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Religious & Ethics Weekly
John Green
on America's Evangelicals Survey

NOW
The Separation of Church and State
Interviews from both sides of the debate.

God’s Country
Related Resources on this week's show


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4.28.06
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Politics and Economy:
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God's Country?
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now Rolitics and Peligion
By New Media Senior Producer Joel Schwartzberg

I know a thing or two about the collision of state and religion. You see, when I was 13, I had a Bar Mitzvah in the town of Alief, Texas. Our congregation's temple was so tiny that we'd rent out the local church for big events. We'd just hide the crosses and New Testaments and Oy Voila! A near-perfect Bar Mitzvah venue.

The only problems were the invitations, which read: "You are invited to celebrate Joel's Bar Mitzvah and transition to Jewish manhood…at the First Church of Jesus Christ Our Lord And Savior."

Some cultural collisions can't be avoided.

But others can. This week's show examines the role of Evangelical Christians in a secular political process, but it doesn't cover a follow-up issue: What happens in off-election years when politicians hibernate and pure product marketers come out with that same opportunistic gleam in their eyes? Are our religious institutions fair game?

The day may not be too far away when our priest or imam or rabbi extols the virtues of a particular brand of Passover wine or a detergent to keep those collars extra white. Evian and Mountain Spring may consider diving into the holy water business. iTunes may offer podcasts of your preferred Sunday morning religious service in the comfort of your own living room, with the football game on mute.

Of course, the debate over using religion to promote secular ideas isn't all that new. Some fringe scholars say Moses, who knew something about captive audiences, preached occasionally to his desert-wandering flock about new waterproof clogs, grit-free rock juicers, and his neighbor's nephew's brother Isaac who was making a run for Deputy Prophet.

In the end, it may all boil down to intentions. If you are truly acting in the spirit of your natural context -- like a teacher in the name of education, or a cleric in the name of religion, or a politician in the name of pandering, then all is fair. If you're not and just leveraging your role to advance another agenda, then you may ultimately be judged by a higher power. And by that I mean the IRS.

Looking back at my Bar Mitzvah speech, I don't feel bad for telling people to donate glasses, give blood, or stick to only one knish at the reception. It was part of my role. It was in the name of generosity. And besides, who takes direction from a skinny 13-year-old anyway?

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