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The Rapture Party

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Message Jayne Stahl
The way things have been shaping up lately, it looks like we no longer have a Republican party, or a Democratic party, we now have a Rapture party. And, the way things are going, instead of pledging allegiance to the flag, we may soon be pledging allegiance to a shiny gold crucifix.

In the past week alone, both presidential candidates McCain and Obama have had high profile pow-wows with evangelist Billy Graham, and his son, Franklin. McCain has even prayed, with Frankin, “for God’s will to be done in this upcoming election.” And, while the senator from Arizona envisons America as a “Christian nation,” the senator from Illinois is quick to point out that faith, for him, is a “personal commitment to Christ.”

Yes, and both the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders are enraptured by the thought of the Second Coming, and both have ideas to buy the Apocalypse on an installment plan. After all, for some, the war in Iraq isn’t just about acquisition of oil, but about establishing, through military means, the Lord’s dominion on earth, and breaking down any pesky little irritations like constitutional amendments, the First Amendment, that insist legislators “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
But, luckily for McCain and Obama, sodomy laws don’t apply to what they’re now doing to the First Amendment. And, while the senator from Illinois touts what he considers the Second Amendment right to bear arms, we don’t hear a peep from him about any constitutional guarantees of separation between church and state.

Indeed, while both Bush and McCain are proponents of privatizing social security and health care, Obama now supports privatizing anti-poverty efforts by turning them over to clergy, and religious organizations, thereby secularizing clergy and endowing government with religious powers.

And, sounding more and more like a neo-con every day, on a trip to Zanesville, Ohio, yesterday, Obama said that the country’s current challenges “are simply too big for government to solve alone,” and that, if elected president, he plans to enhance Bush’s faith-based initiatives by steering taxpayer federal bucks, formerly used on social service agencies, to religious groups, and renaming the president’s program the “Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”

Yes, Obama pledges to expand the budget for social services by another half a billion a year which would go to an education fund for poor youngsters. Apart from looking to religious organizations for funding, his plan will also allow them to hire and fire based on faith, but only when there is no taxpayer money attached.

But, the thought of looking to the neighborhood ministry, or YMCA, to provide food, shelter, and sustenance to the indigent instead of to the government is ludicrous, and insolent, when one compares the Pentagon budget to that of one’s church.

What’s more, a budget of $500 million a year for 1 million indigent inner city youngsters is a drop in the bucket when compared with the obscenity of an estimated $3 trillion spent on the war in Iraq, and many millions more approved for future military exploits.

Frankly, any proposal to let religious charities be earmarked for federal funding only if they use religious observance as a criterion for endowment is strongly reminiscent of the programs that use abstinence-only requirements in order to secure HIV/AIDS funding. This is not only reactionary, but dangerous thinking.

Obama finds himself in the awkward position of being in bed with the president when it comes to his agreement that faith-based organizations have a much larger role to play in serving those most needy among us. There is an important distinction, however. When it comes to employment, Bush backs permitting all religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious belief whereas Obama would only allow discrimination in faith-based employment as long as there are no tax dollars involved. Either way, this movement into Bush country comes so close to cloning it would make Dolly the Sheep pale by comparison.
In a country where 80% of its electorate practices some form of religion, it seems like a plausible campaign move to exploit religion.

That said, ironically, in a nation founded in response to the need for religious diversity, neither Obama nor McCain allow for the existence of religious minorities like Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, or the freedom not to believe altogether. Both exploit through emphasis the monologue of Christianity—McCain calling this a “Christian nation,” and Obama talking about the role his Christian faith played in his work as a community organizer to “fulfill God’s will,” and do “the Lord’s work.” (AP) Within the a framework that recognizes Christians only, there is no room for dialogue, and there is no role for peace without dialogue.

And, who needs a pajama party, when you can have a Rapture party?

By now, Thomas Jefferson would be rolling over in his grave were he to hear this nonsense from either of the contenders for it was Jefferson who wrote “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest of ignorance of which their civil as well as their religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Indeed, and avail they will.

With this talk of doing the Lord’s work, his recent professions of pulp patriotism, his defense of McCain’s military service, and references to Ronald Reagan, not to mention response to Supreme Court rulings overturning the death penalty and the D.C. handgun ban, as well as his endorsement of the latest FISA legislation that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms that engaged in electronic surveillance, thereby becoming agents of the National Security Agency, Senator Obama reminds us of another senator, Bill McKay, in the 1972 box office hit, “The Candidate.”

You’ll recall that Bill McKay, played memorably by Robert Redford, was a liberal lawyer with no political ambition who was chosen, and primed, to run for an important Senate seat against a popular Republican. Many saw parallels between the character of McKay, and that of John F. Kennedy. The movie’s tagline was: “Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.”

Well, there are more than a few parallels between Bill McKay and Barack Obama not only insofar as McKay’s opponent was portrayed as old, and haggard, but inasmuch as, the closer he got to election day, the more McKay’s support for abortion rights, and gun control started to wane. And, the more pliable, and maleable he was to party elders, the more success he had in the polls. McKay wins the Senate seat, of course, but he is a shill, a shell of his former self.

During this summer re-run, pre-election, season, it might be instructive for those, including Sen. Obama, who have yet to see “The Candidate,” to rent the DVD. Otherwise, come January, we may well hear President Obama echo McKay’s words “what do we do now?”
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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