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AUGUST 17, 2008 12:38AM

People of Faith

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I’ll wade into some deep territory here, and possibly kick over a few hornets’ nests.  I am that allegedly rare beast:  a liberal Democrat who is also a believing Christian.

What do I mean by a “believing Christian” anyway?  For me, it means that I believe in God. I believe in the basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the notion that the man historically identified as Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnated Son of God, and that his death on a cross provides my own redemption for any offense I may commit against the Creator.  I could go on, of course.  I suppose I could spend this entire piece rambling on about what I believe.  That really isn’t the point.

The point is that it is belief.  It is faith.  I have no idea whether the things that I believe to be true about the Universe and God are true.  There are tons of apologists who have tried to prove it with philosophy.  I am sure that someone along the line has tried to use math or science to prove it.  I am satisfied with believing even without proof, knowing that I could be gloriously, spectacularly and completely wrong.  I could try to explain why I made a choice to believe, but that really isn’t the point, either.

And when I talk about “people of faith” here, I am not just talking about Christians.  Because Jews and Muslims have faith just like I do.  I work in an interfaith bookstore owned by practicing pagans.  They too, are people of faith.  Just because the object of faith differs from my own, it does not change the fact that anyone who believes, no matter what the subject of the belief, is a person of faith.

The fact is, there are all kinds of things that one believes without tangible proof.  Anyone who pursues love does so without tangible proof it exists.  At least, until they find it.  And even then, there is no proof it is really there.  Only belief.  Anytime we choose to put faith in another human being, most of the time, it is done without any real proof we won’t be disappointed.   Democrats are putting a hell of a lot of faith in Obama.  We don’t have a whole lot of proof that we won’t be disappointed, that he will prove to be everything we hope he will be.  When you stop to think about it, we take a lot of things on faith alone.

Democrats have had such a hard time trying to get Christians, particularly evangelicals, to vote for their candidates in part due to wedge issues that have been cultivated by the GOP, like abortion and gay rights.  But there is a deeper, more fundamental reason – a good portion of the liberal movement in this country holds the notion of faith in great disdain.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered it – the smug assertion that anyone who believes must be crazy or stupid or both. That somehow choosing to be a person of faith makes you deluded and untrustworthy, because really you must be mentally weak to require belief in a God in the first place. 

This is wrong is so many different ways.

First off – many of the most learned thinkers throughout history have been people of faith.  Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Blaise Pascal, Carl Friederich Gauss, and many others were both fathers of modern science and engineering as well as being people of faith.  I’m not sure if I have the arrogance to assert that any of these men were somehow mentally deficient because they were people of faith.  Because compared to most of them, I’m Verne Troyer to their Yao Ming.

And let me be clear about something – having faith is not for the mentally weak.  Certainly it is easy to profess faith, and there are a great many people who profess faith who do not endeavor to live by it.  But living your faith like you mean it is a totally different experience.  C.S. Lewis had an analogy that he used in his book, “A Grief Observed.”  Trust is like a rope.  It is one thing to look at the rope and hold it in your hand, give it a tug, examine its construction and pronounce it a solid, well-made rope.  It is another thing altogether to tie it around your waist and hang yourself off the side of a cliff.

To live a life of faith is to undertake an enormous responsibility.  Because if you are doing it right, no act or thought you have will remain unexamined.  If you are truly living what you believe, then everything you do becomes subject to the question: “Does my belief require something of me here?”  If you are living as if your belief is real, then it is not something you trot out only at religious services and when you wish to feel pious and holier-than-thou.  It is something that never stops being relevant, no matter where you are, who you are with, or what you are doing.  It is in fact the absolute antithesis of weakness – it is deep vigilance and strength.

Then there are the people who see faith as something evil, something insidious.  Faith is something that leads people to do terrible things to their fellow man, they say.  They are not entirely wrong, of course.  People have done plenty of evil in the name of serving their faith.  But that is not really a statement about faith as much as it is a statement about human frailty.  Some of the most nefarious things ever done have been done in the name of serving “reason” and “reality.”  One of the most brutal political regimes ever was that of Josef Stalin, an atheist.  That humans should use whatever justification they can (be it based in faith or reason) to pursue power, ego, wealth and dominance should come as no surprise.

