Politics or idolatry

The limits of compromise

There is a cliché floating around that people drop as if it were a self-evident truth-a category that may not exist, despite our Declaration of Independence. In anything involving religion, morals, medical ethics, or sexuality, whatever you choose to do is “between you and your God.”

Euthanize comatose grandpa? This decision is between you and your God. (Grandpa’s God is presumably as out of it as grandpa is.) A woman’s decision to abort is between her and her God, and how a man chooses to worship, or whether to worship at all, is between him and his God.

Here we are: back at polytheism. All these gods-mine, yours, hers, his, theirs-are the result of a combination of secularism gone to an extreme, combined with individualism and a sentimental form of civic religion. Completely absent is the idea that one of these gods could turn out to be real, and might make demands, and that there could be serious consequences if we do not obey them.

This “between you and your God” language comes up mainly in political contexts, usually in defense of a prochoice position, but the fact that it is so frequently accepted without debate shows that its effects are everywhere. The god invoked here is plainly a reflection of its possessor, and can be counted on to affirm its owner’s every longing or whim.

Those unlucky enough to feel obliged to vote this November will have to choose between a man whose god...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.