    Dave you or anyone saying there is a anti-christian bias by anyone who supports the separation of church and state is like saying I am anti-white people because I cannot stand white supremacy groups.

  21. Michael Says:

    “Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

    You don’t need to be a Christian to be an American.

  22. Mitch Kahle Says:

    Dave, HCSSC is prepared to challenge any and all religious intrusions on civil liberties. Do you know of any Buddhist (or any non-Christian) violating state-church separation here in Hawaii? If so, please let me know so we can challenge it.

  23. Mitch Kahle Says:

    @Boyd Ready — My views on Christianity specifically and on religion generally are available for all to read at http://www.lava.net/~hcssc/#articles.

    Have at it. Quote whatever you like. Criticism is the lifeblood of argument.

    P.S. Yes, I am anti-theist. Why aren’t you?

  24. Mitch Kahle Says:

    Dave, it looks like Craig Smith has nailed you.

    Answer his question:Does being opposed to White Supremacy mean one is against Caucasian?

  25. Kolea Says:

    Craig,

    If you dislike white power groups, according to Dave’s logic, you ARE intolerant. And as big a part of the problem as the white power bigots you oppose.

    Apparently, all religious beliefs are equally valid. The belief the world was created by God 6,000 years ago and all animals alive today are descended from a pair of ancestors saved on Noah’s Ark is as valid as Teilhard de Chardin’s efforts to reconcile evolution and science. When pressed, Dave can offer no opinion on the matter without violating his own definition of “intolerance.”

    Dave has sometimes made references to growing up on the Big Island. I have enjoyed those recollections. There has been a silence about what it meant growing up haole in that time and that place. For some reason, that is an awkward discussion for him. OK, we are all constructed differently, each with our sensitive areas. Places we cannot comfortably go without getting real defensive.

    And talking about religious beliefs is one of those areas where Dave loses it quite easily. I come from a hybrid Catholic/Episcopalian background. My parents were married in what Lenny Bruce famously referred to as “the only ‘the Church’.” But both my folks were fully secular in their outlook and that’s how the kids grew up. Not “anti-theistic” as Mitch refers t o his outlook. But atheistic, meaning without a God to explain the universe.

    My best friend was an altar boy for the local priest, Father Joe, who went on to become Bishop Joe. I liked Bishop Joe. My brother-in-law was an altar boy as well. And like most former altar boys, is actively hostile to “the Church.” I am lucky. Because of my secular Catholic roots, I have no need to rebel against the Church. They got no hold on me.

    I think that context helps explain my views tofay. I think the Catholic Church has some good points and does some good things. But I think it is also a semi-feudal paternalistic hierarchy held together through corruption and the prayers of old grandmothers. A lot of the priests are deeply closeted gays because that was a career into which “sensitive” Irish, Italian and Latino young men were welcome. The altar boy sex scandal really didn’t surprise many Catholics. We had all heard the rumors for years and had turned away. See, I think I can talk about the Catholic Church fairly reasonably and honestly.

    Dave can speak for himself and is free to deny what I am about to suggest. But I can understand a kid growing up Jewish in a majority Christian environment, particularly one without strong Jewish institutions nearby, might very well settle upon a viewpoint close to what Dave is following here. That we should not talk about each other’s religious beliefs. That all beliefs are equally valid. Or, at least, that we should refrain from saying otherwise for the sake of social peace. As I said, that sounds like an understandable strategy for a Jewish kid without a nearby synagogue or other Jewish kids in the neighborhood to back him up.

    But just because Dave is uncomfortable talking about the negative aspects of religious beliefs, does not mean the rest of us cannot. Dave SAYS he can speak “frankly” about religion, provided it is done “civilly.” OK, Dave. How’s about providing an example. Criticize some religious belief in a polite, but frank fashion and set a standard for us.

    For the purposes of this question, Zoroastrianism, animism and “snake-handlers” don’t qualify, OK?

