We want leaders, not religious gurus

COMMENTNovember 29, 2011 

Let's see if I have this straight. President Obama offers his Thanksgiving address and in it neglects to thank God. This leads to a cacophony of screeches from right-wing conservative pundits who are apparently pretty sure that this omission means that Obama plans to lead us down a godless path to defeat, destruction and total world domination by (pick one) Muslims or communists. Wow.

My first thought was to invite these pundits to move to Iran or some other theocracy where God is always mentioned as the only justification needed for any and all decrees, from which movies can play in theaters to how many times you can whip a woman who showed her face in public.

You'll have to forgive me if, as a woman, I say that I'd prefer not to live in a theocracy. They always seem to be run by men who claim God as their authority for keeping women barely one level above slavery.

I'm not picking on Muslim nations with that statement. Christianity has a long and pathetic history of how women were treated in Europe during the height of religious rule. At the highest level, they were bought and sold as nothing more than chattel, cementing relationships desired by the men who ruled them. At the lowest level, their husbands had a right to beat them and kill them if need be. And the Church, while it might have made an occasional quiet demure on the matter, pretty much supported the status quo.

So as a woman, I have to say that if Barack Obama wants to mention God in his Thanksgiving address, he has every right to do so. But if he doesn't, I don't really find myself getting all out of sorts and huffy. God, as interpreted by way too many powerful religious men in countries where religion rules, is often an oppressor of women. I'd just as soon our president didn't bring that into our country.

If these right-wing pundits really believe that having religion and publicly proclaiming it as central to their lives is the litmus test that politicians must pass to garner conservative support, then I really do wish they would move to some country that is already a theocracy and leave America alone. Because that should not be now, and never was in the past, the criterion we used to elect the people who would lead us.

While past presidents may have mentioned God in their public discourse, they did not run on a platform of being more Christian than the next guy. That would have scared Americans who still remembered the religious prosecutions they and their ancestors had fled in order to live in a country where religion was a personal, not public matter, and no one could tell them they had to think or worship one way or another -- or at all if they did not choose to do so.

I have had the privilege of knowing many good people in my life. Some went to church daily. Some went weekly. And some never went inside a church except for family funerals and weddings. Religion was not what made them good people. Religion was part of who some were, but their belief in the basic dignity of all people and in the virtues of living a decent and honorable life, being faithful to their spouse and loving to their children -- none of that was solely predicated on whether they showed up for services on Sunday. It was simply what they believed to be right.

People who believe in God and receive comfort from their spirituality should be free to both worship as they please and express their beliefs as they choose. But no American politician should be held to some litmus test involving God. That stuff belongs in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Not America.

Anyone can put the words "thank God" into a speech without those words holding any meaning. Do these conservative pundits really want to trivialize their God and religion to the point where it becomes nothing more than another thing to check off in public -- lapel flag pin, check. Thank God and mom in speech, check.

We elect politicians to be our civil leaders, not our religious gurus. Forget that and we lose our democracy and become a theocracy.


Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.

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