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Posts Tagged ‘religion and politics’

            I read an interesting post on the St. Petersburg blog by Karen Cyphers about “interparty” dating.  In 1960 only 5% of people were opposed to people of different political parties dating.  In 2010 that number has gone over 40% – for Republicans it is close to 50%.  Cyphers compared this to the trajectory of approval of interracial dating.  In 1958 only 4% approved of interracial dating.  In 2010 that number grew to 86%.  What is interesting about the graph published on the blog showing this data is that the growth of those against interparty dating has spiked upwards since 2008 – the year the first African American president was elected.

The statistic missing from Cyphers’ blog post was attitudes regarding interfaith dating.  My guess is that the graph for this would follow the trend for interracial dating.  From 1958 until now I believe there would be tremendous increase in the acceptance of interfaith dating.  I think this graph would be a steady increase, rather evenly through the decades as opposed to the spike in approval of interracial dating in the last 5 years.

Some might be surprised that interfaith dating was even controversial.  While it might have never been quite as controversial as interracial dating, Americans today are quick to forget the deep religious prejudices that plagued our country for much of its history.  The KKK had Catholics on its hate list right along with Jews and blacks.  Protestant prejudice against Catholicism was quite deep.  It took a special appearance by John Kennedy and a speech to the Houston Ministerial Association to allay fears enough for Kennedy, a Catholic, to carry Texas in the election.  So Catholic/Protestant dating for the first half of the 20th century was almost as unthinkable as any kind of Jewish/Christian dating.  Today, I cannot imagine much opposition to interfaith dating except for Moslems.  They have not yet gained enough of America’s trust to be THAT accepted.

All of this leads me to another thought.  If dating someone from another political party now creates more objections than interfaith dating, is that a sign that politics is now the new religion?  Allow me to explain.

For most of American history religious affiliation really had little to do with choice of political party.  True, Jews have voted Democratic in consistently high numbers, but that is because of the political needs of the generations of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century.  Many east European Jews were not religious at all, but were politically active in labor movements.  They naturally gravitated to similar political affiliation in America.  However, it was hard to argue that one should be Democrat based on the Torah.  Further, Jews were and still are a tiny minority of the American religious population.  The greater Christian population was well represented in both political parties.  Although the Catholic vote was once mostly Democratic, that eroded much faster than the Jewish vote, which is still overwhelmingly Democratic.  Those who today identify Evangelicals as Republicans, forget that Democrat Jimmy Carter was really the first Evangelical to inject his faith into the political arena by speaking about how his faith led him to certain political positions.

Now, I venture to say, that a person’s political beliefs influence their choice of faith far more than their faith influences politics.  Unlike the past, if you know someone’s political party, you can probably predict their religion.  It was during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency that the concept of a politician being chosen or approved of by God really got traction in the political arena.  More and more church leaders who leaned Republican began to tell their congregations that if they were truly believers in God/Christ – whatever, they would vote Republican.  In other words the test of their faith was based on a political choice.

What about the Jewish world?  Well, I am sad to say that most non-Orthodox Jews use their politics to define their religion.  I have to constantly remind congregants that agreeing with the platform of the Democratic Party does not necessarily make one a good Jew.  A Baptist minister friend of mine joked that mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream with manure.  The ice cream will not improve the manure and the manure will surely spoil the ice cream.  I will leave you to decide what in this analogy is the ice cream and what is the manure.

We seem unable to understand is that religion and politics, if operating properly, are operating in separate arenas.  Religion is supposed to connect one with what is divine in our world.  It is supposed to make us God oriented and God sensitive.  Along the way it points to moral and ethical problems along with our need to live morally.  Our faith sensitizes us to need.  Our choice of politics only represents the policy choice we make to address that need.  There is no political mandate in religion.  Allow me to give an example.

In this week’s Torah portion we are given some instructions as to how to alleviate suffering.  Deuteronomy 24:17 – 22 teaches not to subvert the rights of strangers and the fatherless; to leave some of the gleanings in the fields for the destitute along with fruit from trees and vines.  Since very few of us own fields, orchards, or vineyards how should we carry out these commandments which, in summary, tell us to do our part to relieve the suffering of the poor?  Politicians will give various ways to solve this.  Democrats will urge social programs.  Republicans will insist on a combination of the free market providing work opportunities along with individual charity.  Religion, including Judaism, does not mandate the details of solutions.  It only commands that we care enough about the poor to find a solution.

So I conclude that our political affiliations are now the most defining  boundaries in our country.  Few people really care about what church or synagogue you attend.  In fact affiliation rates are dropping fast for all religious denominations.  No, identities are more defined by the church of Democrat and the church of Republican.  And don’t you dare bring home someone from the other side to mom and dad.

