Millions of students in the English speaking world have had to read a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled “The Scarlet Letter.” I have to confess that it was not my idea of a thrilling story. The style was antiquated and hard to understand. The plot (about a young woman who had to wear a red “A” because she had an adulterous affair) was a bore – to a teen-age boy, anyway.
It is only now that I grasp the book’s significance. Like the tales of witch burning, the Inquisition and the massacre of British Protestants by Bloody Mary (and the massacre of Catholics by Oliver Cromwell), the tale illustrates how horrible it is to live in a society where religion rules.
Wait, don’t hasten to consign my soul to the Pit. I am a Christian – I say my prayers and try to love my neighbor (most of the time, anyway). But I shudder at the thought of living in a theocracy. That’s what they have in places like Iran, and I don’t think any American would defend that type of government. Although some members of the Religious Right argue that the Fathers of the Constitution intended America to be a Christian nation, the document itself clearly calls for the separation of Church and State.
What worries me is that the people of America are being brainwashed into creating a de facto theocracy. True, women in this country are not required to cover their faces and wear skirts down to their ankles. But it seems that religion rules in politics nonetheless.
What prompted this thought was a story my sister, Elizabeth, told me about a dinner conversation with friends (in Toronto) the other night. She said her friends were convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Now you and I know that Obama is a born-again Christian. His father may have been a Muslim (or maybe it was only his grandfather) but Obama was converted to Christianity in Chicago when he was a young man.
But what if he wasn’t a Christian? What if he was an atheist? Or a Buddhist? Or a Muslim? Why should that matter? He is running for the position of President, not that of High Priest.
Yet I know that it would matter very much, indeed. It seems that in today’s America, only a certified Christian can hope to be elected President. (A member of the Jewish faith might have a chance, but it would be an uphill battle. Look at what happened to Mormon Mitt Romney – and the Mormons are Christians.) That’s why the rumor mongers, who are spreading lies about Obama all over the Internet, make such a point of branding him a Muslim. They are confident that no member of the Muslim faith, a religion that is legal in America, could aspire to the highest political position in the land. Is that fair?
Surely, the vast majority of Americans know that only fringe elements of the Muslim faith indulge in abusive practices against women or participate in jehads against Western democracy. The vast majority of America’s Muslims are patriotic, law abiding people who love their country and their families. And I would be willing to bet that there are thousands of American Muslims putting their lives on the line for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Don’t bother to send me passages from the Koran that offend you. There are passages in the Bible that no Christian would follow today (Exodus 31:15, for example, calls for anyone who works on the Sabbath Day to be put to death). Religions evolve, and ancient texts are subject to new interpretations in keeping with the changes in society. That’s as true for Muslims as it is for Christians and Jews.