This is election season. The bumper stickers are popping up. I had a nice chuckle when I read one the other day: “Read my lips, no new Texans.”
Then there’s the debates about the debates. God forbid you have one near the Kennedy Library…or the Lincoln Tunnel, giving unfair advantage to one party or the other.
Speaking of God, those of us who take seriously the commandment against using God’s name in vain have been cringing a lot lately.
Jefferson warned against it. Lincoln wouldn’t stoop to it. Lincoln was asked why he refused to belong to any church. He responded, in a letter to a Mrs. Rankin, the mother of his colleague Henry Rankin, Lincoln said:
I do not see that I am more astray—though perhaps in a different direction—than many others whose points of view differ widely from each other in the sectarian denominations. They all claim to be Christian and interpret their several creeds as infallible ones. Yet they differ and discuss these questionable subjects without settling them with any mutual satisfaction among themselves.
I doubt the possibility, or propriety, of settling the religion of Jesus Christ in the models of man-made creeds and dogmas. It was a spirit in the life he laid stress on and taught, if I read aright. I know I see it to be so with me.
The fundamental truths reported in the four gospels as from the lips of Jesus Christ and that I first heard from the lips of my mother are settled and fixed moral precepts with me. I have concluded to dismiss from my mind the debatable wrangles that once perplexed me with distractions that stirred up, but never absolutely settled anything. I have tossed them aside with the doubtful differences which divide denominations—sweeping them all out of my mind among the non-essentials. I have ceased to follow such discussions or be interested in them.
I cannot without mental reservations assent to long and complicated creeds and catechisms. If the church would ask simply for assent to the Saviour’s statement of the substance of the law: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,’ — that church would I gladly unite with.
Have you ever wondered, as I have, how God would respond to the candidates for public office who use His name so freely in public statements, speeches and so forth?
I did some research, hired a computer specialist, and was able to tap into God’s private e-mail. Here’s what God has to say, and this is verbatim.
Dear candidates for public office—my children— it’s time I responded to your theological references in the course of your campaigning. You are looking for a vote, for the votes, one by one, and you assume that using my name will help you win the election.
I can relate to that. I, too, am looking for support. I’m hoping to get that support from enlightened, sensitive souls whose interests are not restricted to the narrow confines of their own budget or ego and who see beyond themselves and feel a connection to souls with whom they share the planet.
As I listen to your rhetoric I often think that you are appealing to the most base motives in people—you are appealing to their most base fears. ‘Oh ye of little faith!’
While I appreciate your deeply-felt religious yearnings I want to make it clear that I do not feel the need for all this promotional work you’re doing on my behalf. It’s rather an insult, don’t you think, to suggest that you can do what I’ve been incapable of doing—of bringing light where there was darkness, insight where there was ignorance, and love where there was indifference?
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not questioning your sincerity. That’s between you and your own conscience. Of course St. Peter will have a few questions to ask in that regard when you arrive at the pearly gates. He keeps track of the inconsistencies. He’s not impressed with pretense and pomposity. So it’s not my job to question the sincerity of your motives or intentions.
But let me be very candid: with friends like you I don’t need enemies.
You assume that the self-proclaimed atheists are my enemy. Quite the contrary. The so-called atheists, and there is a long, impressive list as I’m sure you know, are not really my enemies at all. They are more often the enemies of narrow thinking, small-minded prejudice, and forced or coerced public statements of belief. They are the enemies of all the transparent hypocrisy that so often passes for religious piety and spiritual superiority.
It’s clear that you are not trying to urge them to change their minds and become believers. On the contrary, you have been using my name to promote your own candidacy—you’re trying to get elected by suggesting that I’ve endorsed you and your party.
I’m offended in a way that no honest atheist have ever offended me.
Since you know that you are not about to convert the honest atheist—on the contrary you know the atheist will be offended by your attempt to appropriate the religious language. So you’re preaching to the choir so they’ll sing your praises for using my name.
It is in vain!
You remember the commandment I carved on the stones I gave to Moses about not using my name in vain. It has a nice ring to it, if you know what I mean. Using my name for personal gain is using my name in vain.
You are using my name in vain every time you say things like, ‘As a people we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God’s purpose.’
As a people you need to dedicate yourself to feeding the hungry, educating the children—including those who live in poverty and aren’t likely to have help with their homework or come to school in the morning with a full stomach.
As a people you need to dedicate yourself to working for justice. Talk about the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, between the workers and the upper management. Quite frankly I’m offended with CEO’s who are taking millions of dollars a year from the pot. What in the world are you people thinking?
As a people you need to dedicate yourself to preventing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies instead of denying poor women access to the safe, clinical termination of those pregnancies. Are you willing to force them into the botched back-room abortions of the butchers? Is this about wanting to punish them for their sexual activity? Get over it!
As a people you need to dedicate yourself to building communities of support, mutual trust and a shared effort to give something back.
As a people you need to dedicate yourself to the biggest task of all—the internal work you need to do to get over your prejudices and fears, your self-involved sense of guilt which prevents you from enjoying life the way it was meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.
So please, stop using my name in vain for your personal gain. It’s so unbecoming.
Finally let me say that ordinarily I don’t listen to your political blather, but I have a huge cadre of people who are required to listen to every word you say—they are in hell and listening to you is their punishment!
They are paying penance for the sin of hypocrisy.
I hope I haven’t been too hard on you but all this God talk cried out for a response. Now you have it.
As I downloaded God’s response to the politicians who have been using his name I wasn’t at all surprised to see what he had to say.
I want you to know that I’ll take a lesson from God’s response and refrain from taking the names of those politicians in vain.
There are, however, major issues in this presidential campaign about which we should be talking openly. I hope we can find appropriate ways to do that in the coming weeks.