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            The end of the war found Charlotte living in Westfalen, an industrial district in Germany.  A series of jobs ended with her working in a lithographic office.  It was during this time that she became interested in and involved in politics.  Her mother joined the KPD (German Communist Party) after the war.  After that she was recruited for the Free German Youth – a Communist affiliated youth movement started by Germans living in exile in England during the war.

When someone has lived through intense oppression and has witnessed the atrocities of a regime like the Nazis, they often develop an extreme ideology in reaction to their life experiences.  Nazism is the extreme end of the conservative/right wing of the political spectrum.  Communism is the extreme end of the liberal/left wing of the political spectrum.  Both have led to totalitarian regimes in which power, in the name of the masses of believers in the system, is concentrated in the hands of a very few.  The tenants of the ideology justify, in the minds of the followers, this concentration of power.  It is seen as a necessity in order to create an “ideal” system.

For Charlotte Romberg, her life experiences and the realization of the truth of Hitler, made her a receptive vessel for the Communist perspective on the world.  Through her involvement in the Free German Youth, she came to believe that it was capitalism that was the cause of all the evils of the world.  It was capitalism that led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.  It was capitalism that was the cause of all war.  The idealism of the youth movement she joined was a vision of a world without weapons and without war.  This was truly the vision of Isaiah (Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor with they study war any more).  But it was placed within the context of a Communist system, not a religious system.

Her exposure to Communism taught Charlotte several things.  First, and perhaps most important, was the falseness of Hitler’s racial theories.  Second, was that the Russian people suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis.  This, of course, is quite true.  The Nazis were incredibly cruel to the Russians in the territories they occupied.  It is also true that the Soviet regime under Stalin was as repressive and repulsive as the Nazis.  Millions of political opponents to Stalin were murdered.  Soviet anti-Semitism, while not having the goal of the physical extermination of Jews, tried to keep Jews from any kind of religious expression and the result was an oppression that moved many Soviet Jews to flee to America as well as Israel.  All of these are easily overlooked when one has the idealism of youth confirmed by oppressive childhood experiences.

Charlotte went to the DDR (East Germany) to study in a seminar on Communist political activism.  She also met her first husband there and returned to West Germany to continue her political activism.  In 1953 was the World Youth Games in Berlin.  Youth came from all over the world but those in West Germany were turned away by West German authorities at the border.  The Cold War had already begun.  After the third try she was let into East Berlin.  The theme of the games was peace and friendship for all nations.

By 1955 Charlotte was pregnant with her first child.  As it is difficult to be a political activist with a young child, her friends suggested that she return to the DDR.  She lived there until 1964 getting the education she was not able to get while a child growing up in Nazi dominated Germany.  In addition to political indoctrination she also learned the arts, music and German literature.  But Charlotte always felt that her real work was in West Germany, so she returned to live there.

For many years, especially the height of the Cold War years of the 1950’s, the KPD was outlawed in West Germany.  Charlotte’s first husband was imprisoned for his political work.  But in 1968 a legal Communist party was formed in West Germany and Charlotte spent most of her adult years advancing left wing causes.  The most successful demonstration she described was a protest against nuclear weapons in which 300,000 Germans participated.  They formed a human chain from Bonn to Stuttgart.  She lived for many years in the Baden-Wurttenburg area and was politically active until the early 1990’s.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the coming down of the Berlin Wall, and the breakup of the Eastern European Communist block was a shock to Charlotte and her companions.  She said that they still discuss how this could happen today.  She mentioned that my father did not approve of her politics.  I explained that this was understandable as Dad was very involved in left wing politics as a young person, even helping the Communist controlled furniture worker’s union organize a factory in New York after the war.  But as he opened his own business, he became totally disillusioned with both the union and Communism.  While maintaining liberal attitudes about many things, Dad was without doubt opposed to union control and Communism.  He was proud of the sister he found late in life, but absolutely did not approve of her politics.

It is easy to understand how the combination of child experiences at the hands of the Nazis could lead to an embrace of Communism.  The cognitive dissonance that Charlotte experienced regarding Hitler was resolved through an embrace of an idealistic political philosophy.

But of course this is just a new form of cognitive dissonance for the many Communist followers who do not see that the totalitarian methods of the Communists resulted in the suppression of many people’s human rights in the name of the workers.  One cannot dismiss the Soviet gulags or the large waves of people who sought freedom in the west.  In the end, extremism on the left ends up in the same place as extremism on the right.  I hope one day I am able to discuss this with my aunt.

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