Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for the ‘Religion and Government’ Category

Buddha for President

In American Enlightenment, American Society, Religion and Government on April 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

Wat Po 2009

I am unequivocally opposed to an established religion in a democracy. Furthermore, I do not believe that democracy is a product of religious belief; more specifically I do not believe that the American Constitution is based on Biblical precepts. Anyone who reads the document and has any understanding of history knows that it is a product of the Enlightenment. If the God of the Bible had been the true inspiration behind it, it would have a lot more to say about eating pork, cleansing oneself from blood contamination, and not spilling one’s seed on the ground.

It goes without saying that, in my opinion, the ills of this country are not due to the fact that we have strayed from God. Getting ‘more God’ into our government would make things worse, not better. If you are not convinced, let me remind you of some examples of pious societies – Oliver Cromwell’s England, Puritan New England, Spain of the Inquisition, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, present-day Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, David Koresh‘s Waco, Texas, and Jim Jones’s Jonestown, Guyana. If it’s God-and-guns you want, immigrate to the dozen or so countries across the globe that consistently make the ‘don’t travel here for any reason’ list, and leave this country alone. I’m sure you think that running things according to your religion would be kinder and gentler than my examples – so did the Kool-Aid sipping acolytes at Jonestown.

Are there countries that have no interest whatsoever in making their societies ‘more godly’? Yes, there are. They consist of the 20-odd countries that usually outrank the US in ‘happiest places’ and ‘best places to live’ polls that haunt the Internet. These countries, with much lower crime and poverty rates than our own, decided long, long ago that religion had no role to play in government, and their peoples are happier and healthier because of it.

Seriously, no one in the religious mainstream – measured at it’s broadest swath, from Fred Phelps to any lesbian Episcopalian pastor – is truly interested in having the government involved in our personal religious beliefs – no matter what they say to the contrary. Freedom of religion is what allows you to be as loony as you like; once you start trying to legislate morality, you get a religious practice that looks a lot more like the Church of England, and no American is interested in that, not now, not two centuries ago.

So tell your Congressman to give it up already. We all know that the vote to close down the one and only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi sprung not from any moral conviction, but from the desire to squeeze every last vote out of the uneducated crowd, from Honey Boo-Boos’s inbred cousins to the cast of Swamp People.

However, if I were forced to choose a religion that I think would work well with our American system, I’d have to go with the teachings of the Buddha. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Westerners who get involved in Eastern mysticism are about the flakiest individuals you will ever meet. It’s hard not to think of the words ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Hippie Narcissist’ together. And the Dalai Lama is charming enough in a ten-minute interview, but I don’t think his outlook would be particularly reassuring to Wall Street. But hear me out.

First of all, Buddhism isn’t technically a religion, as it eschews the belief in a deity.This is probably why it never displaced Hinduism in India, its birthplace. In the land of thirty-five thousand gods, they would have accepted the addition of another one, but never the subtraction of them all. In fact, the Buddha considered a belief in god one of the ‘attachments’ or illusions that bring us so much misery. If your life is going to hell and your god never steps in to help you out, you add an additional heartbreak added to the one you are already experiencing. It’s devastating to have your crops destroyed by a storm; to think that your god could have stepped in but didn’t, that you’ve angered him or her in some way, that some deficiency in your worship may have indeed caused it – this is even worse.

In America, whenever a tragedy occurs, a Hurricane Katrina or a stock market crash, we get the added pleasure of a Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, high and dry and insulated by hedge funds, telling us that we ourselves are to blame for disappointing God in some way. Or that God is trying to teach you something through your cancer. Or that the richest 1% in America own 40% of the wealth because God has decided they are good stewards – and you are not.

Getting rid of the deity would remove so many roadblocks to becoming a more rational society in America. These problems that seem impossible to solve – global climate change, gun ownership, gay marriage, etc., would all become so much easier to solve when one side couldn’t claim to have the ‘mind of God’ on their side.

Secondly, Buddhism addresses directly the most negative aspect of capitalism – suffering. Market societies, efficient as they are, produce winner and losers. In past generations, almost everyone got to win a little bit, and the losers were few. Today, the winners win big, and everyone else gets the crumbs. A lot more people are left out in the cold. Buddhism doesn’t lay a guilt trip on you for being one of the losers – it makes you realize that even the so-called winners enjoy a temporary advantage at best. Since winning and losing is all about chance, there is always hope that the wheel will turn in your favor – but in the end, we will all suffer loss, all get sick, grow old, eventually die.

Finally, the life of the Buddha fits into that American motif of privileged Americans spending their lives helping move our society in a positive directions. Siddharta Gautama began life as a prince, but decided to live an ascetic life in hope of improving humanity. Everyone knows that the rags-to-riches stories are a relic from the American past, and, unless you become a basketball player or a reality TV star, such a thing will not happen to you. We’re not interested in what the little guy has to say – let me hear about how the world works from guys like Donald Trump and Warren Buffet.  The guy with nowhere to lay his head isn’t relevant to today’s America.  From Thomas Jefferson to Mitt Romney, American politics have always been a place for the privileged to give something back to those less fortunate.

And by the way, that last paragraph was meant to be sarcastic – in case the Mitt Romney reference didn’t tip you off.

Who Is America’s Only Protestant Leader?

In American Society, Religion and Government, Religion and Society on September 22, 2012 at 3:05 am

I’m feeling a little mischievous today, so I thought I might beat a horse / bang a drum / stir up a race in which I have no dog entered – or whatever colloquialism you might have for one of my favorite pastimes – getting people all fired up about something that I don’t really care about one way or another.

There’s been a lot of talk about the 47% Americans this week – here are a few other percentages that might interest you.

I’m guessing that the vast majority of American readers who stumble upon this blog are Christians; maybe that’s why my subscriptions inch up at a rate of only a couple a month. Statistics would predict that this is the case. Out of all adult Americans (I don’t like to count children as religious adherents), a little more than 75% claim a belief in the Christian faith. This makes us a ‘Christian nation’ in the eyes of many, especially conservatives, Republicans, tea-partiers, and others on the right of the political spectrum.

I’m also guessing – from what I see on the news, and from what I am unfortunately subjected to from Facebook friends – that many Christians feel that their religious beliefs should play a key role in their political decisions. This is something that I am adamantly against, as the title of this blog should intimate; I think folks should believe whatever they want to believe in their personal lives, but concerning those areas that affect society as a whole, they should rely on empirical evidence and fact, not feeling.

However, in this conservative way of thinking, it would follow that 75% of our leaders should be Christian too, if they are to accurately reflect our beliefs. I mean, if I spend several hours a week at the local Methodist church, I’d really like the guys and gals who are making the rules of the country to be Methodists too, wouldn’t I?

Of the 75-80% of American adults who claim to be Christians, about a third are Catholic, and two-thirds are Protestant – with the remaining quarter being everything else, from Jewish (5%) to Mormon (2%) to Muslim (.5%). So, about half of our leaders should be Protestant, a quarter Catholic, and a quarter drawn from all other beliefs.

While just over half of Americans today claim beliefs born of the Reformation, our American heritage is undoubtedly Protestant – one might say extremely so. If you look at the religious affiliation of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, you’ll find 55 Protestants and 1 Catholic – although perhaps 4 of these Protestants were not what you might call ‘traditional’ Protestants; 2 publicly espoused Unitarianism, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, despite being affiliated with the Episcopalian or American Anglican church were thought to be Deists. Nonetheless, according to, 203 of the 204 men who could be considered Founding Fathers were Protestant. Half were Anglican, a third were Presbyterian or Congregationalist.

Do you believe that our country should be run according to the religious ideas of the Founding Fathers? Then I’m guessing you’d want most of our leaders to come from those three Protestant groups; unfortunately, followers of those faiths account for a very small percentage of the population today. So when you hear someone like Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, or Charles Stanley talk about the beliefs of creators of our American democracy, keep in mind that they would all have pretty serious theological differences with those men were they alive today.

What is the religious affiliation of the leaders of our country today? It might surprise you. Now, remember, I’m a secularist – I think religion should play less of a role in our politics, not more. I don’t really think of a candidate’s religious beliefs when I go to the polls, unless he believes in something so ridiculous, so fantastical that I think it warps his sense of reality. I’d like to think that a leader, even if he went to church on Sunday, would spend the other six days trying to improve the welfare of the country. But if you want the government to reflect your Protestant religious beliefs, you may be disappointed in the following facts.

The Supreme Court consists of nine justices: 6 Catholic, 3 Jewish. (The last Protestant, John Paul Stephens, retired in 2010).

Vice President of the US, Joe Biden – the person who breaks ties in the Senate: Catholic

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid – the person who sets the Senate’s agenda: Mormon

Speaker of the House, John Boehner – responsible for deciding what the House votes on: Catholic

Now I’m thinking, if you’re an evangelical Christian, you can’t be too happy with those statistics – 8 Roman Catholics, 3 Jews, and a Mormon have a pretty good lock on the positions of real power in the US. Who’s representing your interests if you are a Protestant?

A lot of Americans would like to have a president who more closely reflects their own values, those of the evangelical Christian church. If you’d like to make that change right away – sorry, but the Republicans have given you a Mormon / Catholic ticket, Romney and Ryan. Personally, there’s no way I could vote for a guy who believes in Joseph Smith’s hogwash – not now, not back when I was a fundamentalist. See the above about a warped sense of reality.

Are you unhappy yet, Mr. Evangelical? You wouldn’t go to the same church with most of the people in charge of the country – perhaps someone in your pulpit has even openly criticized Judaism, Catholicism or Mormonism. But there they are, deciding what’s best for you, me and the rest of the country. And if you thought you might get to get someone in the next election that believes like you do – wrong again.

Oh, wait a minute. I just remembered. There is one Protestant choice. There is one man who belongs to the long, proud line of Protestant leaders our country has produced. One man who believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, but doesn’t believe that the Virgin will help get you in to heaven. One man whose faith was nurtured by the King James Version of the Bible – not the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Catholic Bible.

Yes, Mr. Evangelical, if you want to vote according to your faith, the choice is clear:

Official photographic portrait of US President...

While he grew up in a home that was decidedly un-Christian, he decided, as an adult, to join the Trinity United Church of Christ. Want to vote for someone who’s beliefs are most similar to yours? Barack Obama’s church is similar to the Southern Baptist denomination when it comes to theology. Want someone who espouses the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers? Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams were members of the United Church of Christ.

Maybe your pastor is telling you to vote for Romney / Ryan – but if you told him that, after much prayer and thought, that you were going to join the Roman Catholic Church, or the Church of Latter Day Saints – he’d have a cow.

Tell him instead that you’re voting for the only Protestant / Evangelical choice available this election year, Barack Obama. He doesn’t believe in magic underwear or that only 144,000 people are going to heaven. He isn’t part of a religion that’s spent hundreds of years stealing from the poor to give to the rich, and he isn’t interested in seeing that system become the basis for American fiscal policy.

He isn’t a Muslim, a Socialist, or the Anti-Christ. He’s more like the guy sitting in the pew next to you than any other candidate or current leader.

God Is Not Speaking To You

In Religion and Government, Religion and Society on June 9, 2012 at 1:17 am
English: Book of Job in Illuminated Manuscript...

God Speaking to Job – Byzantine

If you’ve stuck with me through the last couple of posts, thank you. Talking about prophecy and how God speaks in general is some pretty obtuse stuff, and it’s bound to draw some discontent from different corners.

I’ve said all that I’ve said in the last couple of posts to say this – God is not speaking to you. Whether you want to call it prophecy, God revealing his Word to you, God speaking to your heart through ‘impressions’ – what have you – there’s simply no independently verifiable method to prove what you say is true. If you say that you can verify that God has spoken to you because you can compare it to the scriptures, I have to ask how you know the scriptures are valid, or at least that your interpretation of them is the correct one. If you can only answer that you know this because God has revealed it to you in some way – then your logic is completely circular.

I know you want to think God talks to us, because we talk to him all the time. But we have to face the fact that most if not all of the ‘impressions’ that drop into our minds are simply our own thoughts. We imperil our democracy if we refuse to do so.

Deciding that your opinions are ‘God-breathed’ in some way, and that mine are just the machinations of a fallen nature undermines the idea of democracy. Our laws are to be based on what’s best for the common good, what the majority of the populace decides – not on what one group’s God wants. Saying that God is the author of your convictions is just a way of elevating your opinions – and discrediting mine.

It also makes it impossible to compromise to get anything done. Anyone who grew up in a large family knows that no one can have what they want all of the time. Everyone has to compromise from time to time for the good of the family as a whole. Democracy works the same way. If Christians get what they want all of the time, America would be a very unhappy place for people of other faiths or no faith at all.

If you feel, for example, that God told you that tax cuts for wealthy people are good for the economy, then if would be impossible for you to compromise with someone who felt differently, or to vote for someone who proposed such an idea. No amount of data or academic proof would be able to dissuade you of your opinion. Any everyone knows that when God tells you something, you dare not compromise. Who would ask you to compromise what God told you? Well, only Satan of course. So the other party must be driven by the spirit of the Antichrist.

You can see why we’re not getting much done in America these days. I lived in China and other Asian countries for just over a decade. They’re eating our lunch when it comes to building roads, airports, and other infrastructure, and they’re investing in education at ten times our rate per capita. The reasons why China is pulling ahead of us are complex, to be sure. But one reason why is that everyone believes that the only solution to their problems is themselves. Also, no one ever accuses the other political parties of being motivated by demons.

If it comforts you to think that God speaks to you about the intimate details of your life – who am I to deny you that comfort? But if I think that the problems we are facing in this country can be solved if we just all figure out how to work together – who are you to deny me and my descendants a happy and prosperous future?

Talk to God if you like – but don’t pretend that every idea that falls into your head comes from him.

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