On Church and State ¨C A Post Election Multi-Cultural Perspective
Author¡¯s Note: The viewpoints expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else.
Now that the dust has settled after this November¡¯s US Presidential Election, I find the election results a big disappointment. George Bush mobilized the religious right & won by a small margin. We now see a modern 21st century secular America of advanced sciences & reasoning, of Enlightenment, of cultural & religious pluralism, of international stature & respect, taking further retreat into the old-world of Neo-conservative Far Right, led by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et.al.
In the aftermath of 9/11, US foreign policy entered a new era, one based on pre-emption. 911 gave Neo-Conservatives the legitimacy to project US superpower in most international affairs. When Bush speaks of the need to counter the rise of Muslim fundamentalism with the spread of American democracy & ¡°freedom¡±, ¡°freedom¡± to me is a word carrying other connotations. That is, beyond the US goodwill of democratic freedom, the word also represents the freedom of US to exert control & influences in the Middle East to secure American oil interests and more subtly, in the long-run, the spread of Christianity in the region.
What we see now is a strong rise in US Christian fundamentalism, one based on a purist doctrine, based on ideology, moving us farther away from the pragmatisms needed in world political affairs. Christian fundamentalists have taken over the Republican Party, slowly rising with the Reagan era in the 1980¡¯s.
To me, purist thoughts of ¡°moral clarity¡±, of good vs. evil, that ¡°You¡¯re either with me or against me¡± --- left unchecked, can often lead to intolerance, judgmentalism, and even hatred, radicalism, & exclusionism. Bush used the words ¡°Crusade¡± in his post-911 speech, & what we are seeing here today is really a clash of two world civilizations, between Islam & Christianity.
Ironically, just as Bush is fighting against Muslim fundamentalism (i.e., extremist ideas) through the spread of freedom & democracy --- in order to bring ¡°modernity¡± & Enlightenment to the Muslim world --- Bush & his Neo-Conservative party are also taking America a step backward towards Christian fundamentalism with his faith-based initiative and other faith-based policies --- in the direction of marrying the State & Church. It should be noted that history has repeatedly shown us how governments are best run by being secular, as entities separate from religion. I thought we had gotten past this point 200+ years ago with the establishment of the US Constitution and this country.
I find Bush & his policies guided more by his heart than by his rationale. I find him lacking the experience, diplomacy, and leadership critically needed to manage political affairs on the world stage. His judgment is clouded because he is, in essence, ¡°blinded by faith¡±.
I also find the Bush administration¡¯s justification for the Iraqi War misguided, inadequate, and untimely. The movie ¡°Wag the Dog¡± provides an excellent analogy of how public outcry over a critical issue (911 accountability, in this case) can be effectively defused the same time a president¡¯s popularity is expanded, by diverting public attention & fear to a country¡¯s call for war of an unrelated matter (in this case, the Iraqi War where there is no proven relationship to 911 nor WMD, i.e., Weapons of Mass Destruction).
The Iraqi War has unnecessarily cost the US many valuable lives & resources. We have dug ourselves a huge burden and an enormous deficit. As an American, I can say I feel a lot more insecure traveling to Iraq & the Middle East today than before the war. Iraq, the Middle East, & the world at large resent America for its cowboy attitude of arrogance, hegemony, & unilateralism. Bush¡¯s quick pullout from the world¡¯s hard-negotiated Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, his quick show of strong-arm tactics in the China Spy Plane standoff (one which was finally resolved through more careful, methodical diplomacies), and the administration¡¯s largely go-at-it-alone Iraqi war, are just a few examples.
