Politics and religion need permanent divorce

LOS ANGELES (U-WIRE) — Religion and politics have always had an awkward relationship.
Religion is sort of like politics’ unemployed uncle, the guy you invite to the Christmas party because you have to, even though he’s going to get drunk and make trouble by hitting on one of his more distant cousins, maybe liberty. The only difference in this election is that instead of a Christmas party, it’s a bris gone awry.
I am talking about the recent controversy over the orthodoxy of Joe Lieberman. Lieberman has made much of his faith, and his faith in his faith, and that he has faith that his faith will be faithful in bringing out faith in others. Faith Hill declined to comment, as she was naked in a desert.
In fact, Lieberman’s faith healing has become so visible that the Anti-Defamation League (which annually competes in a rousing softball game against the League of Justice, go Aquaman!) publicly issued a complaint, saying they were against religion in politics in any form. In other words, “Lieberman, that’s not kosher.”
What the ADL did was utterly stupid from a political standpoint. The ADL is going to support the Democrats anyway, so why publicly damage their own candidate? They behaved like Ike Turner, smacking Tina around and then making her sing for him. Well Joe, it looks like you better follow Tina’s lead and get those hardest-working legs in politics out of Nutbush.
Speaking of Nutbush, G.W. (the C-average governor, not the university) hasn’t exactly kept himself free of religion, either. Remember when John McCain said he wasn’t a “Pat Robertson Republican?” G.W. took the more traditional and convenient road to the right, to the people who put the “mental” in fundamentalism. They’re the ones who want to post the Ten Commandments up in schools, as if the Trenchcoat Mafia would have stopped at Columbine’s doors and said, “Hey guys, we can’t kill people. They put up a sign.” They’re the ones who want to make sure that everyone prays to their personal savior before a football game because if there’s one thing Jesus loves, it’s gridiron violence.
Although the ADL’s tactics were out of line, its message was right on target. While faith has its place in American life, it has no place in American politics. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the candidates’ piety, its movement to the forefront is an obvious ploy to attract the swing voters in the states where God apparently claims residency (though if I were God, I wouldn’t set foot in Mississippi).
Why has religious faith become such a central issue in this race? The fact is that in the mind of the average religious voter, if a candidate goes to church a lot and can quote chapter and verse, he must be moral and trustworthy. “I’m a good family man,” say the candidates. Functioning reproductive organs aren’t much of a yardstick for morality. Just because a politician cloaks himself in holy robes, it doesn’t mean he’s wearing anything under them.
G.W. even claimed his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ, hardly a “subliminal” nod to the Christian Coalition types. Bush isn’t likely to pick a real political philosopher like James Madison, who Bush believes invented the light bulb. In fact, Jesus is probably the only “philosopher” G.W. knows by name. I say, if Jesus is a political philosopher, then Moses is a hydrodynamic engineer.
Some have said that the fact that people are more tolerant of Lieberman’s stumping implies a double standard. “If it was a Christian talking about faith,” they say, “people would be up in arms.” They’re right. This country is far more nervous about a Christian fundamentalist making policy decisions than a Jewish one. There is a simple reason for this difference: Christians are scary.
Well, that’s an oversimplification. What I mean by that is there is always something scary about an overwhelming majority, especially when there’s an accompanying dogma. I grew up as one of a handful of Jews in a highly goyisha (Yiddish for “non-Jewish”) town, and let me tell you that when Christmas rolled around, I felt like the lone straight guy at a Cher concert. It’s intimidating being surrounded by a mass of people who believe differently than you, particularly when they organize to affect governmental policy.
Furthermore, clergy members seem to hand out far too many flyers. To all of you, religious or otherwise, who feel the need to inundate the rest of us with flyers, why not just throw the paper in the garbage can yourselves and leave out the middleman?
Another reason for the double standard is that for a long time now, the Christian right has been trying to assume a missionary position with the rest of the country. Jews, on the other hand, are not out to recruit. You will never hear a knock at your door and find a rabbi handing out flowers and Torahs and denouncing Darwin. Therefore, there is little to fear from Lieberman in power because according to the principles of Judaism itself (which don’t require membership in the religion to get into heaven), he will not make policies that force his religious beliefs on others.
For example, had Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign in 1988 succeeded, it would be a safe bet he would have fought hard to put Jesus in the classroom. But if elected, I would bet Lieberman doesn’t do anything to remove pork from school cafeterias.
A side note to all those who want prayer in schools — it already exists. I think every student has intoned the following: Oh Lord, in Thy grace and mercy, spare me Thy wrath in the form of Thy in-class essays of three, Thy interminable logarithms, and Thy memorized primate anatomy, and deliver us from Thy judgment on Finals Week.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have faith in our politicians before we worry how much faith they put in something else? I want to hear proof of honesty, not proof of church attendance. I don’t care what Jesus has done for them. I do care what they have done to help others (Dick Cheney only gave 1 percent of his $20,000,000 earnings to charity). Why is it that the same politicians who tout themselves as good Christians are the same ones who are quick to cut the most charitable programs the government offers? Maybe we can’t miraculously feed all the homeless on some fishes and loaves, but that doesn’t mean we should eliminate food stamps.
I am not insinuating that people’s faith in God is worthless — far from it. But when people argue that the words “In God We Trust” appear on a quarter, I feel tempted to remind them that the word “Liberty” appears on the quarter in far larger letters than any other text on the coin. Although the Declaration of Independence declares people are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights,” there is a very good reason that the creator is not mentioned by name.
The last time we let religion interfere heavily with American politics, 19 people were burned as witches. I guess if you love God enough, you have no compunction with setting granny ablaze. Whether you’re playing for Team Jesus or Team Kreplach, being an MVP or a benchwarmer shouldn’t matter off the field.

Doug Lief’s column originally appeared in the University of California-Los Angeles’ Daily Bruin on Oct. 10. Send comments to [email protected]