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Freedom, Faith and Politics

Photo taken of the main sign of Gettysburg Col...

Getttysburg College

Yesterday, I read in the comments section of a liberal, American website, “we should get rid of all conservatives, then our country will be just fine”. This is fairly common.

In a typical pattern, a second writer will agree, then eventually, someone will weigh in to bring the comments back to earth with a reminder of  Lenin, Stalin and the “Group Think” of Nazi Germany.

A similar pattern develops on many conservative websites, though most conservatives don’t want to kill liberals, they want to legislate them.

Neither solution appeals to me.

There are many countries where religion is “legislated”, and many religions that require a lot of work to get in a “good place” to pacify their higher power.

It makes no sense to me why American Christians (many of the conservatives) would want to legislate morality, when the foundation of their faith is freedom.  John Meacham, former editor of Newsweek, spoke about the place of faith/religion in public life in this address at Gettysburg College in 2008.

John Meacham, Editor of Newsweek, Addresses

Gettysburg College

By: Madeline Shepherd

Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, visited Gettysburg College on April 11 for the 11th Annual Blavatt Lecture sponsored by the Eisenhower Institute.  His latest publication, bestseller The American Gospel, formed the basis of his discussion on Friday, “God and Politics: From George Washington to George W. Bush.”

Having toured the campus, Meacham first addressed students and faculty in the afternoon prior to his lecture.  Members of the audience asked questions regarding religion in the current elections, the objectivism of Newsweek, and the overall role of the media in today’s political arena.

Meacham talked at length about the importance of religious liberty in American society, but also about different interpretations of religious liberty as they emerge among politicians.

“You cannot be for religious liberty for people that think like you think and not for everybody,” he noted when discussing fundamentalism.

In sharing personal stories and opinions, Meacham demonstrated his knowledge of biblical passages and shared a distinct perspective on church and state matters.

Religion and politics,” he said, “can’t be separated because they’re both about people and their values…church and state are different.”

Professor Ianello of the Political Science department pointedly asked about the coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign in Newsweek and the role of gender in this year’s presidential election, and Meacham admitted to his pride in the articles Newsweek has printed on such issues.

“Only in America could two such enormous firsts occur at the same time, in the same party, in the same states,” he said.  Meacham also explained that he felt at Newsweek the reporting was not tougher on Senator Clinton than on Senator Obama, but that voting for the latter was more a “leap of faith,” since Clinton has had more years of congressional experience.

The lecture was given in a packed CUB Ballroom, and after Professor Mott of the Political Science department gave an introduction, Meacham again took the microphone.

“I am a southerner,” he first noted. “We don’t do very well here at Gettysburg.”

Meacham went on to discuss his own religious background in his education and personal life, describing himself as “respectful, not worshipful.”

Rather than dodging an issue that is often considered taboo, he emphasized the need to confront religious diversity and differences head on.

“If we do not find a way to talk about religious [we will be] doomed to make religion more mystifying than it is, and more dangerous.”

In writing The American Gospel, Meacham was able to utilize his interest in history and studied the way religion has shaped America as well as the ways in which America has shaped religion.

“The good news about this country is that religion has shaped us without strangling us.”

However, Meacham also lauded the continued debate surrounding religion and politics, believing himself that the founding fathers sought to include religion as “one force among many” in the government, but also affirming that the United States was “built for argument, not for resolution.”

In the U.S. this is necessarily the case, particularly in regards to religion due, as Meacham pointed out, to the lack of an official state religion.

“The separation of church and state is as much about protecting the state from the church as the church from the state,” Meacham said, describing the relationship he perceives.

He also went through the role that religion played in the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt; during WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and beyond.

“We are a wildly imperfect people to say the least,” Meacham noted.  “We are forever a work in progress.”


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