Monday, September 8, 2008

When Did God Become America’s Concierge?

Major league baseball has more great stories than any other sport about the delightfully odd assortment of characters that played the game across the past 175 or so years.

Watching a video yesterday of Sarah Palin in her Wasilla church beseeching God to get her pipeline proposal approved reminded me one such story, supposedly involving Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.

Just before stepping into the batter’s box one afternoon, an opposing player mouthed a silent prayer, crossed himself and pointed to the skies, asking for divine intervention so he could get on base. Bench called time, rose from his crouch behind home plate and went through the same cross-my-heart-and-point-to-God routine. As he settled back into position, Bench reportedly told the hitter, “OK, we’re all even with God. Let’s play ball.”

Ever since the early days of the evangelical movement in the late 1970s, it seems as if a growing number of Americans are relying on God to be their personal concierge, rushing in to take care of life’s big and little issues, annoyances and aggravations.

It’s everywhere.

In pro sports, opponents in the same game do a quick prayer before a play begins. No way can God take care of opponents on the same play.

Stump politicians entreat the heavens to bless America and whatever position they were touting that particular day. But across town, the other party’s candidate just did the same thing. What does God do? Flip a coin? Grant one side’s request one day and the other side’s the next?

Pentagon generals are quoted as saying they pray for divine help in battle even though I’m not sure we ought to be asking God to pick sides in the killing fields; I’d think he’d find the whole thing disgusting.

I have an acquaintance who asks God – sometimes Jesus, but usually God – for the really important things in his life, such as a great discount on a Caribbean holiday. He also told me that God truly blessed him by getting him a new, high paying job as a VP of a major bank. Oh.

Meanwhile, in Iraq Sunni’s praise Allah as they blow themselves to martyrdom and their 70 waiting virgins, taking as many of the infidel Shi’a with them as they can. But on the next block, Shi’a are doing the same thing to Sunni in the name of the same Allah. It strikes me that if Allah has a sense of humor, then the 70 virgins awaiting the martyrs will be clones of Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin.

And here, a candidate for Vice President of the United States of America is praying for a pipeline. Not just any pipeline, mind you, but the specific pipeline Sarah Palin wants built.

If there is a God or Allah or even a Great Pumpkin, it strikes me that He, She or It is far too busy with the real problems of the cosmos to worry about the route of a pipeline. Or finding my friend a cut-rate deal to St. Bart’s.

Just to be crystal clear, I have no problem with anyone following a faith, kooky or not, or having no religious beliefs at all.

When my sister and I were quite young, mother marched us from one house of worship to another, week after week. We sat in quiet awe of the Catholic Bishop and his tall hat. We were scared to death by a fire and brimstone Protestant preacher. We clapped along, singing and jumping with glee as a black Baptist choir and preacher shouted “Hallelujah!” We tried to figure out what odd language a Rabbi was speaking. A Unitarian speaker – I don’t think they have ministers – sounded like a wise uncle giving a little chat. She even hauled us off to a B’hai Temple and if there had been a Mosque within 100 miles of where we lived, she would have taken us there, as well.

It wasn’t to give us religion – mother had none herself – nor was it to teach us that religions make people different. Rather, it was to show us that people are all the same, regardless of what religion they practice or if they practice none at all.

So, thanks to my upbringing, if someone finds divine inspiration in worshipping a fire hydrant, well, good for them. Someone’s faith (or lack of it) is their own damn business. Period. But I do have a problem with candidates for any office – Vice President of the United States or Mosquito Control District board – who pray not for guidance but for specifics. And, as a result, I have a burning need to find out their views on separation of church and state.

In the case of Sarah Palin, I wonder if she understands that the Constitution not only protects religion from state interference but it also protects citizens from religious interference.

ABC News’ Charley Gibson has landed an interview with Palin. I’d like him to ask her some questions about religion, separation of church and state, and why she feels God is her personal concierge. But given the ground rules insisted upon by her handlers, I doubt he’ll have a chance.

Too bad. Enquiring minds need to know.