The wedge issues certainly in the evangelical community are for many the deciding factor, the first and the last question asked as to which candidate they will support.  But what Democrats often forget is that evangelicals do not comprise the majority of Christians in the United States.  They are certainly not the majority among people of faith.  While some statistical analyses list evangelicals as the largest group in the United States, Catholics are a close second, and other mainline Protestant denominations are not insignificant.  Taken together, Catholics and mainline Protestants outnumber evangelicals. For these Christians and other people of faith, political affiliation is less guided by the great wedge issues.  But that doesn’t mean that these voters cannot be swayed by issues of faith – or more specifically, by the issue of who respects their faith and who doesn’t.

For a long time, Democrats conceded the votes of “people of faith” to the GOP without a struggle.  The Democrats weren’t just underrepresented stumping politically from the pulpits of America’s churches, they were very nearly absent.  And when the subject of faith is raised in Democratic circles, there is nearly always some atheist with a hard-on for debunking Christianity who interjects their disdain.  They almost always paint believers as deluded, crazy, simpletons who are to be pitied, or worse yet, ridiculed. *

The point I am getting at is this – even if they don’t make their choice of who to vote for based on wedge issues, people of faith still have a need to feel that what they believe is, at bottom, respected.  And given the choice between a party that is catering to you and a party that is condescending to you, the choice becomes just a little easier in the wrong direction.

Back during the primaries, when Obama made his “guns and God” gaffe at a San Francisco fundraiser, it confirmed for many people of faith their worst fears about Democrats – that we really don’t understand or respect believers.  The McCain campaign has not yet trotted out the old soundbyte, but you can bet it’s coming.

Obama went a long way in the right direction Saturday night at the Saddleback Civil Forum just by being his thoughtful, reasoned self.  He possessed none of the elitism of which he is frequently accused.  Although the pundits are lauding McCain’s performance with his pat answers and his “grandpa-sit-by-the-fire-please-tell-us-about-the-war-again” stories, Obama was the one who got personal.  Although he talked about things from his stump speech, unlike McCain, he was not stumping.  Obama was the one who talked about why he believed what he believed. Obama was the one who pulled the curtain back and let America see how a person of faith really thinks about the issues of our day.

The pundits were focused on the evangelicals present in the church and in the wider audience, the ones who are all about the wedge issues, the ones who want pat answers about gay marriage, abortion and “activist” judges.  And McCain gave them all the GOP gospel they could handle. But Obama knows the truth – that there are other people of faith out there, beyond the evangelicals.  There are people of faith who are looking for something more.  They are looking for someone thoughtful, who is examining the whole of his life in light of what he believes.

If Obama succeeds in connecting to those people of faith, we may win this election yet.




*  It is ironic that should be the case.  Because quite frankly, I view atheists as people of faith, every bit as much as me.  After all, it is every bit as impossible to prove God doesn’t exist as it is to prove that he does.  The deeply-held and cherished choice to believe that God does not exist (despite the absence of concrete proof) is, in fact, an act of faith.  The fact that the object of faith is a belief in the non-existence of something is immaterial. If one wishes to really be faith-free, one would have to be an agnostic.  I happen to like agnostics.  I actually agree with them.  I don’t know whether God exists either.  The only difference between us is that I’ve made a choice to act in the absence of perfect information.  That doesn’t make me superior or less rational.  It’s just a choice, one of many equally valid choices that a person can make about how to live their lives.  Something that is entirely one’s own business, really. 

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I trust you and what you say Liz. I respect your faith and how you make it work for yourself and others. I think you approach it the right way, that people should be allowed to believe what they want, without any one or any political entity, be it a party or a state, say what you must believe. I posted something here a while back that I called LOBA...which is an acronym for believe what you want, but Leave Others' Beliefs Alone. You have the right approach, in my mind. I reject Sam Harris' premise in his book The End of Faith that non exclusionary believers are weak and as bad as fundamentalist exclusionaries.

