Religious attacks against non-Protestant white men will not disappear this election year. Such attacks date back at least to 1928, when Al Smith, the progressive Catholic Democratic candidate for President, lost amid massive anti-Catholic vituperation to Herbert Hoover. America’s reward? A Hoover Presidency leading to our Great Depression, during which a quarter of America’s workforce could not find a job.
Still, if religious attacks have not disappeared, they are less effective – as evidenced by the America finally electing its first Catholic president: John F. Kennedy, in 1960.
To be sure, for many Americans, religion remains a foundation for a strong, moral life. Exhibit A: A young man I met years ago, whose father had abandoned his family, and who had been arrested for robbery and drug possession. Before his sentencing, he made a promise. If Jesus let him off without jail time, he would devote his life to him. He got off.
He told me his story while we were camping in the Grand Canyon. The next morning, four of us prepared to climb back out – and it is a mile straight up. Since he and I were in the best shape, we made a deal. He would carry everyone’s gear halfway up; I would carry it from there.
He took off – and even racing after him, I never caught up. What happened, I demanded, panting at the top. “I asked Christ to lift my burden,” he answered. “And he did.” I could not argue with that.
More often, however, I have come across religious beliefs professing to lead to God – while promoting theologies which set “us” apart from “them.” Thus, “we” believers are “saved,” while “they” non-believers are “damned.”
And this is where religious warfare begins – not just between religions but inside a single religion. This is where a Jeremiah Wright promotes one vision of Christianity, while Joe Ricketts proposes to spend $10 million promoting a different vision – whose aim, not so incidentally, is to discredit a sitting President. (Charges that Obama is a “secret Muslim” have gotten less traction recently. If this changes, however, how will opponents make sense of his being an angry, militant Christian at the same time he is a “secret Muslim? Stay tuned.)
The good news is that in much of America, voters now see organized religion as just one system to raise the human spirit. Alternatives include Anonymous programs pioneered by Bill Wilson, an alcoholic who could not wean himself from the bottle. In desperation,Wilson found his own path to God – what he called his Higher Power - while co-founding an organization to help others do the same.
Alcoholics Anonymous is faith-based, but differs from most organized religions by not defining God in any particular way. Rather, it encourages participants to explore their personal sense of the Deity – which may or may not include the path through Christ, Mohammed, Buddha and so forth. The program thus does not set “us” apart from “them.” There is only “us.”
Alcoholics Anonymous has grown exponentially, even amid the decline of most organized religions. And it has been the model for programs such as Smokers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous and Emotional Health Anonymous, all teaching letting go of self-destructive behaviors with the help of a non-denominational Higher Power. And this alternative consciousness, born, not so incidentally, in America about the same time Al Smith ran for President, may well reflect who we are becoming today – and why Joe Ricketts’ proposed $10 million religious-based attack ads immediately went bust.
Imagine, now, what may happen when this consciousness expands in the Middle East, where religious theologies provides unending fuel for unending wars. Imagine what may happen when it makes its way to Pakistan and India, locked in their nuclear-powered, religiously-fueled hostilities. In a way, then, Joe Ricketts may have done us a favor. Whereas his religious-based attacks worked in a previous era, his quick repudiation shows where we stand today, making it harder for others to launch similar attacks. And this dampening of religious warfare may be the best news to come out of this campaign season.By Joe Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist