Campus personalities present and past Rebecca C. Brown and Tommaso Sciortino tackle the issues. This week on a very special CalJunket: Rebecca learns not to chew with her mouth open and Tommaso finds out his best friend is addicted to no-doze.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Also, the thin line between semi-universal value judgments and faith.
I hope each reader's reprive from school work is going well. I just got back from Long Beach today after five enjoyable days with my family in my former city. My parents, sisters, father, and grandparents were very generous with their money and creativity this Christmas season, and I really appreciate every gift I got. The unplanned though not surprising hiatus was due, of course, to my time being absorbed by holiday travel and gift preparation. Plus my parents don't have an internet connection at home. Sigh.
On a political note, I'd like to yet again commend Dennis Kucinich for not confusing values with religion. He is a spiritual man, and undoubtedly his politics are infused with his conception of faith. But he does not let religion specifically determine his political decisions or messages, nor does he unwittingly use religion as a means of alienating his non-spiritual constituents.
While your average Republican (let's take GWB for example) may say things like "This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government, it comes from the Creator of life" in reference to abortion policy, Dennis likes to keep things non-denominational. Vaguely spiritual, maybe, but never specific. (Take a gander at his holiday message here. Not even a word about Christmas.)
I enjoy Dennis' response to this question. (Full interview here.)
Q: The current administration is ideologically bent toward Christian fundamentalism. General Boykin's recent comment about a Muslim warlord - "I knew my god was bigger than his" - went un-condemned by the White House. Is religious extremism in the White House causing a problem for America?
A: [Long pause and a smile.] I think that we should pray for the people in the White House, or not, depending on our religious disposition. This approach of 'my god is bigger than your god' is, shall we say, unsophisticated, lacking in common sense, and provocative. It is not mindful of the founders' intention that this country achieve a separation of church and state. On the other hand, the founders never wanted us to be separate from spiritual values. It is very unspiritual to claim that anyone has cornered the market on ancient wisdom, on metaphysics, on transcendence, on paths to redemption. So, I think that we should pray for these people.
This universalized attitude toward spirituality may put off many if not most Americans; despite the fact that we celebrate diversity, we also as a nation feel defensive (would "proud" be a less abrasive term?) about our collective Christian identity. For as long as I can remember, I personally have never felt any vestige of spirituality in me. I'm of a mind that everything that exists, even emotionally, exists physically in some form. I believe that the desire to be good ("good" as defined by your personal values) and the ability to feel empathy does not necessarily derive from faith or from a soul, but rather from the ability to simply put yourself in the shoes of another man or woman or culture or chimp or cow or any other living thing. To me, pain is bad, and I do what I can to keep pain to a minimum for every creature around me. (Expect maybe my immediate family, who has to deal with my wacky vegan diatribe.) You can call me an Atheist for Jesus, if it helps. You don't need to be a Christian to be kind. Further, Christianity (and Islam, and Buddhism...) is just one set of values. I can't believe that there is any objective standard of right and wrong. To me, murder is wrong, but homosexuality is not.
Anyhow, back to politics. I don't think W's faith-based politics are in keeping with the original objectives of this nation, nor the objectives that its people have continued to support until this day. We claim to be the beacon of freedom of religion, yet we let distinctly Judeo-Christian values decide our laws and inform our prejudices. I think Kucinich presents an interesting compromise in acting under a universal faith rather than proposing that the values of a certain religion can accurately represent America.