My mother had a deft way of turning away those well-meaning folks — Jehovah’s Witnesses? Mormons? — that came to our front door to convert our family to their faith.
"We have our own religion, thank you!" she would say, while closing the door quickly to avoid further interrogation.
Actually, our religion was susceptible to further interrogation. With me in tow, my mother was a churchgoing Irish Catholic. At that time, my father was a nonobservant Anglican who drove us to church and then waited outside and read the Sunday paper. He took as his text the sports pages, an understandable heresy.
In short, our family religion was a bit confused — but it still was not in the market for whatever itinerant religious doorknockers had for sale. They should have been minding their own spiritual business. We were minding ours.
"We have our own religion, thank you." I have come to think of that phrase as the polite and sensible prescription for social interaction in general. To my mind, religion has a place in the public square, but I don’t think anyone should have to declare his or her religion to stand proud in that public square. If we are saved, I believe we are saved individually — we don’t get the group rate.
Because I view religion in such personal terms, I do not want politicians being religious on my behalf or promoting religion with my taxes. I do not want to vote for someone who promises to reflect my "values." I believe in honesty, courtesy and plentiful cold beer, which, if they became universal in all quarters, would only cause mischief to our way of life.
Which brings me, in a circuitous way that only the Almighty knows, to Barack Obama.
Not to be rude, but what the heck is he up to? While I don’t mind him positioning himself as a centrist — that is what presidential candidates do and that is why politics is such an untrustworthy business — did he really have to promise last week to outdo George W. Bush’s program of faith-based initiatives?
What next? Will he promise federal funding to facilitate the rapture? Turn the Erie Canal into a national baptismal font?
Not content that President Bush found a clever way to drill holes in the wall of separation between church and state at taxpayer expense, the Democratic hopeful now wants to improve on that job, although with assurances that his program will be restricted to charity work with a secular purpose and won’t tolerate any religious-based discrimination.
That’s nice, but the devil here is not in the details. Given that the wall of separation between church and state has been turned into a large Swiss cheese in the Bush years, some us believe that the solution isn’t to provide a more attractive cheese platter.
That old wall needs some serious repair. Ironically, that wall is the best friend religion in America has ever had. We only have to look at the example of Britain to see what the dead hand of government sponsorship has done to church attendance. Churches in England are often where old people go to feel more lonely.
After more than 230 years, some Americans still struggle to understand what the Founding Fathers knew well enough from the example of the Old World: Religion is the beer of the soul, an intoxicant with the capacity to send us to heaven or hell. It lends sanity to some while it drives others mad.
As for me, I am for moderation in all things. If the government entanglement with religion continues, I fear the old suppressed seeds of religious bigotry flowering as weeds.
I do not want Episcopalians punching people who dare to use the wrong dinner fork, Presbyterians feeling predestined to punch back, Baptists throwing cold water in all directions, Catholics getting feisty for fear of being left out, and Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians and Druids also joining the fray in the interest of inclusiveness. I do not want the Unitarians, who take a broader view, giving everyone a good sulking.
We see a precursor of such mischief every time a school board, in a fit of religiously inspired creative deception, attempts to introduce creationism into a curriculum under the guise of creative design. Fistfights would be breaking out more often if lawsuits were not more fun.
The wall of separation between church and state was built by the wise to protect everyone, the ones in church and the ones reading the paper in the parking lot. Barack Obama should shore that wall up, not seek to curry favor of those who would knock it down. He hasn’t got a prayer of getting their vote anyway.
(Contact Reg Henry at rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)