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I awoke an hour and a half before sunrise and craned my neck to peer out the bedside window. Moonlight suffused the Minnesota forest, illuminating a lingering snowpack. Ok, it was worth rolling out of bed to witness the dawn from skis. This was two years ago, on April 19.

Buoyed by coffee, I crunched atop 12 to 15 inches of late, late winter crust, clutching skis and poles. I would've preferred a paddle and canoe, but at the edge of the bog I stepped into the bindings and double-poled to the ice of Secret Lake. Though it was snow-covered, showed no signs of deterioration, and was likely several inches thick, I didn't venture onto the sheet — just couldn't conjure trust for lake ice in the third week of April. Instead, I skirted the shoreline, imprinting tracks between black spruce and tamarack.

The gibbous moon was three days past full, its glow rapidly ebbing as I skied beyond the west end of the lake to the forest edge, pivoted to face east, planted the poles. An arc of burgeoning radiance on the tree line — a fanfare of light — confirmed the planet was still spinning.

A winding roll of mist about a hundred yards long hovered just above the middle of the ice sheet. It was a ghost of the previous afternoon — a soggy day of wet snow followed by a 30-degree temperature drop overnight. If not for the cap of ice, Secret Lake would've been shrouded in soupy fog.

The treetops tinged to yellow, intercepting the first rays of the day. Through dense trunks and brush on the eastern shore I glimpsed one tiny glint of unscreened sunlight. I slowly glided that way, retracing my faint track as color inched down spires of spruce and pine.

Halfway back I paused to look at the serpent of mist, now drifting toward the northern shore, and soon to be extinguished in full sun. Wouldn't it be nice, I mused, in this dark era of toxic politics, war, climatic upheaval, the dregs of pandemic, and not least, the personal decline of old age, to be that little cloud — to delicately evaporate, my work and duty and dread finished. I whispered a few lines of poetry: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep," wrote Robert Frost, "But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep." So I merely entertained the harmless fancy for a moment, then resumed skiing toward the sun.

Evaporate? Most humans desire a legacy, some spoor that testifies we were present. Why? Beyond those relatively few who will briefly miss us before they too disappear, who cares? What is it that demands transcendence? A clue: I was looking forward to more coffee and to breakfast, and to a project I'd planned. Our natural assumption is that our future exists, whistling through the universe with the arrow of time. And though our intellect understands we will die and vanish, that natural assumption of time seems to extend beyond our inevitable demise, and we find it difficult to really believe our future terminates.

Some achieve the "immortality" of fame or infamy, having secured a niche in history, but they aren't alive to appreciate it so it's irrelevant. History does serve to bolster our assumption of a future by proving there is a past, even if it's incompletely accessible and regularly modified by how we view the present. Nevertheless, we are convinced of the reality of our future. After all, later that morning I did have breakfast and more coffee, and did finish the project, and now — further along the arrow — I'm writing about it.

This inherent faith in our own futures leads to the hope for, and often the conviction of, a life after death — a foundation of religion. There was a time — over three decades past — when in the presence of that generous dawn, I would've whispered a prayer of gratitude for the creation. I was a fervent believer, had majored in Judeo-Christian theology, and once aspired to the ministry of a small fundamentalist denomination that was sure of the imminent return of Christ.

I'm no longer a believer and the reasons why are beyond the scope of this essay. However, I will highlight one doctrine of that denomination that still resonates. Because we believed that Christ would return soon to manage Armageddon and the redemption of the faithful, and all the works of flawed humanity would be overthrown, we also believed we should have no part in politics.

We pointed to a New Testament vignette. Jesus, handed a Roman coin and asked about taxes, responded, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." In other words, don't try to fix Caesar. Not only were we forbidden to support any political candidate or platform, we were forbidden to even vote. If the fate of the world was in God's hands, then why trifle with the arrangements and foibles of mankind? Though nonbelieving relatives and friends might consider us a bit goofy, we posed no threat to them or to the American prospect, and we coexisted without persecution or vitriol in either direction.

In contrast, consider the political advertisement I saw in a regional newspaper in the autumn of 2016. The pro-Trump text was written by a fundamentalist minister who referred to the candidate as a "Biblical Cyrus." The phrase probably puzzled most readers, but it chilled me to the bone. I recognized an Old Testament reference to the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who freed the Jews from the captivity of the Babylonians and is the only gentile in the Bible dubbed "messiah." Though Cyrus was a heathen, he was chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from bondage. In the context of the ad, Trump, despite his shortcomings, is an agent of God.

Many wonder why Donald Trump's supporters don't care about his immorality or crimes, or why — no matter what he says or does — they flock to his rallies, donate money for his battalion of lawyers and cast aspersions (or threats) on any who oppose him. Answer: Trump is God's anointed instrument. Resistance to Trump is resistance to God. It also makes clear why the framers of the U.S. Constitution created a secular state without a national religion, or any religious litmus tests for participation in the republic. Politics and religion do not mix, and attempted mixture is toxic to both.

The essential problem is that politics is the art of compromise between competing interests. Religious convictions by their very nature are not amenable to compromise. Witness the many bloody and bitter religious conflicts, past and present. Witness current Trump-supporting decals and T-shirts featuring the association of a cross with an AR-15. Does that mean an assault rifle is also one of God's instruments?

I'm not hostile toward religion per se. The power of faith is real, and religious practice can certainly be an asset to well-being. However, when faith is mobilized for political power and the adulation of a "Cyrus," it can also spiral into folly and hatred. You are free to believe what you will, but so long as the Constitution is upheld you are not free to force your beliefs on others — for example, that an embryo is a person. That's one reason that many right-wing, politically inclined evangelicals despise the Constitution. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), activist/influencer Jack Posobiec said, "Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely." He then hinted at theocracy.

That bright and placid morning on the ice was a balm and a joy, and in that sense religious practice. The ephemeral spool of mist was a reminder of natural flux and impermanence, and in that sense a sermon. My distrust of April ice was caution in the face of uncertainty because I believe in a future and want to follow that path a while longer, working to ensure that future does not include a theocracy run by narrow-minded zealots who have forgotten or never understood the worth and intent of the American enterprise. A quarter-millennium ago the ratification of the Constitution was a brilliant political sunrise, helping to banish the darkness of repressive monarchy and priests who would be kings.

Peter M. Leschak, of Side Lake, Minn., is the author of "Ghosts of the Fireground" and other books.