McGlade: Politicians, affections and stupidityWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to questions about the human soul and its destiny, there are three core options in life: a theistic option, an atheistic option and an “I don’t care enough to think seriously about it” option.
As I read the Constitution of our great nation, it seems clear to me that all three options are allowed, and legally protected. There is no law that prohibits Harvard from hiring an atheist to be a part of the team of chaplains that looks after the needs of students. There is no law that prohibits a group of Muslims from opening a community center near Ground Zero in New York City. There is no law that prohibits a loud, boorish street preacher from shouting at me as I walk to the car. And there is no law that prohibits the agnostic from playing golf on Sunday morning. Chances are reasonably high he would run into some of my parishioners if he did. This is all, in constitutional law, pretty much settled.
We live in a nation that is as much about space as it is anything else. Our Constitution allows each of us to carve out a sliver of personal space and call it ours. What we do with this space is our business. My sliver is handed over to Christianity in the tradition of the United Methodist Church. One of my friends who likes to share reading lists with me has camped out in atheism. A middle-aged Roman Catholic friend likes to email me “Catholic jokes.” A Jewish scholar I have met and shared conversation with writes commentaries on New Testament texts. A Muslim college student sat down with me one afternoon and delighted me with a conversation on prayer. A dear friend who recently passed away taught me much on Lakota spirituality and how it relates to my own faith. And so it goes. These slivers of space afforded each of us by our Constitution have become so entangled in American life that it would be impossible for anyone to remove them from us because they believe certain theologies are “phony.” Our nation would be greatly impoverished in spirit if they did.
Yet, when many in public attempt to talk about these things, they get angry or stupid. We only have to look at the present race for the White House to see both of these things in play. The language either gets bellicose (“The President has declared war on the Catholic Church,) or silly (“The President has a phony theology”). In democratic societies there will be competing interests, such as the debate between some in the church and those seeking to provide affordable access to birth control. In democratic societies there will be diverse interpretations of human and religious experience, such as the president’s protestant Christian faith shaped by the United Church of Christ or Rick Santorum’s Roman Catholic faith shaped by pre-Vatican II influences. These things are allowed and require serious and honest conversation, not angry accusations and cheap characterizations.
The sad part about all of this is that there is a need in our country for a healthy conversation on how we allow each of these personal “slivers of space” to fit together in such a way as to form a “people.” Judging how others may use their sliver of space will never get us there. The desire to control how others live their lives will not get us there, either. Only tolerance, the willingness to risk conversation nd the desire to celebrate the numerous ways people have used their sliver of space to discover wonder and meaning will get us there. Until we figure this out, the forecast for this election cycle looks to be more bellicosity and stupidity.
How embarrassing and sad.
Eric McGlade is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and pastors a congregation in Bowling Green.