When I was at school, we had to do a weekly class that was euphemistically called "Guidance." these days they call it "Social Awareness" or even "Citizenship", but the idea was to educate and get us thinking about issues in the our lives and the world. This class, for example, covered sex education - which consisted of the teacher regaling the all-male class of his exploits while serving in the Army in Egypt, and the importance of protection then.
I digress - one particular lesson has always stuck in my mind. The chairs in the room had been arranged in a circle, and the teacher invited a fellow student (known for his left-wing political views) to pick a seat. He then invited another student, a known Thatcherite, to take a seat opposite him.
Each of us were then asked to take a seat either to the left or to the right of one of these people, depending on how close your political views were to that person. If there wasn't room, everyone had to budge up one seat as required. I was the last person, but even then I wasn't left or right=wing, but more liberal. I took a seat in the middle, and everyone had to move one seat left or right.
As a result, the two students he had asked to sit first were now sat right next to each other. His point was clear - they were a lot closer than they thought.
Why has this come to mind? Over the summer, I picked up a book called "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis, published in 2005. Wallis is an American evangelical, and his book looks at the seeming role played by religion in American politics then, and even more so today. I'm going to read a chapter of this book each day, and like my good friend Mike Parnell recently did with a couple of books share my thoughts here.
In the introduction, he starts by making one truth very clear. "God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat". We in the UK are guilty of assuming that, because of people like Faldwell and the Moral Majority, all American Christians support Bush and are Republican. As Robin Williams would say "Horse Excrement".
Wallis postulates that the Right wing in America want to focus on certain "hot topics" - such as abortion and same-sex marriage - while ignoring the need for social support and helping those less well off. He also makes the point that, because of the apparent Christian focus on the Right, the Left seems to want to distance itself from addressing the very real role that Christians can play in social reform.
The book was written after the 2004 election, and Wallis makes this statement that Bush could both return to "social policies" rather than "faith-based decisions" and involve others in tackling injustice both at home in the US and abroad.
Consider - if that had happened, when Katrina struck New Orleans would things have been different? These last few weeks, when we've seen major financial institutions fail and a proposed multi-billion dollar bailout by the Federal Reserve, free social health-care is still a no-no for the Republican party?
Bear in mind I'm not an American, so you may feel I have no right to speak, but exactly the same questions could be asked about our British system as well.
Anyway, as I say, come back as I share my thoughts on each chapter as I read it. In six weeks, you elect your new President in the US. Take time to consider what you think, and don;t vote blindly.