In Defense of Religion
by Noah Glyn | Rutgers University
An August story from Politico explained the Obama re-election strategy should Mitt Romney become the Republican nominee. As the authors explained, “Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, ‘weird.’”
The word “weird” set the political world abuzz with speculation. Everyone seemed to be asking, was this a cryptic reference to Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith? Of course not. There was nothing cryptic about it. “Weird” has often been used to describe Mormons–just watch the South Park episode or the subsequent Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon.”
One might think that President Obama would shy away from bringing up an opponent’s faith, lest his own associations with Reverend Jeremiah Wright be brought up again. Nevertheless, Mormonism is now tainted as “weird,” and there’s little that Mr. Romney can do to erase that perception.
But why stop with Mormonism? Every year, observant Jews swing chickens over their heads, because they believe it will help them atone for their sins. It’s hard to think of a more objectively “weird” religious practice. In comparison, Catholics believe that dipping a baby into water will absolve him of original sin. If a Martian landed in a church and witnessed this sacrament, he would probably consider it “weird.”
No religion can possibly stand up to the “weird” test. Outsiders can only understand so much about a specific religion before they roll their eyes, chuckle to themselves, and think, “What weirdos.”
This type of criticism seems to be expanding. Many people now reject the “weird” part of religion, and only uphold the parts that fit their larger worldview. President Obama, for instance, recently said at the National Prayer Breakfast that raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans “coincides with Jesus’ teaching that for whom much is given much shall be required. It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who have an obligation to use those blessings to help others or the Jewish doctrine moderation, consideration for others.” Ah yes, Republicans should not forget the 11th Commandment: “Raise the top marginal tax rate to 39 percent.”
Aside from the economics underlying the President’s argument, he is clearly embracing a very specific vision of Christianity. Instead of teaching that redemption lies through Christ alone, this vision explains that Jesus was just a nice Jewish boy from Nazareth who had some good ideas about helping poor people. Many Jews hold the same thing to be true of Judaism–stop swinging that chicken and promote social justice. This diluted form of religion teaches one lesson only: be a good person.
Playwright David Mamet compares this religious experience to taking a bath with your socks on–something’s just not right. One need’nt be Christian or Jewish to be a good person; atheists can be as charitable as any believer. If you believe that the only “good” aspect of a religion is its teachings regarding helping those less fortunate than yourself, then there’s no need to continue to associate with that religion at all.
There is, in fact, something inherent in every religion that makes it different from all others. Religions are not simply political tools to expand the welfare state. They provide a path for mankind to communicate with the divine and to seek personal and collective redemption. While people may be imperfect, religion connects us with our perfect Creator. Judaism teaches that individuals can do this on their own, while Christianity counters that this can only be accomplished by accepting Jesus.
Many people swear allegiance to these basic ideas, but they betray them with their actions. Supporters of expansive government control, like the President, trotted the Catholic Bishops out when they endorsed Obamacare. Now that Catholics oppose the new Obamacare regulation that forces them to pay for contraception and abortifacients, they’re accused of being anti-women. Liberals love Catholics when they speak about social justice, but the second sex is mentioned, they scream, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” Religion, for them, becomes more about confirming political priorities rather than reaching new spiritual heights.
Religion, though, is a two way street. There are obvious “good” parts, but there are also “weird” rituals and customs that some might like to forget about. The “weird” can be far more meaningful for believers, because it permits them to reach out to the divine in a unique way.
If you are Mormon, wear your weirdness as a badge of honor. If you’re Catholic, accept Jesus into your life. If you’re Jewish, you might have to wait until the fall, but make sure you swing that chicken around your head with pride.Noah Glyn is an Agostinelli Fellow at the National Review, and a candidate for a master's degree in public policy from Rutgers University. He writes from a conservative perspective on economic, cultural, political, educational and foreign policy issues.