Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chritianity in the White House

During the last two presidential elections one key element, sometimes blatant but frequently unstated, was whether the candidates were Christians. By my thinking, Mitt Romney isn’t a Christian based on my understanding of Mormon theology related to the Trinity while there is no doubt that Barack Obama is. But is it important to have a Christian president? As the importance of organized religion of all flavors continues to decline, I surmise that fewer Americans would consider this a priority. Those that are most likely to consider it important tend to rely on a myth, that the Republic was formed by Christians with an expectation that the population would also consist of Christians.

While I’m a great believer in myth and the cultural importance of wide acquaintance with the tales of Homer, the creation accounts in Genesis, and the wild carryings-on at Valhalla, it’s frustrating when errors of detail in any myth are elevated to significance. Witness the witless appropriation of the metaphorical six days of creation into a denial of evolution, never mind the idea that the current range of plants and animals on earth could be the result of Noah’s keeping them all alive in the ark! So let’s look at the truth behind the myth of America as a Christian nation.

Of the first ten presidents, only three were clearly Christians: Andrew Jackson (Presbyterian), Martin Van Buren (Dutch Reformed), and William Henry Harrison (Episcopalian). Three more can be identified as both Episcopalian and Deist in various proportions, generally moving to Deism over time: George Washington, James Monroe, and John Tyler. Washington was born into the Church of England, becoming an Episcopalian with the revolution, but seldom attended church as an adult and left before the Eucharist.

Two were flatly Deists: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Two more were Unitarians: John Adams (originally a Congregationalist) and his son, John Quincy Adams. Christians are, by creed, trinitarians, a concept rejected by all the small-U unitarians, which means Unitarians, Jews, Moslems, and probably Mormons. To varying degrees these faiths recognize Jesus as a historical figure of merit, possibly a prophet, but deny his deity.

Among the other Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin was definitely a Deist, Thomas Paine seemed to move between atheism and Deism, and Alexander Hamilton strayed toward theism (Deists who allow the possibility of divine intervention in human affairs) by the revolutionary period.

There were Christians among the Founding Fathers, probably most of them. But among the most prominent were quite a few who chose reason over revelation. If I Were King, my religion wouldn’t be a factor in any election, but I would admit that I was raised a Lutheran, joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) for some years, returned to the Lutheran Church, and gradually have become much closer to a Deist with near-infinite tolerance of other faiths. But I would not be tolerant of the idea that my realm was Christian. A realm is political, not religious, even if it depends on behavior norms that stem in part from myths heard in a million Sunday Schools.

Boycott Russian Olympics

With news of the thuggish Vladimir Putin’s assault on gays in Russia, I was among the many who immediately thought in terms of a boycott of the Sochi games. Like most, I immediately reconsidered. For good or ill, the lifetime earnings of an athlete can turn on appearing in a single Olympiad. Even a losing performance can attract attention that will increase the athlete’s potential when he wins four years later. Broadcasters who have bid for the rights to cover the games, at least those in countries whose athletes choose to boycott the event, would lose a fortune. A boycott by teams would hurt the wrong people.

But Putin’s Kremlin should not benefit from their retrograde stance and the Russian people, apparently a generation behind the rest of the developed world which they aspire to being part of, should not see these actions reinforced. But how to effectively deal with this moment?

My first thought was symbolic: Let’s make a rainbow a part of every uniform! Headbands, armbands, stripes down arms or legs, there are manifold opportunities to include this symbol of equality. If the US announced the change, the Brits and French might follow. Not every nation would join in, but if even a dozen did, the images from Sochi would brand this as the “Gay Rights Games” as surely as the 1980 summer games are remembered for the boycott following Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan, 1972 is remembered for the attack on athletes at Munich, and 1936 as the Nazi Olympics. Even in Russia this would be seen as a clear repudiation of Putin’s policies, and the Russian people are quite capable of moving forward with the times, even if they’ve chosen a government that won’t.

My second thought was more difficult, and also much more able to punish Putin for his stance. I think the IOC should boycott Sochi. With jet travel and wireless broadcast, we now control the world in a way that would have been unthinkable when the modern Olympic games were started at Athens in 1896. There may be a purpose served by gathering the world’s premiere athletes in one place every four years, but even then we gather them in two groups. So why not split the games into a half dozen venues? Surely the facilities in Vancouver, Torino, Salt Lake City, Nagano, or Lillehammer have not all been razed or irrevocably converted to other uses.

There are certainly graphic disadvantages to suddenly adding some element to a carefully-designed uniform, and no doubt there is something special about all the athletes and supporters coming together in one place, never mind the themed signage that has been so well done in the recent past, but fighting bigotry is more important. If I Were King, my teams would include the rainbow in their uniforms and every sports facility in my realm would be available to the IOC.