Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm Back on the Blog: Church, State, Left, Right, and my children's generation

How can I be a minister and a lawyer? I have been asked several times how I can be a minister and a lawyer. What has one to do with the other? Aren’t the two vocations on a collision course with each other?

This is similar to the question: “what has religion to do with politics?” Isn’t religion supposed to stay out of politics and politics/government to keep its hands off of religion?

I have a couple of observations about why our ideas about separation of “church and state” are often so out of touch with the realities of “church and state.” It usually seems to me that when someone assumes that lawyering and ministry conflict, that this assumption is based on a misconception of religion and what being religious is all about. And, this misconception is that religion is “apart from life, and somehow insulated from life.” Therefore, anything that is really in the center of life, like politics, sex, love and hate, smoking pork/drinking beer, is foreign to religion. This antiseptic view of religion isolates religion from the dynamic forces of life. This is basically liberalism’s (modernism’s) view of religion, and many religious people accept that as the way to relate their religion to social and political realities.

But, in reality, religion is talked about regularly by politicians, even if what they mostly talk about is the fact that “they are religious.” Religion, if it has any force, does affect public affairs for better or worse. Religion, if it is Biblical, can’t help but comment on politics, since issues of abuse of power and social justice are right at the heart of Jewish and Christian tradition.

Now, if I am right that true religion is a dynamic force at the very heart of life: politics, work, love, sex, joy, hate, wine and song, then the real issue is not “the separation of religious communion and state” but “the nature of the relationship of religious communions to state.” Which is simply another way of talking about the relationship between religion and life. George McDonald once wrote: “Religion is not a part of life, but life itself. It is life essential.”

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And, the God Jesus served spoke through the prophet saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength.” For Christians and Jews, religion is life essential. Everything else has to find its place around this central commitment and orientation, including our attitude to the nation we live in.

In modern thinking, religion has become a subject among other subjects, and in modern post-enlightenment thinking, religion is accepted but kept in check by commitment to a rational, scientific way of thought. And, though I think true religion is much more than that, I can’t help but respect this modern, scientific approach, because of the havoc reaped by false religion over the centuries – religion that was “political will clothed in sacred dress.” Marx criticism of religion as ‘the opiate of the masses’ is a deep truth that should be embraced by Christians and Jews and all religious people of good will. Religion has often been hijacked by the interests of power to control, oppress, and conquer some of the deepest interests in human life: justice, decency, and dignity. And, if you really look at the origins of the doctrine of separation of church and state in the U.S., you will see that the founders of this country were very much afraid of the oppressive forces of religion which were against free thought running government. I think they sold "separation of church and state" to the public as "freedom of religion," but it seems what motivated many deep down was a yearning that government be "free from religion."

But, knowing that religion is regularly in the dynamic center of life, and knowing that rational controls need to be placed on religion due to its alienating, falsifying, and oppressive potential – where does this leave us? In what has been called a “post-modern” state of mind (that reminds me of an old Billy Joel song: “New York State of Mind:” great song; listen to it).

It leaves us with a sense that the right and the left are not making sense of the real forces that move and shape human life. It leaves us with a sense that the criticism of religion by science and the criticism of science by religion are both worth listening to, but that the truth is not that easy to grasp.

It is so encouraging for me to hear the younger generation figuring out the way my generation didn’t figure out that not only is the fundamentalist way inadequate, but also that the modernist way has serious shortcomings as well. It just seems like young people who think these days are saying things more in touch with reality than when I was growing up. I see many younger people who think wanting to reach a way that makes sense, refusing to accept solutions that don’t make sense. I think something is going to come of this in politics and religion. The left and the right are becoming worn out platforms, not just in politics, but in the living of life. The younger generation is listening for something real and something true and something that just plain makes sense. I’ve got some news for the younger generation: you may have listened long enough; it’s time to start speaking some truths you are coming to understand. Go ahead and express your understanding of things, even if it is still in formation. I don’t think your parents and grandparents are going to speak it as clearly as you can. Time to grow up and do the things we haven’t been able to. That is the challenge for every generation.

I have resumed blogging, because after a week of no blogging, I was ready to start trying to make sense of things again through blogging. I deleted the blog at first, but then found you can reinstate what you have deleted. So, I simply punched "undelete blog" and here I am. Most decisions are not that easy to reverse.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Link to Fourth United Presbyterian Bible Blog

This is the address of my church blog: