Having resolved never to blog about religion, I’m treading in deep water today. But in the political climate of the Bush II era, it's hard to avoid and anyway, having toned down my original draft of this post, I think it's fairly tame.
For anyone who cares to know, I am nominally Jewish. Not that I do much about it. I light the Hanukkah candles for eight nights, not so much from religious belief, but because they are pretty and I like the story that goes with the holiday. I fast on Yom Kippur – again, not from religious conviction, but because I think it’s a good idea, now and then, to do something that reminds me of my connection to the family of man through the ages.
And I light yahrzeit candles on the anniversaries of the deaths of loved ones because I like setting aside a day to remember each one of them.
Beyond admitting to those little rituals, my beliefs are my own and I would be more comfortable if more people – especially politicians – kept theirs to themselves too. Either way, it seems to me that the most profound - and simplest - reason for religion is, at its best, to remind people of faith that the God they worship requires them to do the right thing – privately and publicly.
All religions subscribe to this idea. It’s not necessary to my point, but it’s fun to read some of the versions of the Golden Rule (or the "ethic of reciprocity" for you scholars):
Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.
Christianity: Love one another as I have loved you.
Confucionism: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.
Hinduism: One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.
Islam: Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourself.
Judaism: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.
Zoroastrianism: Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others.
There is even a secular/humanist version: Treat people the way you'd like to be treated.
Boring, huh, in their sameness, but it has been the agreed-upon code of conduct - in the ideal, anyway - for mankind since at least 3200 years ago (the Hindu version) and it pretty much covers, in its short directive, all human behavior.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president of the U.S. in 1960, there was a concern that a Catholic could not be elected. Some who opposed his candidacy lectured that his first allegiance would be to the pope rather than to the Constitution, and the Democrats played down Kennedy's religion as much as possible during the campaign.
Forty-five years later, that seems almost quaint. Religion in general, though Christianity in particular, was an issue in the 2000 and 2004 presidential election campaigns. Our born-again president, with the consent of a large portion of the electorate (20 percent of whom gave unenumerated “moral values” as their vague reason for voting for Mr. Bush), has done more than any other in our history to poke holes in the Constitutional wall between church and state. Some other elected officials preach that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that our government's policies should be guided by those tenets.
Leaving aside the serious political issue of separation of church and state, it might not be a bad idea to ask those politicians to follow their belief in those Christian tenets - in their professional behavior, not law. In Matthew 22:35-40 of the King James New Testament, Jesus says,
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
You don’t have to believe Jesus is the son of God to agree with that. But if you are Christian and particularly if you are an elected official who wears that religion on your sleeve, that passage – including the part that says “as thyself” - would seem to require that you create legislation for a universal healthcare system.
All federal employees, including the president, vice president and all members of Congress have access to healthcare (FEHBP) for themselves and their dependents which the conservative Heritage Foundation describes thusly:
“The FEHBP and Medicare both are large programs run by the federal government, but the similarity ends there. The FEHBP is not experiencing the severe financial problems faced by Medicare.
“It is run by a very small bureaucracy that, unlike Medicare's, does not try to set prices for doctors and hospitals. It offers choices of modern benefits and private plans to federal retirees (and active workers) that are unavailable in Medicare.
“It provides comprehensive information to enrollees. And it uses a completely different payment system that blends a formula with negotiations to achieve a remarkable level of cost control while constantly improving benefits and enjoying wide popularity.”
Can any Christian legislator morally accept better healthcare coverage than he or she provides for all Americans? Can any Christian legislator, then, not create legislation for universal healthcare that works at least as well as his or her own?
It might be a good idea for all of us to remind elected officials and candidates for federal office who insist on using their Christian faith as a campaign tool that, in exchange for our votes, we require them to live up to Matthew 22:35-40.