There’s supposed to be a wall of separation between church and state, with the Establishment Clause in our U.S. Constitution prohibiting the government from endorsing any particular creed. But there are times when this wall of separation seems only to exist in theory. Last I checked, most of the American people still expect their presidential candidates to believe in “God” and attend some kind of church. When’s the last time you remember having an atheist or agnostic President? That’s right, never. Even Democrats must portray themselves as pious and “God-fearing” if they are to have any chance at winning an election. Even if they really don’t believe in anything, they still have to pretend and name-drop “God” as much as possible. All of our Presidents so far have been Christians, and mostly of the mainstream Protestant variety. The only exceptions to this are one Roman Catholic (John F. Kennedy) and two Quakers (Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon). So while there is no legislation that requires a President to be Christian, this is clearly the way most Americans have wanted things to be for a very long time.
There are also plenty of religious leaders who stick their noses into politics all the time. Many have been trying to overturn Roe vs. Wade (1973), the controversial Supreme Court case in which abortion was legalized nationally for at least the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy. (And with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, they might actually have a shot at accomplishing this now.) Hell, these people will come right out and endorse particular candidates (usually Republicans), essentially instructing their parishioners on how to vote. This is technically against the law in light of the Johnson Amendment to the U.S. Tax Code (1954), which prohibits all tax-exempt non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing any political candidates. But churches get away with doing this all the time, and the government does nothing to penalize them or revoke their tax-exempt status. Now they want to ease the Johnson Amendment’s restrictions even further, which could result in churches becoming partisan super PACs (with the power to make tax-deductible political campaign contributions, no less). This will only erode the separation between church and state even further, making things worse.
The Johnson Amendment was originally enacted into law to benefit nonprofit organizations that exist for truly charitable purposes, such as feeding and sheltering the homeless. But while there are plenty of churches that engage in such humanitarian programs, this isn’t all they do. They actually spend far less of the revenue they generate on physical charity than they do on things like buying up property, promoting their ideologies, winning new converts, and so forth. (In the churches that adhere to the so-called “prosperity gospel,” the pastors will use their donation money to buy themselves mansions, limousines, or even their own private jets.) It would be one thing if their tax exemptions were limited to actual community services; I certainly don’t mind having my taxes go toward feeding hungry children at a church cookout for the homeless. But there is absolutely no reason for my money to be spent on subsidizing some evangelical church’s stained glass windows, communion wafers, or pro-life propaganda. I do not support or pray to the evangelical god or his saints, and neither does my wallet. That stuff should be paid for by Christians with their own funds, not by everyone regardless of whether we’re Christian or not. The same goes for Jews and synagogues, for Muslims and mosques, and for everyone else too. I believe that all tax exemptions for purely religious (as opposed to purely charitable) subsidies should be revoked, and that all churches should be taxed like the corporate businesses they really are, without exception.
If this were done, we would probably see more blatant political activism among these establishments; but at least it would be less hypocritical. We’d also likely see far fewer of them. If churches had to pay their fair share for the same public services that the rest of us must pay for (fire protection, streetlights, police, and roads), many of them would probably go bankrupt in less than a week. Given the sheer amount of influence these institutions continue to hold over American politics today, I don’t think this would be a bad thing. It would be nice if that influence could be mitigated in some way, and taxing churches would certainly help. The country would generate a shit-ton of tax revenue, as well; one study concluded that at least $82.5 billion is given to churches in tax exemptions per year. Can you imagine all the homeless people who could be fed, sheltered, and given medical care with that money? I know I can.
Now you may think it’s strange that a religious person would take a position like this, but here’s the thing. While I am ordained in the Universal Life Church Monastery, my ministry is not actually partnered with any tax-exempt organized church. I do not accept donations, I do not receive payments for any of my services, and I pay my taxes each year with no deductions. And since I don’t have any interest in seeking tax-exempt status, I am not under any obligation to keep my politics out of my religion (or vice versa). To revisit the subject of abortion, Christian pro-life activists get to voice their views on this highly politicized subject all the time, and the policies for which they lobby are serious infringements upon other people’s religious rights. Setians, for example, have absolute autonomy over their own lives, and the right to terminate a pregnancy is essential to a woman’s autonomy. By working to removing that right, pro-life activists are infringing upon the ability of Setian women to practice their religion. (Alas, these people seem to think that “religious freedom” applies only to themselves, and not to everyone else.)
Some people seem to think that being a political Pagan is something “new,” but there’s actually never been a time in history when Paganism didn’t have some kind of political aspect to it. Here are some examples of what I mean:
For my own part, I always vote left of center. I care more about social justice and the environment than I do about White Anglo-Saxon Protestant values. Perhaps my biggest beef in politics is the debate over gun control. Here’s my thing: I agree that our Second Amendment rights should be protected, but the National Rifle Association’s way of doing this is crazy unethical. They just want it to be easier for everyone to buy guns so the gun manufacturers can make big bank, which they do despite the fact that most Americans are not gun owners. All that revenue is clearly more important to people like Charleton Heston (a.k.a. “Moses”) than the issue of keeping kids safe, and that’s where my rage comes in. There is absolutely no reason why honest citizens can’t exercise their constitutional right to bear arms while also being in a national registry that contains any criminal or psychiatric histories that might warrant greater scrutiny. And I don’t care how much you try to bring the Bible into it; it should not be as easy as it is for some random asshole to just buy a gun, walk to a news office or a school, and wipe out scores of reporters or teachers or children. Sorry Ted Nugent, but there just aren’t any talking points beyond that very simple truth.
It would be great if people could keep their religions and their politics separate; but considering that these things have been correlated since the dawn of human civilization, I think this is an extremely unreasonable expectation. The best we can hope for is to keep secular government by the people, for the people alive, and to curb religion’s influence on public policy as much as possible. This is about to become much harder now that the Supreme Court is about to take a swing to the far right. To win this culture war, we need more politicians who are willing to push farther and harder to the left. The Democrats are too conciliatory with the Republicans, and every time the latter pull us more to the right, the former always try to meet them in the middle somewhere. We’ve been doing it that way for generations now, and we’ve swung so far to the right at this point that we’re closer to becoming a totalitarian state than we’ve ever been before. When our White House administration tries to justify the inhumane separation of asylum seekers’ families with a motherfucking Bible quote, even Christians should be able to recognize that something is profoundly wrong with the way things are. (Thankfully, some have.)
And to other Setians who would criticize me for expressing “social justice warrior sentiments,” all I can say is that in His mythos, Set is bisexual, possibly transgender, and strongly linked to immigrants and abortion. To take His name as a part of yourself, you pretty much have to be pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant, and pro-choice. If you call yourself a Setian and you have a problem with either of these positions, don’t blame me for your cognitive dissonance; you’ve brought it on yourself.