Bottom line, I trust you. And I think you get it, both for yourself and Obama. Thanks for a thought provoking post.
Thank you Barry, I am honored by your trust. And I agree with LOBA.
Liz - do you see it necessary that your beliefs/faith be respected, or simply your right to your beliefs/faith? It seems to me that to require an atheist or agnostic to respect your beliefs means, well, you are not respecting *their* beliefs. Not being provocative, just trying to understand this - in my view it is a fairly critical distinction.
I think that the critical distinction here is that no one should be belittled for their choice of belief. All of us choose what we think about how the Universe is constructed. And none of us can really claim to have the definitive truth. We each have our own truth. Respecting my faith does not mean that you share it, or that you never say anything that contradicts it, only that you not try to make me feel bad for having it.

The difference is this:

"I don't believe in your God" vs. "You are stupid to believe/You shouldn't believe in your God."

Probably a fine line...but it is there. Glad to be able to clarify.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but Einstein was not a believer. Like most folks he said placating things in public to get along in a freakishly religious society that is deeply prejudiced against atheists and agnostics. His true thoughts were laid bare in private letters.

One such letter in which he was brutal in his description of Christianity recently sold for hundreds of thousands. (404k to be precise)

He wrote the letter in 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind. He described the Bible as “pretty childish” and scoffed at the notion that the Jews could be a “chosen people.” Specifically he wrote, “the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”
Liz, thanks for making that distinction. I agree it is a fine line, but an important one.
The misconception about evangelicals is actually worse, in my opinion: For many, it's become synonymous with Christian (I've even seen people use "fundamentalist" as a prefix to any Christian; I read a post by somebody who expressed amazement that Bill Moyers was a "fundamentalist Christian." Good grief), when it's really mostly only a style of worship (more emphasis on preaching as opposed to ritual/sacraments, conversion experiences, strongly textually based, etc.). And then we have people like Bill Maher, who ridicule believers with "your imaginary friend" and then turn and express their complete admiration for people like Martin Luther King, Jr. Who, you know, went to seminary and stuff. There's a huge disconnect, largely due (in my opinion) to the prominence of the Religious Right in the past 30 years but also to the cluelessness of many on the Left regarding people of faith. I'm married to a progressive, feminist, MoveOn-donatin', Kos-readin' minister and I'm constantly surprised by those who line up with her (and with me) politically and are stunned by the fact that we are people of faith. If mine, as Joan's, wavers from time to time. Thanks for a wonderful post.
When you get to the bottom (and you can never really get to the bottom: "it's turtles all the way down" someone said), we base our entire lives on faith. It isn't enough, though, to contrast religious believers only with atheists.

Free thinking allows me to put my trust in things for which there is evidence: I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. I believe my wife will return from Vegas in a few hours, having left nothing behind that needed to "stay" in Vegas. I "believe in" the likelihood of evolution by natural selection. And so on. Placing one's faith in things for which there is evidence is free thinking. I make no claim about God; there really is no evidence either way, though the universe does appear to be an extremely complex place where a lot of wondrous things seem possible.
I think Obama showed a weakness of character when he left his church of decades, his marriage, his children's baptisms. I think that he left his faith there on the steps of that church when he cravenly abandoned it for the intents of politics.

And that is one of the primary reasons I don't like him. Faith and your church should be able to withstand more than that. Last night wasn't the Lion's Den, the outcry over Wright was the Lion's den and he caved.
I think that the critical distinction here is that no one should be belittled for their choice of belief. All of us choose what we think about how the Universe is constructed. And none of us can really claim to have the definitive truth. We each have our own truth. Respecting my faith does not mean that you share it, or that you never say anything that contradicts it, only that you not try to make me feel bad for having it.

