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From the Far Margins

Pretending to pray


For eight years, while I was elected to serve as an Idaho State Representative and Senator, I sat on-camera in the big leather seats in the formal chambers of the House and the Senate where we voted, and where, each day, I was expected to pray. I have a deep faith in some core part of humanity, in the chaos of the wild, and in the fundamental good intent of individual people, but I do not believe in god.

My internal morals, the way my parents raised me, what I have worked for in my life and how I have lived at times, would probably have made me a good follower of several religions. However, like many quiet people with no religion, it is not for a god that I do what I do.

I've lived life in a world which I never really noticed spun delicately in the shadow of powerful churches, ancient synagogues, mosques and temples. Religion shaped our constitution, steers the hand of policy makers and governors, declares wars, sets limits on what bills will be heard and, to this day, confines our lives within ever tighter and weaker circles of law.

It's a common and senseless presumption that Americans are religious. We smile when told 'God bless you,' we bow our heads, repeat lines others say— but millions of us do not literally believe in God.

There's a conspicuous pressure for those who do not believe to be silent, not to, by our visibility, call to question the faith of those who do. The godless are amoral. The godless are less patriotic, less chaste, less selfless, less pure. And quietly with our silence we let that be the script. We keep ourselves safe from judgement and others safe from feeling questioned. You will often find us pretending to pray.

When the Democratic national convention aired this past week, I had no seat in the vast stadium of the faithful as I had eight years earlier when I cast my delegate vote for a community organizer named Barack Obama. I wholly believed in my heart that this one man could turn the tides of injustice that had scoured communities in poverty, immigrants, LGBT people, Latinos, people with disabilities, women, and communities of color.

But no amount of faith could overcome the swing of the pendulum that turned Congress from a friendly body to an impenetrable wall set on stopping every bit of progress I'd hoped to see as I sat in that stadium seat in Denver where that president accepted the nomination from the party to which I'd lent my faith.

Presidents do not make the laws. Their powers are limited. They set tone and can veto what they like, but they are not gods. Sometimes we treat them as gods though. Just as political party becomes religion, we are a nation of polytheistic fanatics sprinkled among a vast overriding majority of people who are quietly godless. The majority, bows its head in the voting booth, the confessional, where they are forced to put their supposed faith to paper if they are to have any impact on the policy that draws limits on their lives and establishes their freedoms in law.

In choosing to enter a church they are stuck with the patriotic rhetoric which draws battle lines, forces them to choose one ballot or the other, take up arms in the name of one scripture or the other, turning our nation's highest law making body into a battle ground for opposing crusades.

You can see it on social media, the ones who fight for party and the ones who focus on policy regardless of party. The faithful and the godless.

I know three things: I know the godless are the majority; I know Congress makes the laws and if we do not look at individual policy makers there, all is lost; I also know political systems can change, can evolve.

In America, it will be our peril if we do not start now to open and loosen our political primaries, to use top-two run offs and big wide "ranked ballots" where any candidate of any party, or of no party, can run and no one wastes their vote because choices are numbered by preference so that a voter's next most -preferred candidate gets their vote if their favorite isn't popular enough to be viable.

We can change and upend what has become a system of fanaticism, not a system of democracy. It's time we stop risking having the most extreme or pure of either party as our only option. They can not be the only gods to which voters are expected to pray. It's time politics were done in the name of the people affected, for the sake of the policy, not the party.

People will bow their heads and mouth the words only so long before they leave the pews or fill the streets and stop pretending to pray.