The recent Presidential forum at the Saddleback Church, the California megachurch led by mega-best selling author and forum host Pastor Rick Warren, left me more than a little cold. Not because the forum came across as a political litmus test from time to time when the audience occasionally applauded strongly or groaned somewhat at certain times. No, Pr. Warren and the audience made good on the promise of civility towards both candidates throughout the event. Not because of the troublesome reports that Republican candidate Sen. McCain was not in a “cone of silence” while waiting his turn to follow Democratic candidate Sen. Obama’s one-on-one talk with Pr. Warren, as the pastor had assured the audience.
No, the cold part for me was the implicit assumption, which goes far beyond the vast Saddleback campus, that a US Presidential candidate must, by definition, be a Christian in order to have a chance at winning.
This thought left me wondering, what would a Buddhist Presidency be like? How might a Buddhist President lead the country?
EDIT: Since this post, Sen. McCain has of course named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his VP running mate. Gov. Palin’s political qualifications include serving two terms each as city councillor and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 5,469 as of 2000.
She also describes herself as a “Bible-believing Christian.”
She has been eagerly embraced by the Republican party.
Now, back to the original post…
I reminded myself of America Needs a Buddhist President, a book of captioned drawings on the subject by Brett Bevel (Author), Eben Dodd (Illustrator) I recently browsed. While the book has a somewhat amusing page or two (such as this one), I must confess I found the book to be a disappointing stereotype of Buddhism, focusing on ritual and external appearance, and in so doing making Buddhism look esoteric and solipsistic, when in fact the complete contrary is the case.
The book is more like an inside irreverent joke for like-minded Buddhists than an open discussion of any kind, particularly when the book suggests a Buddhist President would meticulously maintain a shaved head, and chant mantras during the Pledge of Allegience…Oy!
So my thoughts as to what a Buddhist Presidency might entail have instead led me to begin examining closely the work of the two (and I believe the first) Buddhist members of Congress: Rep. Hank Johnson of the 4th congressional district of Georgia, and Rep. Mazie Hirono, congresswoman for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, both winning office in the 2006 general election.
One fact I have quickly found is, unlike the typical Christian pol, Reps. Johnson and Hirono have generally avoided discussing their Buddhist beliefs and values, or using them to judge others, perhaps choosing instead to act on and live their values, as any honorable politician of authentic personal integrity should.
Any Buddhist readers out there who live in Rep. Johnson’s or Hirono’s district? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, here is hoping they plant the proverbial Dharma seeds in our government for the betterment of our country for all people.