04 July 2007

E. B. White on Faith in Government

I've never been one to take part in the Blogging Against Things meme, but some of E. B. White's essay, "Bedfellows," reminded me today of some ideas put forth by my esteemed friends Evil Bender and The Lizard Queen. I decided to shamelessly copy some of my favorite essayist's words on President Eisenhower's declaration that prayer was a fundamental part of democracy:
A President should pray whenever and wherever he feels like it (most Presidents have prayed hard and long, and some of them in desperation and agony), but I don't think a President should advertise prayer. That is a different thing. Democracy, if I understand it at all, is a society in which the unbeliever feels undisturbed and at home. If there were only half a dozen unbelievers in America, their well-being would be a test of our democracy, their tranquility would be its proof. The repeated suggestion by the present administration that religious faith is a precondition of the American way of life is disturbing to me and, I am willing to bet, to a good many other citizens. President Eisenhower spoke of the tremendous favorable mail he received in response to his inaugural prayer in 1953. What he perhaps did not realize is that the persons who felt fidgety or disquieted about the matter were not likely to write in about it, lest they appear irreverent, irreligious, unfaithful, or even un-American. [...]

I hope that belief never is made to appear mandatory. One of our founders, in 1787, said, "Even the diseases of the people should be represented." Those were strange, noble words, and they have endured. They were on television yesterday. I distrust the slightest hint of a standard for political rectitude, knowing that it will open the way for persons in authority to set arbitrary standards of human behavior.
While I don't agree with White on everything, I think he hits the nail on the head in this essay. As a person who holds firmly to the Christian faith, I obviously see value in religious conviction. But I also see how perverted and twisted religion inevitably becomes when it is tangled with politics, and that makes me a strong opponent of any sort of theocracy, regardless of how well-intentioned it may be.

If you've got some extra time, I'd heartily recommend reading the rest of this essay, "Bedfellows." Its main topic is is the ghost of Fred, White's dead dachsund, who haunts the writer's sickbed. Also, Democrats. :-) Good stuff.

1 comment:

LQ said...

I like that. Makes me think of Matthew 6:5-6 (totally had to ask EB for that reference -- but I remembered that it was from the Gospels, which I'm pretty proud of myself for). I'm quite wary of people who are vociferous about their prayer habits, who pray on street corners, as it were. I've been given plenty of reasons in my personal life to be wary of such things, but it also comes down to what White says, the potential for "open[ing] the way for persons in authority to set arbitrary standards of human behavior."

In short, great post! :)