Many issues of a political, economic, and social nature also are spiritual or ethical in part. No major religion is devoid of teaching values that influence our decisions regarding how society should be organized. Atheists and agnostics also know that all of us need to cooperate and share this planet in a manner that is consistent with the common good. Many of us feel our duty to a higher power, some of us call God, requires us to see our fellow human beings as we view ourselves. We may differ about how society should be organized, the role of the free market, the size of government, and the meanings of scripture and our Constitution. At the same time, we are also in a conflict as to how we must behave morally and/or ethically.
Our media in the past few months have been saturated with stories of powerful people caught with their trousers down (some of them volunteered). These sexual scandals, as interesting and as humorous as they appear to be, have allowed us to change the focus of attention off the serious problems this nation and the international community face. Judgment by the public regarding the suitability of the politicians, sport celebrities, television and movie performers have a moral almost Calvinistic tone. It has always been easy to ruin a person’s reputation in this nation when the scandal is of a sexual nature because of our Puritan origin. Our nation takes religion seriously. No other nation that is advanced economically shows such religious fervor and affiliation.
This religious fervor has also been directed towards the abolition of slavery, civil rights for racial and ethnic minorities, fair working conditions, the perusal of peace, human rights, and humane prison conditions, among many other issues. People have used the scripture and our Constitution as a reason to oppose and to treat men and women as commodities, to persecute and also to assist the indigenous people of the continent, to allow and to oppose children working in dangerous situations, and to oppose or support worker rights to organize and bargain collectively. This is the paradox and mystery of religious and civic fervor.
It is evident, at least to this writer, that our most sacred documents and ideals can be used for divergent opinions and political ends. As I write this column, I recall the films of an Italian immigrant, Frank Capra. Most of us are familiar with his Christmas classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I urge you to view his other films, especially, “You Can’t Take With You,” “ Meet John Doe,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “ Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Mr. Capra, a Republican in politics, loved this nation and was able to see how the average American can be made to live a sad existence because of powers beyond his or her control. His films are considered cheerful, corny, full of patriotic and human optimism. When I viewed the films, I saw also darkness, despair, despondency, fear and hopelessness. Capra was an excellent judge of stories that are also of a religious or ethical nature without being of a specific denomination or philosophy. It has been said that America may never have existed if it had not been for Frank Capra.
Many Americans are in despair because our economic and social fabric is in such disarray. Our troops are always in harm’s way. Corrupt bankers and corporate leaders, it would appear, have been rewarded for their malfeasance and misfeasance. Our religious and moral leaders and teachers are concerned about abortion, homosexual rights, contraception, prayers in the schools, and the display of the Decalogue in public and civic places. There has not been much display of concern for the human suffering caused by a society that is increasingly inequitable. Religious and moral leaders should address the sexual nature of the human condition but never neglect the larger issue of collective responsibility for each other. I invite leaders and followers of all religious communities to comment on these observations.