My daddy was not a religious man. Something bad must have happened to him during his early church upbringing because he often warned us to beware of Bible toting self righteous individuals. He was quite supportive of the Catholic faith of my mother and even insisted that me and my brothers be educated in Catholic schools. He said that he liked the quiet non-judgemental nature of the Catholics that he knew as opposed to what he had witnessed all too often in his youth. He would stay at home on Sundays while my mother took the rest of us to mass. He loved God but proclaimed that he had not yet found a place where he seemed to fit in the world of organized religion. Instead he clung to the one commandment that Jesus urged us to follow. He liked the idea of just loving one another but he often pointed out that it was not a simple idea, but rather something that is often much harder to do than most people think. He pointed out that it was way easier to believe that one had all of the answers rather than taking the time to understand differing points of view.
It sometimes amazes me that my father had such a profound influence on me given that he died when I was only eight years old. Somehow he gave me the precious gift of knowing that our best hope in this life is to educate ourselves, to be wary of embracing simplistic solutions to problems, and to do our best just to love all of the people around us even when they are not anything like us. He warned me at an early age that following his advice would always be difficult because life itself is difficult. From the day of his death forward I realized the truth of what he had taught me. The road between birth and that moment when we take our final breaths is littered with complications, contradiction, and suffering. A loving relationship with God can see us through all of that but we will never have the power of or the right to judge the content of someone else’s heart. It is best that we work on ourselves instead.
We continue to witness disappointments among religious figures. We learn of priests who used their influence to engage in sexual relationships with minors. We hear of the utter hypocrisy of Jerry Falwell Jr. The litany of fallen religious leaders is too long to repeat and I suspect that it is so because they became victims of the weaknesses of their humanity. Things that they did and said were indeed egregious but what was often the worst aspect of their behavior was their failure to simply love all people. That is the true evil in our midst and it takes many forms from the horror of murder to the lack of compassion for the suffering. Evil is thinking that we have somehow found all of the answers and that those who disagree are not good or worthy of our consideration.
We can never fully know anyone. Each of us have secret compartments of our minds that frighten us. Our experiences define us in differing ways just as my brief knowing of my father influenced me for the rest of my life. Everything we do, every person that we meet, every joy or sorrow that we endure forms us in unique ways that determine how we view the rest of the world. It would be ridiculous for any of us to assume that there is only one good pathway to take and all the rest are somehow flawed.
In this high intensity political season we hear a great deal about religion which is rather contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers. We were supposed to keep matters of faith separate from our legal system but somehow it has become a kind of centerpiece of late with accusations of who is more Christlike being tossed around like baseballs. This moral concern from politicians and citizens is a red flag for me. I can hear my father telling me to be very careful when prayer and religious judgements are used as political tools. I cringe when someone that I have never even met accuses me of being faithless simply because I express support for a particular political candidate. I worry even more when they tell me to just get out of the country. I see my father’s face in my mind and he is shaking his head and giving me a knowing look that reminds me to be very careful.
Religion should be a personal decision that should never become part of the discussions in the public square. There is no one prayer or faith that should become the dominant feature of our our governmental landscape. That has been tried often throughout history and it has always had horrific effects. If we want to insert anything about our faith into the calculus of daily life it should be couched in the idea of really trying to abide by the rules of the commandment to love. When we do that we realize that all of the bickering and accusations should have little place in how we work together so that we will each enjoy the benefit of secure lives. If we truly make that separation are no longer arguing over who is the most godly but rather over how to forge cooperation that results in wins for everyone.
We seem to be a long way from that ideal right now. Both our churches and our government have been hijacked by individuals who have mixed them together into a gooey mess that has made our lives less great and ever more filled with anger and insulting judgements. Separating church from state is the answer but we have let things go so far that it will be as difficult a task as controlling the spread of Covid-19. Our hubris has caused us to lose control and to really muck things up. Just as my father warned pretending to have all the answers is a dangerous game that turns us against one another rather than uniting us in love. When will we learn?