Sunday, April 1, 2012

Religion, politics, drugs, prisons and guns....the instruments of government policy?

 One of the conversations on GPS with Fareed Zakaria this morning concerned the question of the separation of church and state, in the U.S. federal politics.
One of the panelists made an interesting observation: that 15-20% of the people in the U.S. believe that President Obama is a Muslim, and the same 15-20% refuse to vote for a Mormon.
There are other blatant uncursions of religious belief into the current flow of U.S. politics...including:
  • the deliberate organizing by Roman Catholic bishops against the Obama adminstration's requirement that employers pay for the cost of birth control, for their employees (This is about the non-Catholics who work for Roman Catholic institutions, inspite of the fact that some 95% of all Catholics in the U.S. practice birth control in defiance of the chuch's teaching.
  • Republican candidate Rick Santorum has publicly stated that, if president, he would see that states could abolish all public financing of birth control
  • Santorum has also declared his overt opposition to a woman's access to therapeutic abortion, and would presumably work to overturn Roe v Wade, should he become president
  • There has developed a clear alliance between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic church, in their avowed purpose to reduce Obama to a "one-term" president, by assuring the election of a Republican, presumably Mitt Romney, in November
On the same program, in a different segment, Mr. Zakaria pointed out the gigantic disparity between the number of prisoners in U.S. prisons, compared with most of the countries in the developed world.
Many of these prisoners face incarceration as a consequence of some drug offence, made criminal in the long-standing "war on drugs" which, even according to religious fundamentalist and evangelist, Pat Robertson, has been a disaster. In California, in the last decade, 21 prisons have been built, and only 1 post-secondary eduacation institution. Prisons have also become a giant industry, operated for profit by private business corporations. Furthermore, California, for example, spends some $8000 per year on each student in her schools, yet spends over $50,000 per year on each prisoner in her prisons.
Putting these two sets of data together, I wondered how the U.S. could continue to call itself even "Christian" let alone religious.
I always thought that at the core of Christianity is the belief in God's forgiveness, and, if one were to practice the Christian faith, one espoused a similar faith in the power and ethics of forgiveness. Declaring war on drug users, a condition often brought about by a dangerous combination of poverty, unstable upbringing, academic failure, school leaving whether forced or voluntary and joblessness linked in one of several nefarious ways to the "wrong people" as friends and colleagues. Making drug use and possession criminal offenses, along with trafficking, has resulted in overcrowded prisons and enhanced drug trade, use and abuse.
Ironically, "war," in this case on drugs, just like the "war" on terror, has produced more of the very "enemy" each war was attempting to eradicate. More drug users, more drug traffickers and more criminals in the case of the "war on drugs" and more terrorists in more countries in the case of the "war on terror" which has effectively been perceived as an attack on Muslims and Islam.
Another irony in the juxtaposition of religious issues into the campaign and the failure of the war on drugs is that the same people, often, who espouse the overt insertion of religious positions into the political presidential campaign are the same people who vowed to wage war against the terrorists.
It is neither applying Christian principles nor effective government policy to use the gun, the law and the metaphor of "waging war" against any problem. In fact, such an approach is directly counterintuitive to even thinking about being a Christian.
Underlying this common approach to a perceived enemy is useful, however, for one goal: it recruits more and more soldiers, sailors and aircrew, along with thousands, if not millions of law and security personnel. And that approach to cleaning the streets of unemployed, and to reducing the unemployment numbers is also dysfunctional, but it does serve the political class, when they can point to the numbers of recruits they have engaged, and the economic impact on those communities.
With the church and the insurance companies holding the body politic tightly at both the throat and the sense of guilt that every person carries within, and the military and law enforcement communities growing like topsy, and now both military and law enforcement functions morphing into the great 'god' of capitalism, the private corporation, there are serious questions about the "beacon on the hill" metaphor so joyously proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan only 3 decades ago.
America is not Christian, not a beacon of light, and not a model for the rest of the world, if we are to begin to approach some degree of harmony, forgiveness and humility in our relations with each other.

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