I agree, Liz, and I think that some outspoken atheists have the same effect as outspoken believers: putting increased attention on a wedge issue. But I also think that it's useful to avoid making observations about the nature of others' beliefs. For example, above you write, Because quite frankly, I view atheists as people of faith, every bit as much as me. After all, it is every bit as impossible to prove God doesn’t exist as it is to prove that he does. I think that atheists are likely to take this as a lack of respect; you might feel similarly if someone lumped your belief in God with beliefs in Santa Claus, fairies, and unicorns (which some atheists do). It's a fine line a big-tent party has to walk, to accommodate people whose views differ on a topic that they may consider very important. One serious difficulty is that any time anyone says anything about their faith, it's guaranteed to conflict with someone else's faith or lack of faith, and, what's worse, even when people don't say anything, that in itself is sometimes taken as a lack of respect.
I believe the Democrats, and liberals in general, need to do a better job of defining how one's faith should manifest istself in public policy. The Republicans have a lock a very large portion of believers because they have succeeded in making one issue, and one issue only, proof of a candidate's faith. That one issue, of course, is abortion. That is the issue McCain stressed to great applause last night.

There are a myriad of other issues where faith can manifest itself in public policy. Jesus never mentioned abortion, not once. What he did say, however, is that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. He said "blessed are the peacemakers." He said "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." He said "blessed are the merciful." He said "you are the light of the world...let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works." Not a single word about abortion or voluntary wars of deterrence.

When he was asked to summarize his faith, John Adams said "The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion." Indeed. We need to get beyond abortion as the sole detrminant of the role of religion
My last sentence should have been: We need to get beyond abortion as the sole determinant of the role of religion in the formation of one's public policy.
Growing up Catholic, there were rigid ideas put forth that only Catholics were to go to heaven. I spent many a night grieving that my mother would go to hell because she was Protestant. At the age of seven, I was forced to reflect on the issue of the "chosen people". Later in my youth, I was astounded to learn the the Jews believe they are the chosen people. OK, these are lots of large groups of believers who want to believe they have it right. I will assume that since so many varying groups want to be the chosen ones -- I will allow all of them that foible.

I thought I had it all worked out until I moved to the south. Again, the evangelicals are the only ones going to heaven. The sticking point here is that the last batch of Republicans began to mix evangelical beliefs into politics for a very specific reason. For some reason there springs from the evangelical faith combined with a unique mindset attributed to the south, the idea that a politician's religious affiliation grants the faithful of the same religion the right to control the economy and all of American society as well. I never believed George Bush's "born again" schtick, but was shocked to learn how integral his religious alignment had become to the reason he is revered by that half of the nation.

I still have co-workers that believe GWB is the best President ever due to his alignment with their faith. The right has managed to take us back to the age where the King was ordained by God -- that is some serious re-alignment of faith toward mortal governance.

This stance is not healthy for Americans if we want to maintain our Constitutional rights or our status as a democracy. It seems the beliefs of the extreme right overrides any ability to think rationally about the subject. In essence, the tenets of their faith have allowed them to be brain-washed by Republican propaganda.

So, Liz, I feel for you if people treat you like a half wit because you have personal faith. Because you are a thinking person, you know that adherence to right-wing politics and faith are not one and the same. Where I live, the two are now extremely intertwined. It is just about impossible NOT to think of these people as deluded. I would never think the same of anyone that could discuss their faith as it relates to politics.

In result, I believe that faith should be returned to the status of being ALWAYS a personal matter. I believe we should use religion to shape a framework from which to operate in life with regard to how we treat others as well as our expectations of others with regard to ourselves. My Catholic upbringing gave me a strong moral foundation from which to choose right from wrong, often keeping the needs of others in mind ahead of my own.

