Oh boy. I’m taking a leap of faith here. I love to discuss both religion and politics; however, I am all too aware of the pitfalls. Both topics bring out both the best and the worst in all of us. We vehemently defend our ideologies and beliefs and take offense, either outwardly or inwardly, when someone disagrees with our stance. We are vested personally in whatever belief or non-belief system we call our own. So, knowing full well I may be stepping into the lion’s den…
I was raised by fundamentalist, evangelical Christian parents. I am well versed in Biblical theology; I know my Old and New Testament; and I was once “born again” and considered myself a “good Christian.” Over time, I have explored different belief systems, examined my own values, and tried to reconcile my values with my beliefs. As a result, I no longer identify myself by any religious label. I do, however, have an unshakable faith in a higher power, which I call God.
As I was listening to the news last night, I heard a report on Rick Perry’s recent address at Liberty University, which included remarks about his personal, spiritual journey and his commitment that “the politics of this country should be governed by ‘Christian values.'” Whenever I hear this phrase used–and it is used often–I always wonder what exactly are “Christian” values. Because the thing is, even though my identity as a member of one particular religious group has changed, my values haven’t. In fact, last year I wrote a piece and I had nowhere to go with it. Now that I have a blog, here it is for what it’s worth-
I find it ironic when Christian friends and family members, and other acquaintances of faith, call me a “nonbeliever.” It’s true—I don’t believe in organized religion, which was created by man, not God. I don’t believe that God lives in a church, a synagogue or a mosque. I don’t believe that only certain groups of people are chosen to be saved for all eternity, while the rest of us are destined to burn in the fire pits of Hell. I don’t believe that any ancient work of literature—the Bible, Koran or Torah—is anything other than a mortal interpretation of rules, human laws, morals, ethics, and common sense. But a nonbeliever? Hardly.
I believe in a higher power alive and at work in the universe; I just don’t claim to know what that power is or how it works. Maybe it’s the collective energy of souls across the planet creating a life force that functions beyond our understanding. Or maybe it’s something entirely different. I just don’t know. I believe in the inherent goodness of people and in the power of a kind word. I believe in tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, fairness and unconditional love. I believe there is more than one path, more than one way to look at things, and more than one way to bear witness to a means of salvation, whether it’s salvation from yourself, from an addiction, from hatred or from despair. I believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of the universe and that everyone has a voice and matters. I believe that people should be treated with dignity and respect whether they believe in God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Buddha, the sanctity of cows, or nothing.
Most of all, I believe that judgments should be reserved for those who have violated the law and not imposed upon people who live differently or believe differently from the so-called norm, as long as there is no harm done to anyone. I believe that it is only through examination of what is foreign to us that we can come to formulate our own set of beliefs in a way that will unite rather than divide. I believe that the soul of a person lives on forever—I just don’t know how or where. And I believe that we reunite, after death, with those we loved in life, and that no boundaries of religious or secular distinction will prevent those reunions from taking place.
I don’t know of any label for my belief system. I guess the popular term is “spiritual” but even that doesn’t seem to fit. What I do know is that I’m a strong believer in a power beyond human understanding as well as the very human powers of goodness and compassion and understanding. If that makes me a nonbeliever in the eyes of those who follow a doctrine that doesn’t allow for ambiguity or inclusion or personal interpretation, then so be it. Using that narrow definition then, yes, I guess you could call me a nonbeliever. Just don’t expect me to believe it.
I don’t believe that morality or any one set of values belongs to any one religion, or any religion for that matter. Some of the most virtuous people I know are atheists or agnostic. So, I have to assume that what Rick Perry (and others like him) meant was that the politics of the country should be governed by Christian doctrine. And that’s something else altogether, which is probably why we have this little thing called separation of church and state.