What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I like Charlie Madigan. I don’t know him personally but I like the way he writes. Charlie is an editor at the Chicago Tribune. He’s also a fellow blogger, to which statement nowadays one might easily add - "isn’t everybody?"

In today’s Tribune, he writes about the idiots who ascribe all kinds of events to the will of God - or as he puts it "it’s God’s fault. " - and of perhaps the nations number one idiot, Pat Robertson, he says:
"He would have been perfect pre-Enlightenment, maybe in the 14th or 15th Century. He is about as relevant today as a codpiece."
Of course I agree. This idiot makes one idiotic statement after another. If he was in almost any other line of work, he would long since have been relegated to the unemployment office and morning visits to local soup kitchens.

But "Reverend" Robertson is in the "God" business. That and the con business which consists of telling viewers of his Christian Broadcasting Network how Godly a thing it is to send money so that he can keep doing God’s work over the airways. They do and he does and that results in an even nuttier expansion of the nuttiness that Madigan describes in his column. There are millions of people across the country who believe that Robertson is a "man of God" who speaks "God’s words" and no matter how crazy his pronouncements get and how many late night comedians tear him to pieces, the "believers" keep believing. His daily audience for his 700 Club broadcasts average a million households.

Those of us who regard ourselves as being sophisticated may call people like Robertson irrelevant and go about our sophisticated ways, but if we don’t pay attention to those millions who see nothing wrong with what the man says and does and indeed believe pretty much as he does, we are ignoring what I think is a growing danger to our beloved sophisticated way of life.

I’ve commented on it before - the growing desire of large numbers of religious Americans to move this country in the direction of some form of theocracy - or at least a marriage of democracy and theocracy in governance - from the very local to the ultimate Federal level - the White House. The problem with trying to slow it down or pulling its fangs, is that a majority of the rest of us - those who don’t want "intelligent design" taught as science or prayers to be recited in schools or religious edifices displayed in and on public buildings, are also deists. We believe in God. And so it isn’t that easy for us to dismiss or fight against the way someone else believes. We who are deists are - in no small way - as nutty as Pat Robertson.

Of course we don’t need to be a theocracy for people who believe as Pat Robertson believes to influence - no - control the nature of our governance. This is something I’ve also written about before. More than once. Try running for any elective office in this country and when asked to express religious views, say that you’re an atheist. You’ll get the atheist vote - maybe - but in a field of as many candidates as you’d care to name - you’d come in last. You know this is true. In the last election, Bush and Kerry were falling over each other in their protestations of faith and the role it plays in their lives.It was painful to watch.

And so it was a wonderful surprise to learn of the election of Michelle Bachelet as President of Chile. Not a surprise that Chileans had elected a women. Women have been elected head of democracies around the world before. England, Israel, India, Germany to name just a few. In that regard, the United States lags way behind. Past efforts of women to run for the US Presidency have been greeted with little more than polite snickers and the pundits can float Hillary Clinton’s name as often as they like - it won’t make any difference. We’re still not ready to take a woman seriously at the helm of our ship of state.

But the wonderful surprise about Michelle Bachelet was that in a nation of predominantly Catholic believers, she was able to campaign as an avowed agnostic and not have to declare how great a role her "faith" played in her life and how much it would "sustain" her as the nation’s leader. Those far away Chileans. Those church going South Americans. Who would have thought that they would set the example for the rest of the Americas. They have done what we in the United States can’t conceive of doing - at least not in the foreseeable future. But can you imagine what a burden it would lift from the shoulders of potential Presidential of Congressional candidates? Not to have to figure out how to pretend you’re something that you’re not while trying to appeal to the millions of voters whose beliefs permit a Pat Robertson to prosper?

Maybe the answer for candidates who want to run for national office but feel constrained by the need to declare themselves people of faith, is to spend some time in Chile to see how it can be done. Or maybe persuade some Chilean political strategists to come here and show us how to do it. For sure we need some help to get us out of the stranglehold that religion has on our political process.