Monday, December 14, 2009

Religion, The Government, And The Big Questions About The Universe

I'm from Asheville, North Carolina. It's very touristy, not a really big city, but it is occasionally in the national news for one thing or another. Recently, we elected a man to the city council who doesn't believe in God. Actually, he mostly just says he considers the question of whether or not there is a god to be irrelevant.

Who cares, right? People elected him, he gets put into office, end of story. That's what I would have said, had I not known about our state constitution, which is unconstitutional (that last "constitution" referring to the national one).

Every fourth grader in the state has to study state history. The glossy fourth-grade version, leaving out the civil war for the most part, and generally skipping over the state's economic origins in tobacco farming. One part of that, though, is reading the state constitution.

In that constitution, there's a line that says, basically, that atheists aren't eligible for public office. It doesn't say that a politician has to belong to one particular religion, just that he or she must believe in some god. Apparently, no one has ever run for public office and won in this state, while publicly not believing in god, until now. Which is pretty crazy, I guess, considering all the different public offices in the entire state, which isn't a small one, and all the time that constitution has been in effect, and the fact that about ten percent of Americans call themselves atheist, agnostic, or secular and unaffiliated with any religion.

But now, this guy is a city councilman, and not religious. And, as liberal as Asheville may be considering is surroundings, we're still in the South, and there is definitely a degree of outrage. Including from a black guy who stands on roadsides wearing a Confederate uniform and waving a Confederate flag. Sometimes I think I live in crazy town. Where people are apparently unaware of federal laws. And history. Which brings me to a story about my high school principal....but that's for another time.

I'm not sure why anyone thinks bringing this to court is a good idea; they'll only lose. Federal courts have ruled on similar cases on several occasions, and found that religious tests for holding public office are not allowed. That's not going to change, luckily (I'd have to permanently abandon this country if it did, honestly), and you could have found out about this story on any number of news sites, so why am I writing?

I guess, for two reasons. One, I'm just kind of marveling at the crazy. And the fact that there are a lot of people here who don't see it as crazy at all. I live in the Bible Belt, people, and it's called that for a reason. Those of you from more progressive parts of the world probably think we're all backwards religious fundamentalists. We're not, but there's a vocal group, arguably a majority, that are. Also, these people like to ignore the laws. Except when the laws are ridiculous and outdated but in their favor. They protest reasonable laws, like no prayer in public schools. Also no school-sponsored bible study clubs, but try telling that to my high school.....

I digress. The second reason I'm writing here, is because I like this guy's attitude. I don't live within the city limits, so I couldn't vote in this election, and I wasn't following it too closely until all of this got stirred up afterwards. He says, though, that the question of acceptance or denial of God is irrelevant. And that, I agree with.

Not on a personal scale--I'd say that it's very relevant for many individuals. And if you can find that kind of faith, if you can believe, and if it makes your life better, and if you don't use it as a reason to hate and discriminate, then more power to you. If it gives your live some kind of meaning, if it offers you guidance, if it helps you to be a better person to believe in a god, then that's great. And, if you don't go around trying to convert people. That kind of pisses me off. You have no business telling other people they're going to burn in hell for not following your religion, and handing out religious pamphlets to people who are clearly not interested kills trees. But if it's personal, then it's great for you.

But not for me, and that's not your business. Whether or not I believe in God is irrelevant. Or, at least, it should be. Like the councilman mentioned, I don't think the question is relevant to me; I don't know the answer, I don't care, and it doesn't change my life. It doesn't change what I believe about right and wrong, or how I'll choose to live my life. But on a larger scale, it is, or should be, irrelevant to the world at large. It should be personal, not relevant to politics, in particular. These people who are protesting this election are probably, many of them, those same people that profess blind patriotism much of the time because they believe in America, and in freedom. They may preach, but they sure as hell don't practice. Freedom doesn't mean imposing your religious beliefs on others through outdated laws.

Religion has too great a place in contemporary American politics. I can't imagine this country electing a non-Christian President; Kennedy being Catholic, just another brand of Christian, was scandal enough.

Freedom of religion is one of my favorite things about this country, and it's crazy fundamentalists like these that really piss me off, trying to ruin one of the best things about America.

One of the other best things is that anyone with half a brain can create a free blog on the internet and ramble about anything they like, audience or no. Or maybe you disagree. Maybe you wish I'd shut up. Freedom of speech, and I for one am glad I can ramble about this to someone, even if it's the internet at large, so at least I can fool myself into believing someone's reading!

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