Religious Righteousness vs. the Spirit of Republicanism

Two friends of mine in their 40s, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, have gone off to seminary. I may not be the swiftest guy in town, but I know a trend when I see one.

Hearing them discuss their quest for personal fulfillment through faith, all that stuff I learned in Sunday school suddenly rings true again. “The religion thing” comes alive as one of mankind’s nobler pursuits, and I can set aside British essayist G. K. Chesterton’s thesis that there is only one really convincing argument against Christianity: Christians.

My two friends say they’re finding their way along a path that they hope leads them to less ego and more compassion, less intolerance and more forgiveness.

Neither is self-righteous about his journey. One openly questions the original drive behind it; the other concedes he’s only now watering a seed planted years ago that he left untended. What resonates from both is the purity of their search. No practiced pieties; rather, a gentleness of spirit, if you will.


Pat, the West Coast friend, has just begun seminary. He put his thoughts down in a recent issue of Orange Coast magazine. “What was I doing?” he wrote, in recounting his deliberations. “Just who did I think I was? What would my family and friends say? The decision I was facing didn’t fit into my life at all. Insane. Off track. Inconsistent. The job didn’t fit me, and I didn’t fit the job. The description called for someone else. Someone more patient, more compassionate, more focused, more unselfish, more capable. . . . How did I ever get to the point of thinking that I should become--of all the bizarre notions--a priest?”

Meanwhile, Bert on the East Coast is almost halfway through his studies at Yale Divinity School. “This wasn’t a sudden realization I had in my 40s,” he told me over the phone. “It was more of a response to a call that came, I think, in my teen years that I ultimately--in the rebellion of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s--left behind, I thought. Then having been out in what we loosely call the real world and having worked and gotten married and now in the process of raising a family, it kind of never let go of me. So, it wasn’t a sudden thunderclap causing a change in direction; it was more of coming to realize this is where I needed to be all along.”

I think of these two men of God, if that’s the right term, and then ponder local Orange County Republican Party leadership.

Frankly, I do not see a twain meeting.

You would expect them to have ties, in that no feature dominates local Republican Party politics like its leaders’ insistence that they stand at the mountaintop of family and religious values. If you don’t believe me, just ask them.

And so I make dutiful note of their pronouncements and then try to square them with their all-out assault on Doris Allen, the renegade Republican assemblywoman from Cypress whose recall they’re supporting.

Now, they would say the recall is all about politics and nothing about religion, and, of course, they’re right. Except that these people don’t want to separate politics from religion. Their virtue is their shield as they seek out enemies. Indeed, it is their sense of virtue that has driven them to destroy Allen, once and for all.

If I had more time, I could fashion a scriptural case against the Allen recall. Oh, sure, it would be one of those fanciful arguments, in that people don’t really act the way the Bible says we should. The heathens among us know that; I’m just surprised the brethren in the local GOP succumb to it.

You’d think they, being such God-fearing men, would be talking about forgiveness and compassion. Ha! Retribution is their game. Our local heroes are definitely your Old Testament types--big on wrath, low on charity. For spiritual ancestors, think of the Puritans of 300 years ago, joining in a rousing chorus of “Bringing in the Sheaves” before going outside and hanging some local women for being witches.

Doris Allen is their witch. They detected her odd behavior. Then came strange mutterings. Then, in the final act of heresy, she consorted with the devil--Democrat Willie Brown.

You’ll hear a lot of talk from the local GOP about treason and treachery and the devil and whatever. To do otherwise would reveal Allen’s deal with Brown for what it was: at worst, a rebellious, perhaps graceless political gambit.

In the real world, that would be worth cold stares and snubs at GOP wingdings.

To suggest she somehow rendered the Assembly dysfunctional cries out for a punch line.

Oh, well.

The recall is in nine days, and we’ll see whether retribution is the order of the day.

“Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the local GOP.

Rather than be glum about men of God and their motivations, I’d rather exit with my friend Pat’s take on his religious calling:

“I don’t pray that I’ll become a priest anymore,” he wrote. “I pray for only two things: to know God’s will and to have the courage to do it. That may mean the priesthood. I simply try to hold on to the belief that life is not meant to be lived for an end, but for a purpose. For now, that’s enough.”

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.