  26. David Shapiro Says:

    Mitch, it’s a false comparison to equate Christianity with white supremacy and I’m not going there with you guys. It’s equally false to suggest I don’t support the separation of church and state just because I don’t believe in insulting peoples’ faith in offensive personal terms. I broke the story about Duke Aiona’s ties to Transformation Hawaii and provided some of the most critical coverage of Jonah Ka‘auwai’s letter to the churches.

  27. David Shapiro Says:

    Kolea, all religious views may not be equally valid, but they all get the equal protection of the U.S. Constitution. I’ll pass your psychoanalysis along when they send me to see a shrink about my reluctance to discuss my personal religious beliefs with mostly anonymous numbnuts on a blog.

  28. Kolea Says:

    Dave,

    You distort the matter under debate when you suggest anyone is trying to deny Christian fundamentalists their constitutional right. I certainly am not supportive of any such effort.

    You are the person who framed the original question, quite artificially, by suggesting Democrats critical of the GOP ties with the Religious Right are employing a double standard if they don’t complain about the Hawaii Democratic Party’s use of the Hongwanji facility.

    Your logic was tortured in the first instance. And even more tortured in your effort to suggesst I (or the others here) are opponents of the constitutional rights of Christian rightwingers. We are not. And you know it.

    And I expect your nuts are number than mine, so there!
    😉

  29. Craig Smith Says:

    Dave all religion is equally invalid.

  30. hugh clark Says:

    A political debate about religion almost ensures more heat than light. Those who do not know Puna should know the Hongwani in Kea’au sits on a site donated by a missiomnary family that still is among the most ardent Christias in Hawaii. Though its large congretaion may be more Demo than GOP, it serves as a community site for landmark birthdays and wedding anniversarty gatherings, community gatherings and cultural events.

    It serves (in my nind) as a tribute to the ecumenical spirit I spotted some 45 years after I landed on the Big Island.

    I see some of the above comments as undermining our multiethnic, multireligios and friendly human spirit I so admire,

  31. Mitch Kahle Says:

    Dave Shapiro wrote: “Insulting a person’s religion has the same potential to inflame, and we must be equally careful to choose our words with the consequences in mind.”

    Were the Danish cartoons of Mohammad the cause of violence? Or was it Muslim intolerance of criticism?

    Religious criticism is the time-honored tradition of the Enlightenment. Without religious criticism, we’d still be living in the Dark Ages.

  32. el guapo Says:

    I’m proud to be an anonymous numbnut 🙂

  33. Mitch Kahle Says:

    Dave Shapiro wrote: “Religion is an intensely personal and sensitive issue to people of all faiths (or lack thereof) and we need to be rigorously even-handed in addressing it.”

    Dave, this is ridiculous. Every religion has exclusive tenets. Buddhism does not condemn non adherents to eternal torment, neither does Judaism; but Christianity and Islam do!

    Fundamentalists assert “America is a Christian Nation.” This is equivalent to claiming that “America is a White Nation.” Both statements are biased, exclusionary, offensive, and of course FALSE by any measure.

  34. charles Says:

    numbnuts? What, pray tell, is a numbnut?

  35. PeteBRH Says:

    I would have to agree with Mitch Kahle. There is something highly offensive and arrogant about some religions believing that they have a monopoly on the truth and anyone that doesn’t believe the way they do is condemned.

    He is correct that Buddhism and Judaism are much more universal in their outlook. Judaism actively discourages proselytization. Judaism also teaches that all good people are saved, not just Jews. “The righteous of all nations shall share in the world to come.”

    Here is Hawaii, the same folks that don’t understand separation of Church and State, are the same ones that believe that this is a “Christian Nation” and/or want to make Hawaii a “Christian State.” These are also the same people that do not support equal rights for all and you can regularly see them at the Capitol protesting against civil unions for same-sex couples. They are a scary lot.

  36. Michael Says:

    Religion is a Belief.
    Philosophy is a study of Religion.


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