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The politics of prayer

February 24th, 2016

 

As the sun sifted through the church’s stained glass window, the rays refused to comfort my shoulders with warmth.

 

It was reconciliation day at school, and as I shifted in my chair as the priest looked upon me with disappointed eyes, all I could was cry.

 

Between tears, I attempted to explain the root of my confusion. As I had gotten older, I had been told time and time again that the beliefs I held in my heart weren’t welcome.It should come at no surprise to readers now that politics is an inseperable part of my life. The older I became, the more I realized that my belief system I had developed  in terms of reproductive rights, marriage equality and the like were in opposition to what leaders of my church told me to think. After being told the figures I idolized were baby-killers and that my thoughts would land me in Hell (if I started to shut up, purgatory, if I was lucky), I figured I would give up a way of life that consistently made me feel unworthy.  Because religious adults in authority validated my peers’ criticism, I assumed that my beliefs were inherently at odds, and that I would never find a place in religion.

 

Every time I went to confession, I was hoping to get the reassurance in my belief that religion is so much more than manmade dogma and political pettiness. My admittance of the month that day was that I believed my best friend of 15 years, whom I loved more than life and happened to be gay, should be able to get married like the rest of us. As the young priest’s brow furrowed, he asked “Let me put it this way. Would you still be friends with a murderer or thief, too?” In my embarrassment, I straightened my plaid-skirt, choked back a sob, and ran to my locker as quickly as my saddle shoes could take me. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

 

In a time in my life when I was so desperately trying to find myself, the Church that formerly validated all of my harmless childhood speculations now made me feel like an unwanted visitor. In my 21 years of living, I haven’t known a worse feeling yet.

 

As I moved away from people in my past who saw Catholicism in such a limited way and realized that their thoughts were not representative of the very diverse body of thought that comprises the Catholic Church, I’ve come to a really comfortable place in my personal spirituality (thank you, Jesuits).

 

But as things usually go, just as I’ve gotten comfortable, little reminders of toxic-youth-groups-past make their way into my daily life. For example, a student in one of my classes said this week, “If you’re Christian, you’re voting [insert political party here]. To be fair, the political party to which the student was alluding has made some interesting claims as of late. Donald Trump said recently, “I will be the best representative Christians have had in a long time.” The most recent scuffle between Cruz and Rubio stemmed from a fake video released by Cruz making Rubio seem unlearned on the Old Testament. Even Kasich has said that he wants to “export and ‘push’ America’s Judeo-Christian belief system across the world.” All I can think of when I hear these things is “please get over yourselves.”

 

American culture has always favored exceptionalist mindsets in a multitude of arenas, whether it is nationalism, racial privilege,  gender roles or theocentrism. Since we have been ladled the kool-aid of being a Christian nation founded by white men, we have consequently coddled and protected that facet of the population in disproportionate ways.

 

When other groups make small steps of progress, “christian” politicians push back. Women have legal control of their bodies? That’s anti-Christian. The right to legal marriage being extended to all people? Anti-Christian. When undocumented immigrants are treated inhumanely, as young black children are killed innocently and the poor continue to get poorer and people of other faiths are disrespected, these same politicians remain comfortable and callous in their position of privilege.

 

I realized that the only explanation to people using their religion to explain otherwise illogical matters of politics or law, is fear. For what seems like the first time, people  our age are beginning to question the phenomenon of paristan prayerfulness. It is time for our nation to stop validating religious exceptionalism, it is only holding us back.