Sunday, June 7, 2009

Religious Education

Newt Gingrich told a gathering at a church last week that America is “surrounded by paganism.”

I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. […] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

I know Mr. Gingrich is a recently converted Catholic — the assumption being that he was finished divorcing his first two wives and committing adultery with the woman who ended up being Mrs. Gingrich 3.0 before he changed to a church that frowns on that sort of behavior — so I can at least give him a bit of room for buying into the mantra that your chosen faith is the one True Faith and that everyone else is worshiping false idols and therefore must be “pagans.” There is no sinner like a reformed saint, right? But to sit there and claim we are surrounded by paganism is a bit rich, even for him. Is he running to replace President Obama or Torquemada?

When he states that “only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator,” I’m assuming he’s talking about the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that says,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But notice that Thomas Jefferson was very careful to say “their Creator;” not God, not Yahweh, not Allah, not Odin, or Thor, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or any of the other gods or monsters that humans have dreamed up to worship as the supernatural power that started the Big Bang. Saying “their Creator” leaves it open to interpretation as to who or what that creator might be, and Mr. Jefferson, by putting it in the third person plural, leaves the believing up to the citizens. Had he said “our Creator,” he would have been making the case that there is just one creator and that we all believe in him/her/it. Mr. Gingrich may be a professor of history, but his assumption that Mr. Jefferson and the Congress that passed the Declaration were talking about a Christian god flies in the face of the Constitution that followed thereafter, not to mention basic rhetoric.

And then there’s the very idea that being “surrounded by paganism” is somehow a threat to America and our way of life. First, I’d like to know what he means when he uses the term. (He’s probably confusing it with “hedonism,” which is something else entirely.) Paganism has a lot of different meanings, but based on the context of his remarks, I take it he’s using it in a pejorative sense and holding up his white-bread made-in-America blue-eyed Jesus right-wing fundamentalist Christianity as the True Faith. Everything else is something false, foreign or *gasp* liberal. But by that definition, everything outside of his narrow little cul-de-sac world is paganism, including the many faiths in India, Asia, South America, Polynesia, Central Europe, and the Middle East. He’s probably including the faiths of the native Americans, too — the people of the First Nations who have spiritual traditions that pre-date the Roman Catholic church and its descendants. So who’s the pagan in Window Rock?

I suppose it’s too much to ask from a pompous, arrogant, and self-promoting tightass like Mr. Gingrich, but one of the many saving graces of America is that it is a diverse nation with a lot of different cultures, ideals, and belief systems. One of our ideals is that we make no judgments about someone else’s faith and practice as long as they don’t try to impose it on anyone else. If Mr. Gingrich wishes to be considered as anything other than a religious bigot and hypocrite, he would do well to learn those basic truths.