That's not to say that there wasn't a predominantly Christian orientation in my younger years. I remember when the words "under God" were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s. I had just entered school and learned the pledge, only to have it changed the next year. I struggled to remember the new wording. And no one had a problem with Christmas decorations or saying "Merry Christmas" or calling the spring school break Easter vacation.
But even by the time I got to junior high school (what's now called middle school), I was somewhat surprised that we said the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of school assemblies. I remember sneaking peeks at my Jewish friends to see if they were reciting the words as well. They were. I'm not sure they realized it was Christian. These were the years when Madalyn Murray O'Hair and the American Atheists were making headlines with their lawsuits about religion in the schools. I was very aware of issues of religious freedom.
In the intervening decades, American society has become more politically correct and divorced from religion. Respect for those of other faiths--and no faith--has led to almost an embarrassment when any mention of a particular belief comes up in daily conversation. Church attendance has dwindled.
On the other hand, the religious beliefs of American presidents have always been of concern to the American public. With the Protestant history of the founding fathers, it was expected that the President would attend some church on a regular basis. When John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president, there were (unfounded) concerns as to whether he would be taking direction from the Vatican. More recently, there was the brouhaha over whether Barack Obama was Muslim or Christian. Always there was the expectation that, while a President would have a belief system that would guide him in his daily life, he (or she) would not allow those beliefs to impinge on the rights and beliefs of any other American citizen.
Until now. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are conservative Christians and favor political policies that would make law their personal religious beliefs. Specifically I'm thinking of their opinions on birth control and abortion and gay rights.
Now, my beliefs tend to align with theirs. I believe that "normal" marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. But I have a friend who is in a committed gay relationship. I don't believe he and his partner are the spawn of Satan. Emotionally, I believe life begins at conception. My gut tells me that abortion is the taking of a human life. But there are plenty of arguments for life beginning at a different stage in the development of a new human being.
I'm not so certain of my beliefs in these areas that I think we have the right to mandate that those with different beliefs be subject to them. Maybe that's a failing on my part.
What I find surprising is that not only do we have two candidates who believe that they can mandate their beliefs as the law of the land, there are apparently a large number of American citizens who believe the same way based on the most recent Republican primary results. And this didn't happen in the Bible Belt. These results came from Colorado and Minnesota as well as Missouri.
I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I find it encouraging that there's a resurgence in Christian belief. It's encouraging that people are willing to stand up for these beliefs after so many years of keeping quiet. On the other hand, I find the idea of imposing one group's beliefs on the whole country disconcerting. Where do you draw the line?
Outlawing abortion is, in my opinion, the same as mandating that Catholic employers supply insurance coverage for it. In both cases it's the government insisting that a value be supported by those who do not believe in it. Now, we do this all the time. Murder is illegal in all states because we, as a nation, believe that murder is wrong. States mandate that their residents pay taxes to support public education because we believe that education is right and necessary.
I suppose that there are some who believe that murder should be legal and that education isn't necessary. I don't propose legalizing murder or closing the schools because of that.
But if a gay couple gets married, who do they hurt?
I don't have the answers to these questions. Heck, I'm not sure I even have the questions. What I do have is a general malaise over the government's right to intrude in people's personal lives and belief systems.