Religion and politics

Often, I use this column to write about politics. But this is Christmas week. What on earth does Jesus Christ have to do with politics?

Quite a lot, actually.

We Americans have a tradition more than two centuries long of bare-knuckle politics. Too often it seems that winning office and holding political power — not necessarily gaining the ability to pursue policies we think are wise and compassionate, but instead just beating the other guy or gal — is the primary purpose of politics.

For several years, however, enmity over our political and social views has been growing worse. We are quick to accuse the other side of fomenting violence. They cannot merely be wrong. They must be evil.

With the glaring exception of the Civil War, times of great peril have tended to unite us, to make us forget about our relatively minor disagreements and come together to defeat a dangerous foe.

Not this time. In less than a year, COVID-19 will have claimed more American lives than did World War II in three and one-half years. Far from coming together to overcome the virus, we have become more divided than before. The epidemic has become a political football.

We are so divided that Christmas itself has become a wedge issue. Among some, wishing others a merry Christmas, with the purest of motives, is viewed as a cultural sin.

So, what would Jesus do? You’ve heard of Him. It’s His birthday we’re celebrating on Friday.

First, let me point out I am not a minister. I haven’t taken a single college-level course in religion. I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night.

And I may be wrong. But a couple of things about the Bible come to mind.

First is what Jesus is reported to have said while He was being crucified. “Father,” he prayed, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Jesus was willing to consider that even those who were killing him were not evil, but only wrong in their thinking.

Could we try that?

What else?

Well, there’s the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Second only to loving God, Jesus said, is the commandment to love one another.

But it’s hard to love (insert “Democrats” or “Republicans,” depending on your preference). Harder than loving people who nailed you to a cross?

In his second inaugural address, as the bloodiest war in our history still raged, Abraham Lincoln wondered aloud how two groups of people could have such radically different opinions that they were willing to kill and die to defend them — and believe they were firmly in the right. “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other,” Lincoln remarked.

So it is today, even if we Americans hold many different faiths or sometimes, none at all. We all think we’re morally right, meaning the other side must be evil.

Once, that kind of thinking caused a war in which more Americans died than in all of our other wars combined. We’re a long, long way away from that kind of divisiveness today — but we’re on the road to it.

So what does Jesus’ birthday have to do with politics? Plenty. If more of our politicians — the people who, with the media’s help, are able to stir us to hate each other — followed the Lord’s precepts, we’d be better off.

Come to think of it, we all might be better off with a little more loving our neighbors.

Merry Christmas — to all.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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