10/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Religions: Real Christianity and Political Christianity

Elections bring out the Pharisees. Political parties and many politicians proclaim their brand of Christianity at a high pitch of righteous declaration. When did we lose complete sight of Matthew, chapter 6? Jesus makes it plain that our charitable deeds should be done in secret, and that we not be like the hypocrites praying on street corners. Pray to your God in a secret place. The Christian religion is complicated. It encourages humility, modesty and forgiveness, and these moral imperatives need work. They do not come easily to us. To adhere to real Christianity is tough; political Christianity is a breeze.

In the Bible, there are conflicting versions of creation, of the birth narrative of Jesus and whether the Sermon on the Mount happened instead on a plain. Jesus, however, was quite clear in the Beatitudes, that aiding the poor and needy, tolerance, ending oppression, love of brother for brother and kindness are the real tenets of his ministry. These teachings are one of the most moving pieces of writing in our lexicon. Remember Jesus overturning the money tables in the temple? We should follow suit with our rampant lending scandals and regulate the scoundrels, not embolden them.

Remember, too, that Jesus was not an ardent fan of the rich man. So how is it that often the political brand of religious piety and fervor coincides with self-interest more than the needs of others or indeed of the Ten Commandments? Bearing false witness is an obvious example. None of us is above reproach, but most of us know it and judge just a bit less, in order that we be not judged. Candidates for office, on the other hand, fulminate falsifications against their opponents with regularity. Piety and politics are magnetic poles.

When you hear Governor Palin talk about killing great numbers of caribou for sport or shooting wolves and bears (part of God's creation, too) from the air, causing great suffering to the animals, does that sound like Christian behavior? Or just dancing around the golden calf before Moses laid down the law? Cruelty was never the intent of Jesus. Is the excuse here the Biblical "dominion" that God gives man? Hold it. Here comes the hitch. Dominion is not the same as demolition. It is not a license to kill. The true concept is one of increasing bounty and abundance through acts of responsibility, stewardship and husbandry. We are enjoined to take only what we need and not be greedy. Remember those annoying seven deadly sins?

We are at a tipping point in our beautiful country on many different horizons. Claims of religious intent (God told me to) should be viewed with alarm. Wars should be the last resort, not play time for so-called experienced officials. "Yee-Haw," as the bumper sticker says, "is not a foreign policy." Evolution is part of science, and science is at the heart of understanding our universe, ourselves, and the very essence of life and death. If you are a believer in real Christian theology, this is all part of God's plan. We are expected to use our minds and hearts to our utmost abilities.

Historically, God sends us tests. Global warming is clearly a big one. Drilling for more oil sounds great, right? Lower those prices and we are easy riders again. But here is another hitch. More oil increases carbon emissions into the air. Those emissions increase heat levels on earth. Then our world goes topsy-turvy. Those who do not believe man is a proximate cause of climate change are in denial. Governor Palin, like Cleopatra, is the Queen of de Nile. The Bush administration, in the giant shadow of the oil companies, has failed to move us ahead into renewable energy sources and conservation. We can convert to new sources with leadership that understands the choice given us between despoiling the earth and sustaining and enriching it.

As voters we should beware bellicose taunts and sarcasm. Those taunts are a cover for going backwards. Much safer guidelines to listen for and to trust are intelligent, level- headed, and mentally agile proposals and approaches to our problems. . McCain is too old for agility anymore and the Palin choice speaks to his judgment and sincerity. We need wisdom in our places of power, not "Yee-Haw" and "lock and load."

All cultures including our own Judeo-Christian traditions have petitioned and sacrificed to God for good harvest and protection from the elements. In our prayers, many of us still do. And in those prayers, we should ask for wisdom, acumen and kindness. We should all pray quietly in our secret places for enlightenment. These are perilous times and this is a test we had better get right. Let us listen to T.S.Eliot in the Four Quartets:

"Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men..........or of belonging to God. The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."