A need to challenge religion and our political leaders.

Too often, opinions are allowed to stand with little more than a referral to religious beliefs as if religions are beyond challenge.

The validity of opinions based on religion must be debated in today’s America. Too often, opinions are allowed to stand with little more than a referral to religious beliefs as if the illogic of religious ideology is beyond challenge. Pop culture offered up a little debate nugget last week when Tom Cruise was forced to defend his religious views on The Today Show with Matt Lauer.

Cruise believes in Scientology, which abhors psychiatry and taking some medicines for emotional disorders. Though Cruise admits that he did not believe in psychiatry before he became a Scientologist, the argument remains the same. The normally lame Lauer questioned Cruise on his Scientology beliefs and hopefully this openness to questioning belief extends beyond Scientology to other religions.

Cruise is openly challenged about his religious practices and our leaders remain unscathed.

President George W. Bush goes to war on the belief that he is carrying out God’s will. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., espouses a conservative fascism that equates homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. Lt. Gen. William Boykin has crossed the nation telling Christian groups and prayer gatherings that God put Bush in the White House to fight evil. There is little difference between American jihad and Osama Bin Laden’s jihad in the context that even our own military leaders believe they are fighting Satan.

In a true democracy, there is no God or person to blame. We are all addicts. We are all murderers. We are all criminals when our society is guided by the leaders we elect. Each of us has a hand in the devaluing of humanity in the middle of our economy. To be guiltless is to be a citizen of the future. The present and the past are dictating the course this country takes.

Religion is, as Ernest Hemingway said, an opiate. It brings some to transcendence and blinds many into believing that responsibility for our well-being is safely in the hands of God’s will. It’s hardly God’s will that a 19-year-old is shipped off to a war where he or she has to murder or be murdered when politicians and corporations call for and profit from that war. It’s hardly God’s will when children in our slums are forced into a life of crime because they were not provided the education that would enable them to leave those slums. It’s too easy for our democracy to deteriorate and people to suffer when responsibility is passed onto an entity nobody seems to agree on.

U.S. citizens are a religious people. A Pew Global Attitudes survey found that 59 percent of U.S. citizens thought religion was very important to them. Compare this with only 21 percent of Germans and 11 percent of French who felt the same way. Problems only arise in the religiousness of the United States when its citizens confuse obligations to democracy and obligations to their religion. Real problems arise when leaders of this nation can justify policy actions with nods to their religion without being questioned by the public for those beliefs. The current religious fad shrouding the country has brought a dangerous politeness to public discourse concerning the validity of basing decisions on religious views.

Religion must be questioned and challenged as much as or more than other institutions. At the heart of it, Christianity is no different than Islam. Buddhism than Judaism. The Bible from the Quran. The radical evangelicals who believe Armageddon is at hand are no different than the radical Muslims who believe the same. Religions are with us or against our systems. They are tribal and divisive when we need global unity and understanding.

Unfortunately, religious power in the United States has risen during the last few decades and we have failed to question religiously inclined leaders, allowing them to retreat to their Bibles and infallible interpretations of what they believe their God has said. U.S. citizens should not allow themselves to be continuously fooled by born-again oil men and corporate apostles.

Leaders must be confronted whenever they give religious reasons to justify their actions. The life of the politician is the campaign. Campaigns need money. To understand the vocal religiosity of leaders today we need only to turn to the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, who said that the easiest way to make money was through religion.

The aim of this column is not to offend, but to challenge those who believe religion should dictate public policy and absolve ourselves for the atrocities we fund and the tragedies we help perpetuate. A debate needs to be had. I believe a secular democracy needs secular leaders and religion overall is a negative. Perhaps you believe differently. These pages are open to you. Write a letter or column.

Karl Noyes is the Editorials and Opinions editor for The Minnesota Daily. Please send comments to [email protected]