By Contributor Pearce Fujiura
As the election year chatter begins the deafening crescendo towards November, the tone and tenor of the dialogue approaches a familiar chord: Christianity versus atheism.
I realized as I typed this was a gross over-simplification of the complex debate that occurs within our diverse society, yet it accurately describes how I perceive the discussion as a whole. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 close to 76 percent of American adults defined themselves as some form of Christian and just below 16 percent defined themselves as atheist or Agnostics, making these two groups the majority of the voting population. So it makes perfect sense that the debate would involve these two seemingly opposite yet, very influential ideals. However it is often during this time of year I can’t help but feel a tiny twinge of something akin to neglect or disenfranchisement. I am part of a minority, the non-Christian religious (8 percent of the adult population), moreover Buddhist represent one of the smallest subsets of that group representing only 13 percent of non-Christians religious adults (0.5 percent of American adults).
So why should my political opinions matter? What impact does my interest have on the political landscape? I would guess next to zero. No politician stays up nights fretting about the Buddhist vote or alienating Buddhist voters. So when election season comes into full swing I often find myself as a Persona non grata in the political conversation.
Sometimes it can be a relief and sometimes it can be really annoying. It’s like sitting at the kiddy table at a wedding reception, there’s no stress, drama, or arguments that really involve you but no one is offering you champagne for the toast either. Maybe that is not my best simile, but I hope you get my meaning.
Everyone is talking about religion but they are only really discussing one religion. Politicians must somehow reassure the country of his or her Christian faith and either ambiguously or flamboyantly cater to the needs and desires of his significantly Christian constituency. I realize it is unrealistic to expect people to segregate and compartmentalize such an important part of their identity away from complex issues, but I do sometimes long for that mythical separation of church and state. That being said, I understand that the world would likely be a scarier place if we were truly able to completely separate religion from matters of the state. We can’t have law without ideals, and we can’t have ideals without cultural and social contracts, which are ultimately rooted in some sort of religious foundation. Yet it would be nice if some issues could remain religiously neutral so that everyone else could get involved without feeling at odds with the clear majority of the population. I would also like to add religiously neutral does not mean godless.
There is an interesting phenomenon in politics where opinions counter to Christian opinions are often assumed to be anti-religion. Which statistically speaking would be a safe assumption, but practically speaking is demeaning to non-Christian religions. Upon deeper evaluation I find that I don’t really want separation of church and state, I want inclusion of churches into state. If there is room for Christianity, which there obviously is, why can’t there be room for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists? Why can’t Wiccans matter the way Christians do? If there isn’t room enough for everyone, how do we choose who to leave out? It is such a fine line we tread, bringing religion into the political arena, it is a wonder the whole thing doesn’t fall apart constantly.
Usually I offer up some insight or knowledge my religion has given me about a controversial topic, but this time I wanted to ask for input. What can be done about this feeling of un-involvement I get from my demographic non-presence? Is this just a natural and unavoidable byproduct of a democratic society? Should I just shut-up and let the adults speak, or does the relatively tiny voice of the Buddhist community have as much to offer to the political conversation as everyone else? Unlike other demographics a person’s religious affiliation is (for the most part) a choice, so am I choosing to be left out? This little post of mine is filled to the gills with questions, perhaps I am in an inquisitive mood; I hope that everyone else can help me find some of the answers.