We know from history that hypocrisies and double-standards can always be found, even in the best & strictest of institutions & leaders. After all, we are simply human, we all have basic human instincts, & we are not infallible. Just look at the past scandals around Richard Nixon, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell, Jesse Jackson, Rudy Giuliani, Bill Clinton, Bill O¡¯Reilley, the US Catholic bishops, Mao Zedong, etc. And note the double-standards we see, including US human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prisons, inconsistencies in the US handling of WMD issues with North Korea & Iran (where these countries are clearly farther ahead in their WMD than Iraq), and the use of radioactive depleted Uranium weapons by US in Afghanistan, labeled by the International Criminal Tribunal as US war crimes & US WMD. How is the US to lead by example, win respect and maintain favorable reciprocity with other nations when we tell the rest of the world to ¡°Do as we say, not as we do¡±?
During this election, religious homophobia took hold of America & mobilized right-wing voters, clearly affecting election results. Interestingly, pro-Kerry grassroots citizens from UK writing directly to Ohio residents (with Ohio being the Election¡¯s key battleground state) also got unexpected backfire in their results.
Over the next 4 years, Bush will lay the foundation to transform the US government from a centrist secular makeup to a religious-right, based on his faith-based initiative. In the long run, this will touch everything affecting our daily lives, including stem cell research & other scientific advances, school prayers, school education, the teaching of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, women & abortion rights, minority & gay rights, etc.
The other day, I was amused hearing a religious right talking over the radio about how it is now time for Bush to payback his debt to the religious voters. Every sentence he articulated about an issue had the emphatic word ¡°MUST¡±, that Bush MUST do this, that Bush MUST do that, ¡ So what about those people who can¡¯t deliver 100% of his demands 100% of the time? In this scenario, I guess they must stand on the other side of the fence.
I was raised in a Confucius-Buddhist family background while growing up as a Hong Kong expatriate with my family in Thailand. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend a Catholic international school there in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic setting, where I studied comparative religions and world cultures with a reasonably balanced world view. Today, my best friends are from around the world. We proudly discuss, appreciate, and celebrate our own cultural heritages, identities, & differences. My wife and I are multi-lingual covering English, Thai, Burmese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujianese, & studied several years of French, and we try to instill the importance of cultural and language pluralism in our family.
I believe every religion, philosophy, & faith have their own virtues, from Christianity to Judaism, from Islam to Hinduism, Sikhism, & Jainism, from Buddhism to Confucianism, Taoism, and others. Religion provides the framework of core values essential to character building. It provides stability in the face of change. However, where strict (literal) interpretations & followings are involved, I feel one should be mindful that such practices do not extend into fundamentalist, intolerant, extremist ideas where ¡°absolute truths¡± are claimed, where ¡°one religion is better than all other religions¡±. Conversely, one should also be mindful when criminals commit acts of violence in the name of religion, when such acts have really nothing to do with religion.
Today, I am Agnostic. I also believe in drawing the best teachings out of every religion. Buddhism teaches the Middle-Way. Taoism teaches that harmony is achieved by balancing the opposing forces, the Yin & the Yang, by looking at the light beyond the ¡°This¡± vs. ¡°That¡±. Here, I believe the US government is most effective when it stays secular and takes a more moderate, pragmatic, open-minded, pluralistic, centrist approach, staying neither too far left nor too far right. And being centrist does not mean indecisiveness. It means making tradeoff¡¯s and calculating the optimal decision path as each situation warrants. It means the willingness to acknowledge errors & the strength to alter course when poor decisions have been made --- and not exercising consistency to the point of blind, stubborn adherence.
Regarding this year¡¯s election, some voters dislike John Kerry on the basis of his alleged flip-floppedness, his lack of charisma, his alleged lack of leadership in his track record, his viewpoint being too liberal, etc. For me, I am simply voting for a platform and not strictly for an individual. And, having seen Bush in the last 4 years, I was ready for a platform change ¨C away from Bush and the Neo-Conservative Far Right. For those religious-minded voters, it should also be noted that one can be both religious AND be non-Republican (a Democrat) at the same time.
I believe America our great country can do much better, that we can be forward-looking and progressive as a modern secular society. Unfortunately, having just seen the November Presidential Election results, I ponder when this opportunity will arrive.