To what extent should religion influence your electoral vote? This is the question implicitly raised by the U.S. Catholic bishops in a soon to be released statement entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” Being a “faithful citizen,” of course, means voting in line with the values of the Catholic Church, and not voting for pro-choice or pro-gay marriage candidates.
The statement has yet to be finalized, but Raymond Burke, the Archbishop of St. Louis who announced four years ago that he would not give communion to John Kerry because of his pro-choice views, has already stated that he would deny communion to Rudy Giuliani for the same reason.
This troubles me for two reasons. First, I think the decision to take communion should be between a parishioner and God. Second, if voting for a pro-life or pro-gay marriage candidate is thought to carry some eternal stigma with regard to one’s relationship with God, a conclusion that many Catholics will inevitably draw from the political meddling of their clergy, have the Bishops just pulled off a coup in America?
I have no problem with voters being influenced by their religion and conscience; on the contrary, I fear a country stripped of conscience. But I want people to think for themselves and not be placed under the thumb of a self-appointed ecclesiastical authority that imposes its morality with implicit threats of eternal damnation. That is theofascism, and fascisms of any type are a grave threat to democracy.
Theofascism is growing, and focusing only on its Islamic version allows us to ignore its influence in Israel and the United States.
As an American I am not troubled by the phrase “One nation under God,” but I am troubled by whose god the nation is under. Is it the god of greed worshipped by corporations, the god of endless consumerism worshipped by the average American, the god of war worshipped by many in the government, the god of who seems to be obsessed with gays, guns, and zygotes, or the god of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus who demands universal justice, kindness, and care for the least among us?
Personally, if I have to live in a country under God, I want that god to be the god of Bill W. who always appends the words “as you understand God” to his use of God in his Alcoholics Anonymous program. Theofascism cannot survive the pragmatic polytheism of Bill W., and that is why I support it.
The question we should ask our politicians isn’t, “Do you believe in God,” but “Which God do you believe in, and what are the ethical, moral, and political implications of that belief?” This is a question that feeds democracy and starves theofascism. Too bad no one dares ask it.