Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Colbert, Obama and Their Own, Personal Jesus

For a country that built into its very foundation a separation of Church and State, religion doesn't just rear its head in politics; it seems more like it seeks to dominate American political discourse.  From White House prayer breakfasts to "In God We Trust" being stamped on our coins, from Pat Robertson to Jeremiah Wright, from reproductive rights to the Defense of Marriage Act, the personal is very much political and politicians are basically forced to wear whatever particular faith they profess on their sleeves.  This is curious considering that Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. and that Christ himself said the following:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6: 5-6, NIV)

Ah well, so much for dancing with the guy who brung ya!

For better or worse, this is the situation in which we find ourselves.  It's a reality that either engages you or is something you try to tune out.  Personally, I do not believe religion has any business in the function of our government, any more than government has any business in houses of worship.  However, if religion must insert itself into the public, political conversation, it's always nicer when people actually know what they're talking about.

Stephen Colbert and Barack Obama do.

Last week, Stephen Colbert -- the character -- gave testimony in front of a House subcommittee on immigration.  He did so much to the bemusement of some and to the outrage of others.  What many did not notice (here, notwithstanding), however, was the way Colbert -- this time, the man -- let his personal spiritual slip show during the Q&A that followed:

I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come in and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet, we still ask them to come here, and at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me, and um… You know, “whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers,” and these seemed like the least of my brothers, right now. A lot of people are “least brothers” right now, with the economy so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that. But migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.

The fact that Colbert is a practicing Catholic is well known.  Perhaps what was not well known (until now) is that he's a person who actually tries to practice what he preaches.

Then, just yesterday, we heard from the world's most famous non-Muslim, President Barack Obama.  Answering the question "Why are you a Christian?", he said the following:

I'm a Christian by choice.  My family didn't - frankly, they weren't folks who went to church every week.  And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me in the church.  So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead - being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me. And I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we're sinful and we're flawed and we make mistakes, and that we achieve salvation through the grace of God.  But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.  That's what I strive to do. That's what I pray to do every day.  I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith.  One thing I want to emphasize, having spoken about something that obviously relates to me very personally, as president of the United States I'm also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and no faith.  That this is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.  That's part of what makes this country what it is.

Truly, if, as some suggest (most of whom should know better), this man is just "pretending" to be Christian, he's not only doing a damn good job at it, he's running circles around many who wear crosses around their necks or pinned to their lapels.  Indeed, ask yourself this:  how many so-called Christians do you know who could answer a question on their faith, off the cuff, and come anywhere close to the above?

Considering how religiously illiterate many Christians have been found to be, perhaps people should spend less time questioning his faith and spend more time learning about their own.  (Find out how religiously literate you are here.)

[Hat-tips to HuffPo, Daily Dish and (newcomer!) Blue Wave News; image:  Depeche Mode's 1989 single, available here.]