Faith and moral values should be viewed as what we bring of our spiritual nature to our everyday lives. Our political alignment has to do with our preference for community, government spending, and adherence to the rule of law -- at least in this era of politics. If our choice for the inclusion of all, for success to the many, and for programs that work for the betterment of our All, are morally driven, our faith does work to shape our political affiliation. We just have to be careful to understand the moral fiber of a candidate by studying his policies, which may or may not have been shaped by his faith or religious values.
This is so well done, Liz. Valid points, respectful evaluations and conclusions. There are many Dems (and I'd guess, Independents too) who are deeply faithful, believing Christians. Why should that be a hornet's nest? I like Barry's LOBA concept. If only our current leaders felt the same. You've helped answer questions on the candidates' faiths/belief systems I posed in my post on the subject.

Don't you agree it only becomes our business what a leader believes if he or she imposes those beliefs on the nation by taking actions based on faith, not facts? Even people formerly able to make the distinction between Christians and more radical 'Born Again' sects, have been confused by GWB and Co., who have done Evangelical Christians a great disservice by claiming faith as a reason for decidedly un-Christian Presidential decisions.
'Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Blaise Pascal, Carl Friederich Gauss...'

Whoa...Mr. Einsten was hardly a man of 'faith', at least certainly not when it came to the belief in a personal God. His was the agnostic's god of poetic convention. And Jefferson's views on God (and Jesus) are notoriously complex.

Also, this equating of atheism with religion (in relation to relying on belief) is one of those philosophical nuts that everyone seems so keen to exploit. Only it's not really indicative of anything. An atheist doesn't believe in the non-existence of a god--he reasonably infers it. It's not simply the lack of evidence upon which agnostics rely; it's the extra philosophical proposition that if (a) there is absolutely zero evidence to support a positive belief in the idea, then (b) the probability of a god's existence is so low as to become of no explanatory value whatsoever. It's not 'belief'--it's a discarding of the idea as unlikely enough not to merit value. An atheist doesn't believe in 'a god's non-existence' (I wouldn't accept the belief in nothing); he simply takes a very dim view as to that existence. I don't think that's simply a discursive difference.

One can believe in god, obviously--but the rejection of that belief is itself far from a belief.

@ Chuck Sigar: Bill Maher doesn't do it for me in the slightest, but there's no inconsistency in not agreeing with someone's beliefs whilst still respecting that person (and the wider issues that person represented.) Further, I find no problem with the expression 'fundamentalist Christian' in and of itself. It's how one defines it, and whom we define in that way, which is definitely in contention.

@ Rich Banks: What you're talking about is inference, not belief. That's induction, a form of logic--not plucking out of a 'sense' of things themselves. Too complex for me to connect both ideas here, but it's not the case one 'believes' in evolution: one logically infers it from the evidence.
RC: Nope, you can't spout blanket ridicule at Krazy Kristians and then say MLK was a hero (or the Clintons, or Gore, or Obama, for that matter) without turning yourself inside out. Again, ridicule is not the same as disagreement; it's fun and entertaining, maybe, but it's hypocritical coming out of Maher's mouth (and C. Hitchens is another, just off the top of my head). And "fundamentalist" is describes a particular philosophy that is seriously bad news, regardless of one's faith system; it's not just another handy synonym for a style. I definitely don't want to meet a true fundamentalist in a dark alley.
@ E Priddy, I am not sure if i would call that a weakness of character. I often wonder why Mr. Obama has been scrutinized so much for something he did not say? I think it was a political move. He knows if he wants to get Americans to vote for him, he had to distance himself from this radical, Black minister. I can't say that I agree with his decision, but I understand his decision. When my pastor made some comments about educators that I didn't like, I stopped attending for a while(and so did my money). I know he didn't notice (because the church is so huge), but I felt like he was waaaaaay off. I know he has realized the error in his ways because he had to call on the educators to assist him for an upcoming project.
Erm, yes you can. In fact, we do it all the time. I'd go as far as to someone like Jesus Christ is a hero of mine...yet, I'm pretty much an atheist, a lot of his claims were a little too much for me (if we accept he really claimed to be the son of God, as it says in the Bible)...but he was a great man, nonetheless. I can likewise think of pagans I greatly admire without a hitch.

