Nation, Religion, Humanity

The question of nation and religion loomed pretty large for me this week. I took John McCain’s comment that America is a Christian nation as further proof that he’s completely lost his mind (never mind any shot at the nomination). Jon Meachem writing a Sunday op-ed in the Times clearly differs in his opinion; he cites a 1790 treaty signed of the Barbary Coast as proof. I have a friend who is an expert on America’s interactions with the Barbary Coast (go know), and when I called him to quote-check, he recited part of the treaty to me, and it’s true—there’s a specific clause saying that, unlike Europe, America is not a Christian nation and so should have no unbridgeable religious differences with other nations.

And then there was the Bill Moyers’ Journal piece on PBS about CUFI and Christian Zionists—my favorite national perversion. At one point, Mr. Moyers tried to get his guests to be reassuring by asking if the percentage of Americans who believe in dispensationalism (the belief that the Rapture and End Times prophesies, including a divine war, will only occur when the Jewish nation is reconstituted in the Land of Israel) is small or large. Quite small, his guest assured him. Only about 20 million Americans. I’ll admit to cracking up when that came on—what else can you do? It’s only, like, two-and-a-half the current population of Israel. It’s not even twice the Jewish population world-wide. So why get worried? This is theater, people!

Except of course it’s not. And the problem, frankly, isn’t just in America. Turkey’s women are protesting new clauses in the Turkish Constitution that describe women as in need of protection. (We all know what that means.) Iran recently celebrated Quds Day (al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem) as “the day for the weak and oppressed to confront the arrogant powers,” except, of course, if you happen to be a woman who’d prefer not to cover her hair. And our own Rebecca has kept us updated on Israel’s struggles to pull itself firmly into the present with something resembling gender equality under the law.

It’s got to be clear by now that I’m a pretty big fan of the doctrine of separation of church and state (or synagogue and state, mosque and state, whatever). If there’s anything that might ever change my mind, though, I saw it this weekend at one of the Day of Action for Burma rallies. In a crowd at Union Square, people tied red bandanas around their arms, lit candles, and knelt in prayer as Buddhist monks chanted. And they also shouted along with the man with the megaphone. And what were they shouting, these people who want only not to brutally oppressed, who want to support their country’s monks and religious structure, who want a little food on their children’s plates? “United States, please help Burma. United Nations, please help Burma!” Whether or not it crosses my own separation fence between religion and politics—how can you not be impressed with that?

–Mel Weiss

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