MLK Day has come early for the Dallas Morning News' Sunday op-ed section

In his Sunday sermon this week in the op-ed section of The Dallas Morning News, conservative columnist Rod Dreher makes a familiar argument about religion and politics-- one that I've heard made, for instance, by Marvin Olasky, the brains behind President Bush's "compassionate conservative" program, the one that continues to fund Christian organizations with federal tax money.

The argument is this: Liberals can't celebrate the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King on the one hand but attack the intrusion of conservative evangelicals into politics on the other. Both movements are inspired by and are putting into action their Christian faith. Religion either belongs in politics or it doesn't, you can't have it both ways and still cite 'separation of church and state."

Not surprisingly, this is simple-minded nonsense -- the kind of black/white, either-or, with-us-or-against-us thinking that is one of the more pernicious hallmarks of, well, ahem, much conservative religious writing. There's no logical, legal or ideological problem with Americans picking out those aspects of any faith that contribute to American democracy. As a people, as a system of government, why should we do otherwise? It is to our benefit to do so, especially in those instances, as in the civil rights movement, when people risked their lives to make America fulfill its stated ideals.

Similarly, there is no problem with rejecting those aspects of any religion that would drag Americans into inhumane, less-than-democratic evils. In arguing against this, Msgr. Dreher would seem to be suggesting that we must accept any idiotic or dangerous, religious idea put forward by an elected official or movement because of our expressed belief in freedom of religion. But of course -- thank goodness! -- he doesn't believe such idiocy: The good monsignor promptly rejects Islam -- which he has done before, repeatedly -- as it is morally and politically reprehensible, unfit for any civilized American.

If the above argument about picking and choosing among religious ideas and practices is not true, then perhaps the good monsignor will explain whether he still holds to those passages in the Bible that justify slavery? (See, for example, Exodus 21:20-21) These passages were vehemently employed for more than two centuries by the Christian defenders of Southern slavery and segregation -- so much so that a number of abolitionists and civil rights workers over the years came to hate Christianity outright and became atheists. See, for example, Bayard Rustin, the gay, Communist pacifist who was at least as responsible as Dr. King was for the success of the March on Washington.

And if religious conservatives like Msgr. Dreher keep claiming Dr. King for their own arguments, then I await that holy day when I will say hallelujah as they declare that they also embrace Dr. King's socialist politics and his pacifism, derived not only from Jesus but that other great source of his inspiration: Mohandas K. Gandhi.

But alas, book/daddy is not holding his breath.

In expectation of that holy day, however, I ask the congregation to join me in singing the fine old hymn, hymn #47:

"Let us praise God. Oh Lord, oooh you are so big. So absolutely huge. Gosh, we're all really impressed down here I can tell you. Forgive us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying and barefaced flattery. But you are so strong and, well, just so super. Fantastic. Amen."

(Michael Palin as the chaplain in The Meaning of Life)

December 16, 2007 2:33 PM |



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