Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Which America

A few years ago I was on a flight and got talking with a woman who was an orthodox Calvinist.  Before we left the plane she remarked that we worshiped a different Jesus.  She was probably correct.  There are more than one important areas of life where such a distinction is possible.

I've been thinking a lot about patriotism since a few days before the 4th.  I walk around my neighborhood and see lots of American flags.  I hear the arguments about the flood of child immigrants and what should be done about them.  I read questions about the on-going mess in Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and more other places than I can name and wonder what we can do, should do in the wider world.   I hear folk of various political stripes claiming patriotism and often accusing other folk of not having any...  I think that we are often talking about a different America.

Now I realize this is a caricature and an over-simplification,  but there are those for whom America is a white, middle class,  Protestant country whose actions in the world are always righteous and good and for whom the free market is the answer to any and all problems.  When one of these folk says that Obama is not a "true American," they are being literally accurate.  When one questions or worse yet, condemns, the actions of the US in the world, they really are being traitorous to this understanding of America.  Likewise when someone who holds this view of the US looks at me and says that I am not patriotic, they are absolutely correct.  Indeed, I have always been wary of calling myself patriotic for fear that I would be seen as ascribing to this understanding of the US.

It is not the only picture of America though.   There is another way to see America, forgive again the caricature.  That vision says that America is a nation of immigrants - all colors, all cultures, all religions - coming together to build a new kind of society.  It is a nation that speaks of justice and mercy and welcome first and foremost and which truly believes the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.  It is a nation where the government is by and for the people, which while imperfect, really does seek the good and is necessary for society to be its best.  To this second vision, I proudly affirm I am patriotic.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby is all over the web these days getting everything from praise from folk who believe in the personhood of corporations to vilification by those who see a war on women coming from the right.

As I watch the complaints from the left, I think most are missing the point.  Yes, I agree there is a war on women being waged by the far right and that the right wing of SCOTUS is clearly leading the charge.  I do not see that as the primary question in the Hobby Lobby case.  While the presenting issue is coverage of contraceptives (and yes, Hobby Lobby did cover most contraceptives and planned to continue doing so), that is not the real issue on the table.  The real question is whether or not a corporation has the right to exercise freedom of religion.  In its continuing expansion of the concept of personhood to corporations, SCOTUS has ruled that yes indeed, corporations, at least "closely held" ones, enjoy freedom of religion.

I can't say how ludicrous that sounds to me.  Corporations do not make religious commitments.  Period.   As conservative Christians, I would expect the owners of Hobby Lobby to laugh at the idea of the company making "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savoir and being baptized to show repentance from sin."  Companies simply do not have religion.  So how can they exercise freedom of religion?  Yes, corporations are comprised of people, but under normal circumstances, a religious test is illegal when hiring so we can't assume any particular religious commitments among employees.  It is also true that owners, especially in "closely held" corporations may have some consensus around religious belief, but the entire reason to form a corporation is to move the individuals a step away from the business and limit their liability.  They are not completely identified with the corporation.  Imagine if the owners of Hobby Lobby all died in a plane crash tomorrow.  Would the company die as well?  No, because it is not those owners and it does not even depend on their survival. 

Here is the piece that really worries me.  When you take a concept as central to our identity in the US as Freedom of Religion and apply it in such a stupid and inappropriate way, it damages the concept and will only give fuel to those who already think freedom of religion should be freedom from religion.  This case will come back to bite those of us who take freedom of religion seriously and will hurt those for whom it really is an important issue.