I was raised in the church.
Specifically, Florin United Methodist Church, located a little ways down Florin Road (if you hit Rainbow Foods, you've gone too far), in Florin, California. When my family moved to California, my mother got her first job at FUMC, as the children's choir director -- and there we stayed for 18 more years. My three siblings were baptized in that church; we played tag in its halls and hide and seek in its choir loft. When I was old enough, I was confirmed there, when I was in high school one of my best friends' funerals was held there, and hopefully one day our long-time reverend will officiate at my wedding.
I was also raised a liberal.
Specifically, I was raised in a family that believed self-sacrifice is important, but helping the less fortunate essential. My parents support legal aid advocates, homeless shelters and soup kitchens -- and they think the plight of America's poor is America's responsibility. They also believe in a woman's right to choose, and that welfare is not inherently a dirty word. They respect the freedoms of all peoples, no matter their religion -- or lack thereof -- their political affiliations or sexual orientation. What hippies, right?
Today, I stand as an unapologetic product of both religion and liberalism, and I think I am a better person because of it. Empirically, my religious beliefs have not, in fact, made me less intelligent. I did not take biology in college because I have never been able to memorize the six kingdoms of life (Eubacteria? Archaebacteria? Direct me towards James Joyce, please) -- and not because I believe human kind is a few thousand years old. Nor do I believe my progressive political leanings weakened my own personal relationship with God.
Here's the thing, people -- you can be both. Or, for that matter, neither. In fact, in this country there are many liberal Catholics, conservative Methods, conservative Jews, liberal Mormons, conservative atheists and liberal Muslims, not to mention the people of all faiths who are just really, really rude. (Are you listening, New York University dean's office?)
We as a society have become so polarized of late, the belief in a higher power has become a caricature, used to label vast groups of actually quite diverse peoples for the purpose of sweeping, often ignorant rhetoric and ideological cable network warfare.
Th proverbial hot button issue flavor of the month right now is birth control -- a perfect example. There are really only two classifications of import on this topic. To put it euphemistically, there are Americans who are biologically capable of using various FDA approved medical products designed to prevent pregnancies, and Americans who are not.
And yet, here comes newly-minted Cardinal Dolan, who led the charge, rallying the opposition against President Obama, arguing that faith-based employers should not have to cover employees' contraceptives. Cardinal Dolan is a representative of the Catholic Church. But that does not mean he represents all Catholic women on this issue -- the majority of whom have at one time or another used birth control. And he of course does not represent all Christians.
A part of me understands the unfortunate assumption, born of a gut reaction to such ridiculousness as the panel of church officials organized by Fox poster boy Sean Hannity. Comedian Jon Stewart lampooned a clip of the event on his show, as one by one, the handpicked focus group of all-male Christians assured Hannity that we are witnessing the beginning stages of full out war on Christianity. One of the clergymen even made an exceedingly tone deaf comparison between Obama's government and Hitler. It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the Jesus-inclined...
Not to be outdone, Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all made similar remarks. During last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, Gingrich, a recently converted Catholic himself, claimed Obama's next term will include "war" on the Catholic Church.
These types of comments sadden me deeply, because I know they will inevitably be used by people seeking to discredit not only Gingrich, or Catholics or even necessarily Christians for that matter, but all people of faith.
And it isn't fair.
Every hot button issue has a vocal, extremist faction that invariably steals the show--in the process ruining the reputation of the rest of the group. The Google search "Why do Christians hate gays" for example comes up with 391,000 hits in 0.13 seconds. It's a horribly depressing signifier. What about all of the Christians who are proudly progressive? Reverend Don Fado, a retired California Methodist leader -- and friend of my father's -- is a good example. From the media's perspective, it's generally a lot more fun to train our cameras on the homophobic protesters or out-of-touch bishops with their cassocks all in a bunch.
I should probably stop here. After witnessing Catholic League president Bill Donohue's public dismemberment of Nicki Minaj's Grammy "performance," I feel it's wise to steer clear of robed men wearing funny hats for now. Ultimately, my point is that it's become somewhat trendy of late for some very smart people to equate religion with ignorance, isolationism and intolerance. Religious people, just like the cross-section of Americans who prefer dogs over cats, or Irish accents over Australian, or Dunkin' over Starbucks, are not all alike. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader is a Mormon, and so is recently-recalled Arizona State Senator and ultra-conservative anti-immigration crusader Russell Pearce. Food for thought.
But now if you'll excuse me, I need to go contact Ms. Minaj about an exorcism. I don't know what's possessing journalist Liz Trotta, but if her bizarre recent appearance on Fox was any indication, we're going to need a lot of holy water.