A hero need not be perfect, nor can he be. All women and men are a multiplicity of personalities, ideas and attitudes...I can certainly pick out those things I don't like and admire the whole--so long, of course, as there isn't something too grotesque for me to ignore!

As for 'fundamentalist': it's about degree and intransigence. That can, and does, cut across religious (and non-religious) lines.

Overall, a good article of faith, Liz. A reasonable and perceptive take on the politics of religion, including one's own internalised beliefs. I may not hold those beliefs, but I can more than respect and support your exercise thereof.
He left his church because of political pressure, not religious intent. That is not a moral decision that I admire.

It basicly means that your religion is for sale to the highest aggregate lobbyist, which is obscene.
Thanks Chuck -- it is true that people have now interchangably associatate "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" and "Chirstian." The fact is that they couldn't be more different. Fundamentalism is a doctrine regarding the Bible (the belief that it is the absolute, literal word of God). Evangelicalism is a doctrine regarding the need for proselytization. Both are Christians. Not every Fundamentalist is an evangelical and vice versa. Welcome to a world where we don't know much about history (cue Sam Cooke...)

Rich, I agree. We have varying degrees of proof for things we have faith in. But the measures of logic we have for them are not solid either. The fact that something happened once is no guarantee it will happen again. In the end, there is always a measure of faith -- sometimes it is small, sometimes it is big. A small faith is no less faith than a big one.

Stella, Lisa, Sally, Dave, thanks.

Procopius, you have an excellent point. The GOP gospel and the Democrats gospel are totally different. I agree that if you really care about what Jesus would do, you'd probably be far more interested in what the Democrats are offering. Because exactly as you say, Jesus was far more concerned withe poor and the hungry than he ever was with what people did in the bedroom.
Rob, I think there is a concomitant responsibility upon people who are going to engage in a discussion of faith to not be thin-skinnned about it. If you are going to hold a belief, you need to be prepared for it to be disagreed with (something Mishima points out in his excellent repsonse post). Sometimes people use being offended as a way to shut down discussions that make them uncomfortable.

Respect has a lot to do with intent. When I call an atheist a person of faith, that is not being posed as an insult. I have a great deal of respect for faith. It is a part of my life. When an atheist attempts to liken my beliefs to beleiving in faries or Santa Claus, he is usually trying to insult me by asserting I am infantile.

There is also the matter of criticizing the dynamic of a faith as opposed to its substance. When you are dealing with things like the existence or non-existence of God, things that are taken on faith, it is an inherently subjective thing, because you are dealing with something subjective. To properly respect something subjective, one has to allow for the notion that everyone has the right to define and choose for themselves. But the mechanics of belief, this is more objective and therefore more open to respectful critique and observation.
Thought provoking post and interesting and enlightening conversation here in the comments.

I would just add that Barack Obama did not abandon his religion - he left a church whose leaders became incompatible with his beliefs and lifestyle. I'm not a politician, but I've definitely done that before. I've left churches and moved to others (still within my religion) because I just didn't feel comfortable with the style of the clergy.
Elizabeth, I think that you're rewriting the history of the Jeremiah Wright thing a little.

At the beginning, Obama did not disavow Wright or TUCC. It was only after Wright made his appearance the the Press Club in DC that Obama came out saying he was done with Wright. And I believe that the reason Obama disavowed Wright was a very personal one -- Wright made it very clear by his appearance at the Press Club that he was ready and willing to make use of Obama's campaign and the attention he personally was getting as "Obama's Pastor" to advance his own agenda.

Obama was perfectly willing to continue his affiliation with Wright when all that was happening was that the right wing noise machine was trying to attribute the opinion of the person in the pulpit to the person in the pew. But once the person in the pulpit made it clear he was willing to use the person in the pew, all bets were off. Because Wright was no longer his friend and ally, he was another guy trying to borrow someone else's fame to advance his own agenda. And Obama was perfectly right to be personally offended by that, and to sever ties with Wright on that basis.

