Fear of the One True Way…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I am new at Politics…still building my political stamina.  It can feel overwhelming.  Every now and then I have to remember what is driving me to get involved and stay involved. I would like to say that it is some goal I want us to accomplish together –  some improved and beautiful future state of our society – and there is some of that.  But, like most people, when it comes to pushing me to actually get up and do something…fear is the real motivator.

I did something the other day that I have never done before…I watched an entire Sean Hannity interview.  Specifically, I watched Hannity’s interview with our new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson.

I wanted to hear for myself the context in which Mr. Johnson said, “…Go pick up a Bible; that’s my worldview.”   Here’s a longer quote, “I am a Bible-believing Christian.  Someone asked me today in the media, they said people are curious, ‘What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it.  That’s my worldview.’  That’s what I believe.”

It scares me that our Speaker of the House is so blithely confident that his particular way of interpreting scripture is THE way.  I wanted to make sure I heard it for myself, coming from his own mouth.

I have gotten off my butt and gotten significantly more involved with politics since this last spring.

The jolt that woke me up was a bill the Texas Senate passed to require that the 10 Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom in Texas.  (Thankfully it did not pass the Texas House, so it has not become law.  It has been filed again for the current special session, and I imagine the author will keep filing it until it passes, or until he gets voted out, or ‘til Jesus comes back whichever comes first.)

I am not even sure I knew it before I heard about that bill, but evidently religious-nationalism is my core issue.  Of all the rights guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights, the right to freedom of religion is to me…well…the most sacred.  The 10 Commandment Bill pushed my political panic button.  The quote from Mike Johnson pushed it again.

I have come to believe there is a very well-organized, well-funded, very determined group of people out there who believe they know how the world should be run.  That’s fine.  We all probably believe we know how the world should be run.  The difference is, they seem to have such complete confidence in their opinions that they don’t really think of them as opinions at all.  They believe them to be THE way, GOD’s Way, the ONE TRUE Way.  I am worried that they feel like it is their duty to codify their Way into the law of the land.

I am a religious person myself – but I think it is extremely dangerous to believe that I could know God’s will perfectly.  I think it is a terrible idea to try to codify religion into secular law.  I think it’s bad for the religion and bad for the country.

In my faith – Christianity – we have stories about Religious Leaders and Religious Scholars who were so confident they knew the will of God perfectly that they could not appreciate the light in their midst. In fact, they perceived it as a threat and ended up calling for Jesus to be crucified.

The Pilgrims came to America because of religious persecution.  They weren’t being persecuted by agnostics or Muslims or people of other religions.  They were being persecuted by believers of their own religion – Christianity.  They were persecuted by fellow Christians who believed they understood the will of God perfectly and believed it was their responsibility to “enforce” God’s will.  (As if God were not perfectly capable of doing that himself?)

I know the ebb and flow of disagreement about how we should govern ourselves is frustrating.  It’s hard to balance freedom with the realities of living together in diverse society. It’s hard deciding how much to pay in taxes, and who should pay what, and what we should do with the money.  It’s hard to agree on what is fair and just, and even harder to administer those decisions in a fair and just way.  It’s frustrating when people don’t agree to do things the way we want them done.

I sometimes wish we did know the one, true way.  That would be so much easier!  But we don’t.

I sometimes wish we did have the one, true benevolent-dictator/prophet who would tell us exactly and perfectly what to do in every situation.  But we don’t.

And just like in Jesus’ time, if we believe that we do, it can blind us to the light we need to find our way.

Maybe that’s a bit dramatic…I don’t think we have a messiah in our midst that we are ignoring.

I do believe that if I am absolutely confident that my way is God’s way, I am not as likely to listen to what other people have to say.  I am not as likely to be convinced by other people’s lived experience that there may be more to know than what I already know.  I am more likely to believe it is OK to take whatever steps are necessary to “Do God’s Will.”

Living in a democracy means it is our right and our responsibility to haggle out tough decisions together.  For those of us who are religious, of course our faith informs our opinion and inspires our action. But, we must always retain the humility to stop short of attempting to codify our religion into the law of the land.

I am worried that we are electing more and more people who are willing to cross that line – even those that believe they are called by God to cross that line.

I have all kinds of issues that I care about.  I write about them from time to time.  I vote.  I try to convince other people to vote the same way I do.  Overall though, I have been content to relax and let other people get involved in the guts and grime and time-consuming blocking and tackling of party politics.

The current wave of religious-nationalism feels different to me, scarier.  I have heard with my own ears elected representatives blatantly say they thought separation of church and state was a “misinterpretation” of the first amendment.  Now I hear the Speaker of the House basically say that he believes there is really only one way to understand the Bible… the way he understands it…and that his way is so obvious that anyone who picks up a Bible off the shelf would understand it the same way?

Mr. Johnson was careful to say later in the interview (at Hannity’s prompting) that these are his “personal” beliefs, and he realizes they are separate from the law. Maybe his off hand “Just pick up a Bible” comment was meant to be funny?   But still … his statement scares me.

I don’t like that. Time to start paying more attention. Time to get busy. Time to elect some different people.

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