I'm not a hard-core atheist. Just a guy who wakes up on Sundays, thinks back to all those mornings I spent bored out of my mind at the First Presbyterian Church of Glendale in Ohio, and thanks my lucky stars rather than the Lord that nobody can make me go to church.
So, my outlook is a good deal different from that of Hernando County Commission candidate Jason Sager, who believes God controls all things, including local elections. In Twitter messages, he gave credit to the Lord for his victory over incumbent John Druzbick in last week's Republican primary, and on Wednesday, when the result was still up in the air, urged supporters to "Pray. He has already made the decision. We, as His children, need only wait for it."
I made light of these tweets, to my 50 followers on Twitter and to several thousand readers in my Sunday column. (And it's print that's supposed to be dying?)
Sager didn't like this, and on Friday his spokeswoman, Danielle Alexandre, sent an email to the paper announcing that he was cutting off communication with me. Everybody involved with his campaign "was appalled at the comments made by Mr. DeWitt," Alexandre wrote, including my "lack of respect for Mr. Sager's faith."
I'd been asking about Sager's phony claims in attack ads, questions his campaign didn't seem to be able to answer, making this a convenient time for him to come up with a high-minded reason not to return calls.
Still, Alexandre's email raised an interesting point. When does it become okay to talk about, and even poke a little fun at, someone's religion?
First of all, cracks about one person's expressions of faith are not the same as disrespecting the faith as a whole. Being fairly familiar with Christianity (I actually did spend a lot of time in Sunday school), I can say it often brings out the best in people and inspires a lot of charity.
I believe if we really did what Jesus would do — and what he said to do — the world would be a lot better off.
And disrespecting Christianity would mean disrespecting many family members, including a sister who graduated from seminary and in her current job as a Montessori teacher writes Old Testament verses on the black board every morning to give her the strength to deal with her preschool class.
She's a private person and privately religious. The deal is different with political candidates, especially when their comments are made in a public forum.
Sure, Sager gets to say what he believes. And I get to say I don't agree.
Also, when you bring attention to your faith, you set yourself up as an example. If you spend as much time helping and being decent to people as, for example, Tim Tebow, this is a pretty effective way to build the brand of a public figure as well as his or her faith.
If, however, you spread falsehoods about your opponent while claiming to follow a religion of love, it makes you more than just an unethical politician. It makes you a hypocrite. And, yes, it can make your actions a bit of a joke.
One other thing: If God intervenes in elections, it implies he's responsible for everyone holding office, from Washington to Brooksville. To me, that's what really seems disrespectful.
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