Once you get successful, your relationships change. And the higher you rise, the more you learn about who your friends are and who they aren't. I listened to Wright's Press Club appearance on the radio and my first thought was, "Obama may not have been done with him before, but he sure is now." Wright was a great mentor to a young Chicago neighborhood organizer and a great friend to an Illinois Senator. But once Obama gained the national stage and Wright saw an opening to make it all about him, he took it.

I don't think that Obama was being two-faced. Wright was. And when you can't trust someone close to you to put your best interests ahead of their own agenda, it is time to kick them to the curb.
I am not addressing his turning his back on Wright. He left his church, not Wright, who was no longer the pastor of his church, when he left it.

It was his leaving his family's church that disappointed me, not his disavowel of Wright.
He left when it became apparent that the new clergy was picking up where Wright left off, as indicated by inviting the Catholic priest who made the incendiary racial remarks during a service. Additionally, my understanding was that he did not want the continued glaring spotlight on the church to end up crippling their ability to continue the good work they had been doing for the community. It seemed to me like a fairly mutual decision that he attend services elsewhere.
I see our myths as a kind of lyrical effort to explain systems that cannot be described scientifically, in the same way that a poem can describe certain human experiences better than a mathematic equation can. I am convinced that the human imagination has more power than anyone realizes, and that each thought, each word propels a tremendous force into the universe, impregnating it with new realities.

Although I appreciate rationalism for its many benefits, as an artist I find and overemphasis on strict rationalism to be lacking in the poetic, the aesthetic, the imaginal, the creative dimensions.
I'm not at all certain that Obama's visit was wise or helpful. Precisely because it has been presented, here and elsewhere, as outreach to people of faith, his move tends to reinforce the conflation of people of faith, or Christians for that matter, with the evangelicals represented by the congregation at Saddleback. As a pretty conventional Episcopalian and a pretty hard-core libertarian, I find LOBA to be an altogether congenial philosophy. But I recognize that it is little stay against the soft coercion of being assimilated to a general standard or type. In going to Saddleback, Obama was not speaking to me or to my Christianity, which is all well and good. But he was pretending to do so, which isn't.
First thanks for starting one of the best discussions I've seen on OS.

I believe in something. Trying to discern a piece if its nature has pleasantly occupied me for decades. My theology is my own and one that I hope I've come to rationally.
My problem with religion are the words "organized" and/or "evangelical". By not adhering to a particular "ism" too often I'm looked upon as something that needs fixing. I have my towns main street occasionally made impassable by roving preachers of the good news, I get painfully naive tracts thrown in my front hall and worst of all I'm bombarded by regular news that someone or other wants to legislate the correct morality.
I had no problem with church until it questioned my right to think. If that makes me the enemy then so be it. The quickest way to render a conversation meaningless is with the phrase "But the Bible says..." Substitute your own old book of choice, it works for them all.
I disagree with most of the posts here. I don't think religion is a good thing and I don't think it should be encouraged. Religion has caused some of the most egregious assaults against humanity in the history of the world. Without religious people who worship different gods, each believing his own god or religion is supreme, we would have much less conflict in the world. The concepts of these religions is like fairy tales. I don't see how anyone could believe there is a god in the heavens who will provide virgins and/or paradise to their believers. It seems to be the same idiocy of Greek and Roman mythology. I believe the reasons religion survives today are primarily fear and that believers are told they will have their sins washed away. I am always suspicious of very religious people because I think they believe they have lots of sins to be forgiven. Or maybe some just are brainwashed at such a young age, they can't overcome the fear that was placed there as a child. I know I'm outside the norm in my opinions but I do believe there are many who have the same opinions but are not comfortable stating so. Finally, I don't trust any politician who makes religion a cornerstone of a political campaign. I don't believe Senator Obama is a religious person but he feels he has to appear so to attract not only his African American base but most other voters. Very sad.
Monsieur, as always, you are astute in your observation. I love reason. I love science. But without some mystery in the world, this would be a much darker place.

