The Divided States of America: One Nation Under Two Gods

These diametrically opposed, partisan visions of America can never be reconciled because both parties feel that they are fundamentally saving the other party from itself.
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It's time for the two separate countries residing in the United States of America to part ways in peace. There exists an ideological schism so extreme that it no longer makes sense for us to stick together as a nation. Perhaps it's time to abandon the union that the Civil War maintained. The schism has become increasingly pronounced with each presidential election and it was unmistakable at the recent Democratic and Republican conventions.

The rift begins and ends with the political parties' conception of God. Although the Republican and Christian platforms have always been linked, the Democrats are just as "Christian" as the Republicans. The Democrats' brand of Christianity is about love, tolerance and charity, whereas the Republican brand of Christianity is about self-sacrifice, duty and retribution.

Republicans don't believe in addressing social problems with preventative measures like international diplomacy, healthcare or planned parenting. When something bad happens it is either because arbitrary evil has been revealed in the world and we need to destroy it (Iraq War), or because we have been evil ourselves and need to be punished (death penalty). Evil, whether external or internal, must be destroyed -- not conversed, empathized or negotiated with.

McCain resonates particularly well with a crowd that values self-sacrifice. As a POW he was beaten and tortured for a higher cause, not unlike Jesus himself. He said in his nomination acceptance speech that his beliefs include hard work, strong defense, faith, service, a culture of life and personal responsibility. These are severe, chin up, no nonsense values. As for retribution, McCain would have sounded like a born-again Christian at an evangelical church if he had said "God" instead of "Country" throughout his speech: "[God] saved me. [God] saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for [God] for as long as I draw breath, so help me God." Salvation is big with McCain.

The Democrats, conversely, believe in the well-being and happiness of their fellow Americans. Everyone should be entitled to health care, education and civil and human rights. The solution to a chronic problem can be found in the root cause of the issue, whether it is higher crime rates (gun control) or social inequity (anti-discrimination law). Their God is a compassionate one who wants to protect and provide for his children. He is not the tough-love god of Republicans, but rather the gentle, accessible protector of what Republicans might call "a nation of whiners."

In his nomination speech, Obama talked about a country that is more decent, generous and compassionate than it has been of late. One that provides for people who don't have bootstraps, let alone boots. He talked of moral obligation, quoting Kennedy's call for "intellectual and moral strength," and referenced his mother "who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships." Obama is big on charity: both our moral obligation to others and our country's moral obligation to us.

These diametrically opposed, partisan visions of America can never be reconciled. They can never be reconciled because both parties feel that they are fundamentally saving the other party from itself.

A citizen who believes that life starts at conception isn't going to go for pro-choice legislation, not just because she doesn't believe in it personally, but also because it's her responsibility as a Christian to look out for her ignorant brothers and sisters. A citizen who equates abortion rights with women's rights is never going to be sold on pro-life legislation, not just because he doesn't believe in it, but because he's looking out for his brothers and sisters who don't know any better. He's trying to protect them from squandering the rights generations have worked so hard to achieve.

If we can't get agree on the major issues because we think we are saving each other (and what better intention is there than that?), then we will never be ideologically or theologically compatible as a country. We're trying to colonize each other when the only way to respectfully coexist is to compromise.

I never thought it was a good idea for important social legislation to be determined state-by-state until I watched the crowds at the conventions: The ruddy-faced fellas in cowboy hats and round blonde women wearing heavy eye makeup and American flag blouses in Minneapolis. The earnest college grads in message T's and pant-suited moms in Denver. Combined with the content of the speeches, these crowds made me realize that, instead of trying to bridge two very different Americas, maybe we should just let them be. The separate Americas are happy. The ideals that conservatives and liberals have, the types of god they want to worship - it's all working for them, even if neither side gets the other. Divided, we are mercifully at peace.

In election years we try to define what nation we are under God, but maybe we should examine what God the nation is under. Because we're talking about two very different Gods. Enough with the rhetoric of unity and nonpartisanship. We're never going to change each other's minds. We're never going to save each other. Maybe it's finally time to stand divided.

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