(I wrote this post for YA for Obama and am crossposting it here.)
I don’t talk about it very often, but I’m a religious person. In fact, before I became a writer, I wanted to be a minister. There is a certain branch of Christianity that has so effectively hijacked the word “Christian” that I feel uncomfortable sometimes using it to describe myself. But I am a Christian.
So I’m going to write this blog post as a Christian. I’m not going to write (yet) about the time I met Senator Obama. I’m not going to write (yet) about how Obama’s economic plan offers our country the best opportunity to avoid what will be a long and painful period of economic stagnation no matter who becomes President. But I want to explain three reasons why I feel that I am called not only by my conscience and values but also by my faith to support Barack Obama.
First, there is the question of loving thy neighbor as yourself, which Jesus states clearly and irrevocably is the second most important law for his followers, behind only the love of God. Our healthcare system is profoundly broken because we have failed to live up to this high calling–because most Americans have been willing to live in a nation where tens of millions go uninsured. For all the uninsured (my brother Hank and his wife were among them for many years), bankruptcy is an accident or a diagnosis away. Money they’ve saved to send their kids to college must instead pay for chemotherapy, and not because they made poor choices or failed to work hard, but because they own or work for small businesses, or because they’re unemployed, or because they’ve been sick before and so insurance companies refuse to cover them. (My father, a cancer survivor, couldn’t get health insurance for fifteen years after his recurrence of bladder cancer.)
Making health insurance available to all isn’t going to be easy, and it isn’t going to run smoothly, and it will require sacrifice by all Americans. But I would have happily made the sacrifices involved for my brother or for my father, and so as a Christian I must be willing to make them for all my neighbors. John McCain and Sarah Palin have already said they will not bring meaningful reform to our health care system. Barack Obama, with the support of the U.S. Congress, will.
Secondly, the world in which we live. Apocalypticism has always been a part of Christianity. Early Christians (and some argue Jesus himself) were convinced the world as we know it would not survive for more than a generation or two. For much of recent history, this has meant for many Christians that we don’t need to worry too much about what some Christians derisively call “the World.” Evangelical leaders (and Governor Sarah Palin) have said that man can’t possibly affect the climate, because God made it and humans could never destroy it. (To which I say: Um, okay, but didn’t God make the passenger pigeon?) We are unquestionably called by the Bible to stewardship of the land, and right now that means Americans must make drastic changes in the way we use energy and how we find it. Our failure not to have done this earlier owes to the tremendously powerful oil lobby and an administration that has always protected them over the long-term interests of Americans (and in doing so, has financed a tyrannical regime in Saudi Arabia that has long denied religious freedom or the freedom of expression to its citizens). Climate change is the greatest issue of our time, and if we fail to recognize it, we will be remembered by whatever people remain as the prideful gluttons who said to future generations, “Let them eat cake.”
Finally, science. Sarah Palin has repeatedly stated that she wishes to see creationism taught in our schools. I believe that every Christian (and indeed every American) should be opposed to this. What science has taught us does not invalidate religious faith, and to those evangelical Christians who believe otherwise, I would respectfully say that you are placing too much faith in the power of science. Not that science isn’t powerful: We now know, thanks to rational thought and the testing of hypotheses, that evolution was the driving force behind the breathtaking diversity of life in the world. And we know that the earth has existed far longer than we have. Science has given so much to the experience of being a creature on this planet. But it does not render our spiritual lives irrelevant.
The anti-intellecutalism that has become the hallmark of religious conservatism in contemporary Christianity (and many other religions) will only set us back–not only economically and politically but also spiritually. We must invest in science; we must teach our children the scientific method; we must share with them the myriad discoveries that the scientific method has brought us. And we must do all of these things in classrooms that are in the business of teaching children how to learn, and not in the business of teaching that faith in God is incompatible with the intellectual rigor and creative innovation that have been the glory of our nation’s past. Christianity loses in that bargain, and so, too, does America.