CarusoKitty -- thanks. That has always been my issue with evangelicalism, the belief that proselytizing is somehow an imperative, and everyone must be cajoled into believing by any means necessary. I find it actually inhibits the kind of human contact Jesus was encouraging us to make in favor of "drive by evangelism" and insincere relationships with ulterior motives.

Red, thank you. I actually love Episcopalianism and for a long time attended Episcopal churches, even though by birth I am Greek Orthodox. It was my Episcopal high school and the junior year religion class that helped me form a lot of my beliefs about faith. We studied every major world religion, and talked for a long time about the history of the Christian church, and the origins of the different denominations. I actually have some idea of what the differences historically are between Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. Not a lot of people of my generation do. They think that all Christians are of the "born again/evangelical/fundamentalist" variety. On the first day of class, the teacher, who was an ordained minister, said, "Welcome to Introduction to Religion. My name is Fr. ____, and I am here to confuse you."
Redstocking Grandma,

I agree with some of your comments, especially about the Quakers. I guess I see that more as a philosophy than a religion. Rarely do women want to have an abortion. I believe it is a last resort for them. I would like to see more emphasis on taking care of children once they're born than forcing women to have children they neither want nor treat humanely once they're born. That is the thing about pro-life people that turns me off . They seem to be very obsessed with ensuring that every fertilized egg is allowed to produce a human being but don't seem to mind so much that infants and children are mistreated and killed by their parents and countries when they indiscriminately bomb civilian populations. Where's the outcry from the religious people then? If they were really concerned about life, war would not be a option. But it seems to me that pro-life is just another way of saying that women are subservient to men and if a man fertilizes an egg, that egg must grow to fruition to ensure that man's DNA is continued. Women don't count in most religions. They are treated very poorly, not much better than farm animals...another reason I'm not fond of religious organizations.
Very well done post.

I find myself curious as to what basis Caruso Wegie believes that Obama is faking his religion.
Caruso didn't say that, the next poster did.

And "Quaker" refers to the concept of quaking in the face of the awesomeness of god, so it is specifically religious, not a lifestyle.

I am a Quaker, but I am not a Christian and Quakers are ok with that...

Life is complicated.
D'oh - you are right - sorry about that, Caruso.
@ J.P, Father Pfleger was always wlecomed at Trinity. I am not sure if you are aware of his congregation, but he has one (if not the only) of the largest predominately Black catholic congregation. He has done so much to better his community. He has always spoken out against those who wrong others.

I don't know, but I thought Father Pfleger's comment were on point. His comments refelcted how some Blacks viewed the Clintons. I think what made it comical is he is white.

In the Black church, that is where many of the members learn about poitics, health issues and other issues affecting the community. Many of the people will/can not go out to town hall meetings to listen to what is being said.
Excellent post, Liz. And I'm in your club. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and it always amazed me that I was condemned to hell every single day and several "friends" would tell me they were praying for me at church. I went to church every Sunday -- but to the Episcopal Church, not the Baptist Church. It just always seemed so un-Christian and so wrong. I don't think it's fair that the right was cornered religion. If Obama can somehow bridge that gap, then all the best to him.

Thank you for a balanced and well-written post. It's hard to write about religion, but I think you are spot-on.
"The point is that it is belief. It is faith. I have no idea whether the things that I believe to be true about the Universe and God are true."

This is me in a nutshell Liz. I live by many Christian "teachings" as a way of life, not because I feel I'm doomed to hell if I don't, but because I feel it makes me a better person. These things? Compassion, empathy, forgiveness, not being judgmental, etc...
Things that "people of faith" and "people NOT of faith" should all live by...

GREAT post. Well versed and informative to your insight.
Just what I'm looking for, and I respect your opinion.

I agree with your perception of faith! In fact I myself have recently come to realize that it is not how others react or perceive your faith that really matters, but rather that you, me, we find out what it is really composed of in the first place...because that and that alone is ours...and that is precisely what existence it self was "made for?"

Been trying to say the same thing here

I hope you'll join me there.
wish I Had some money to give you a tip...but I really don't!
So here's just some of my life's energy saying...YOU GO GIRL!