"Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business."
-- Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, to Playboy magazine.
Well, Governor, I have to hand it to you. You've told us over and over that you say what's on your mind and, because of that, you're unlike the average politician. This statement definitely justifies all your self-congratulation.
Because you're so honest and tough-minded, I figured you wouldn't mind answering a few questions about your comments. I ask them because none of your explanations after the interview helped me understand your meaning -- although maybe you said all we needed to know when you told "Meet the Press" this weekend that "being weak-minded is not necessarily a detriment." Still, perhaps I'm thick-headed and you can bring me to your level of enlightenment.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor who led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He organized church people to fight for justice. Many who opposed him thought he was sticking his nose into other people's business. In his first major civil rights sermon at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., he declared: "If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer and never came down to earth! If we are wrong, justice is a lie!"
Please tell me, Governor, I want to know: Was Martin Luther King Jr. "weak-minded" for working through "organized religion"? While you're at it, were all those civil rights activists, so many motivated by religious faith, "weak-minded" for risking their lives in the struggle?
Rabbi Abraham Heschel was a brilliant theologian and wrote about the Hebrew prophets. He was moved by his sense of the prophetic to become a leading ally of King's battle for equality. Was he weak-minded?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian moved by his faith to oppose Hitler. He went to prison and was eventually killed. "I have discovered," he wrote a few weeks before his execution, "that only by living fully in the world can we learn to have faith." Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer using his faith as a "sham and a crutch?"
The Polish workers of the Solidarity trade union movement, inspired by faith and helped immensely by their "organized religion," faced down the Communist dictatorship in Poland. They risked jail and beatings and helped change the world. Was that weak-minded of them?
What about those theologians who thought through religious questions and the meaning of life on behalf of all those churchy souls you say need crutches? Were Augustine and Aquinas weak-minded? Were Luther and Calvin? What about 20th-century prophets such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Buber? They were towering intellects, I've always thought, but perhaps I'm blind and you can help me see.
I respect and admire the courage you demonstrated in serving our country as a Navy SEAL. But just out of curiosity: Do you think the military chaplains you met were weak-minded?
Father Andrew Greeley, the sociologist, has found that "relationships related to religion" are clearly the major forces mobilizing volunteers in America. We're talking here about mentors for children, volunteers in homeless programs, those who give comfort at shelters for battered women. Are all these good volunteers just seeking strength in numbers?
While you were making money wrestling, Mother Teresa was devoting her life to the poor of Calcutta. Maybe you think she would have been better off in the ring with Disco Inferno.
I don't want to get too personal, but I truly want to know what you're trying to tell us. The nuns who taught me in grade school and the Benedictine monks who taught me in high school devoted the whole of their lives to helping young people learn. Was their dedication to others a sign of weakness? The parish I grew up in was full of parents -- my own included -- whose religious faith motivated them to build a strong community that nurtured us kids. I guess you're telling me those parents I respected were only seeking strength in numbers.
Somewhere around 100 million Americans attend religious services in any given week. Sociologists may quibble about the exact number, but they agree we are one of the most religiously observant countries in the world, especially compared with other wealthy nations. Are we a weak-minded country?
In explaining your comments afterward, you said: "This is Playboy; they want you to be provocative." Does that mean you would have said something different to the editors of, say, Christianity Today?
And, Governor, one last question: Are you tough-minded enough to understand the meaning of the words: "Your act is wearing thin"?