At this point, I'm beginning to feel left out, sort of the way you felt in school when everyone else in your class was invited to a party but you. Evidently, there are all these people who are on a first-name basis with God--who hang out with Him on a regular basis (actually, I'd always thought of God as a "She" but I guess I was wrong about that, too), getting the real scoop on what He wants, who He likes and dislikes...who He intends to invite to the Ultimate Party in Heaven, and who won't get to come.
My Pal, God
I am reminded daily what an outsider I am when I read what God told Pat Robertson or Ray Nagin, I read letters to the editor defending statehouse prayer or laws against abortion or rants about "deviant homosexuals," and the constant insistence that this country was intended to be a Christian Nation. Those making a stab at ecumenism phrase it a bit differently, of course. They talk about the Judeo-Christian ethic that comes from the Bible. Not your bible, of course, and certainly not the Koran or Talmud. I hate to be cynical about folks given to these statements, but as a person of the "Judeo" heritage, I can tell you that our addition to this formula is pure political correctness. Scratch one of these public pietists, and you'll find as much anti-Semitism as homophobia. But I digress.
Now, I am perfectly content to let folks believe anything they want. If they're happy believing they know the mind and heart of God, I'm not inclined to argue with them; hell, I'm not inclined to ever socialize with them. But that really isn't the point.
If a free and democratic society is to continue to exist, the rules have to be seen as fair by everyone. And that is the problem. Our constitutional system requires that government be neutral on matters of religious belief. Government is supposed to handle such mundane communal responsibilities as paving streets, defending against foreign aggressors, delivering the mail, assigning air lanes, checking chicken for salmonella...Government really has plenty to do without mediating religious wars. But the zealots don't see First Amendment neutrality as neutral. In their view, if the state isn't imposing their religious values on the rest of us, government is discriminating against them. If gays are treated by government as civic equals, for example, that is evidence that government is favoring the forces of evil. It does no good to point out that the same system that prevents them from disenfranchising gays prevents those of us who find their beliefs odious from disenfranchising them.
It also does no good, unfortunately, to remind these folks that there are many deeply religious people whose vision of Godliness differs mightily from theirs; people whose approach to deity is, shall we say, a bit more complex and nuanced. People who would feel it unspeakably arrogant to claim that they knew the mind of God, but who nevertheless harbor a conviction that no God worth worshipping would demand that Her followers hurt and despise their fellow-beings.
Every once in a while, after one of these diatribes by a member of the self-identified elect, I think about the fanatics who flew into the World Trade Center, convinced that in the next life they would enjoy honey and dates and 70 sloe-eyed virgins. If there really is an afterlife, I think they may all be in for a surprise.