Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Church and state

I received this e-mail from a friend of mine. My response is below (starting with "Dear XXXXX").


I was asked to send this on if I agree or delete if I don't. It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a problem in having "In God! We Trust" on our money and having "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the 14% to Shut Up and BE QUIET!!!
If you agree, pass this on, if not delete. .

I'd like to offer a competing viewpoint to the author of this message that you passed along.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to a country, not a God. Therefore, all references within that pledge must be couched in those terms. I certainly believe that The United States is a nation "under God." In fact, I think that can be said of all nations and all things.
What I and 86 percent of Americans believe is certainly important. And, thank God, we live in a country where we can believe in what we want, whether we are 86 percent, 14 percent or .000001 percent of the American population.
Yet, the Pledge, at its essence, is not about belief in God. It is about allegiance to country. Most of the time, the pledge is recited voluntarily. If an atheist in Rotary chooses to not say the pledge or to skip over the "under God" reference, I doubt that anyone would notice. And even if they did, I don't think any action would be taken.
It's when the pledge crosses over to a compulsory statement, that things change. When a student is required to say the Pledge, the term "under God" now becomes much more significant (as do other parts of the pledge).
Here's where I begin to have a problem. First, I find no Biblical basis for government-mandated articulations of faith. There are many names on this list whom I recognize that know more about the Bible than I ever will, so perhaps I'm in error here. Yet, even while confessing a woefully inadequate knowledge of specific Scriptures, my understanding of the general message of the New Testament doesn't involve coercion at all.
I have a theory on why Jesus did not use the government to advance his great message. He knew it could and almost certainly would backfire. Once religion is infused in even a democratic government by a religious majority, it's only a matter of time before the majority loses sway. We are seeing demographic evidence of that right now. As this great U.S. melting pot continues to bubble away, whites are finding themselves minority populations in large areas of the country. Can it be long until there are also communities in American where Christians are in the minority?
What then? If you find yourself in the 14 percent instead of the 86 percent will "shut up and be quiet" be an acceptable response to your protestations over "one nation, under Allah ..."?
My problem with the infusion of religion into government is not borne from a desire to protect government from religion, it's about protecting religion FROM government.
That is, I want people to understand that there is a case to be made for separation of church and state that has nothing to do with diminishing the role of religion, but rather seeks to protect and enhance religion.
Practically speaking, I also don't understand why some of these rather trivial inclusions of religion in government gather so much importance. Is seeing "in God we trust" on the dollar bill really a cornerstone of someone's faith? Is praying before a public school football game something that is essential to the faith lives of large groups of people?
Put another way, have we so filled the "non-public" parts of our lives with church activities, prayer time, studying God's word, living a life of discipleship and spreading the Good News that there is nothing left to do but also include religion in government life?
I, for one, would be utterly hypocritical to demand that more time for religion be included in government when I make such pitiful use of the "private" time accorded to me. Further, I don't have near enough "faith" in the government to be a responsible gatekeeper of religious artifacts, whether they be tangible or lyrical. I do have faith in God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- and that certainly isn't going to be shaken by whether "under God" is included in a secular, patriotic pledge of allegiance to our great nation.
Finally, even if you think all of that is hokum, I would submit that there is not much Biblical support for "shut up and be quiet," even when it refers to the least among us or unbelievers. I haven't met many people who were converted because they were forced to say a pledge that included affirmation of a deity in which they didn't believe. And I doubt that the faith life of many Christians is significantly enhanced by the reciting of a Pledge or a transaction involving currency.
Anyway, rant over.
I guess if any of you have read this far, I'd like to say: there are some -- or, at least one -- in that 86 percent who still think religion is best left in the hands of individuals and churches and not the government.
Skip Foster


alena said...

Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!

Chad Thomas said...

Wow-Excellently put!

Anonymous said...

What this really says is that only 14% are smart enough not to believe in fairy tales and unproven historical events.

John Harris said...

Excellent points, I agree with you one hundred percent!

Alan J. said...

You make excellent points. I'll go one step farther...Jesus did not see the government as anything that mattered significantly. See the offhand way he dismisses taxes..."render onto Caeser what is Caeser's." He even tells us to pray in private (Matthew 6:6), not a fact many school prayer advocates seem able to notice.
In Jesus' time, the Jewish law was administered by leaders who were allowed religious freedom by the Romans. The Roman government found Jesus to be a rabble-rouser, and the Jewish leaders saw him as a heretic. He managed to found Christianity with not one, but two hostile governments squaring off against him. Why are we so insistent that Christianity must be supported by our own government? Simple – we forget. We live nice, cushy lives here in the United States. Rarely are any of us persecuted for our beliefs. None of us truly know what it's like to be hunted and killed by our government because they dislike our religious preferences. We don't remember what our forefathers faced when they left the King's church and were forced to flee to the "New World." None of us will be crucified for espousing faith in the "One True God." And praise God for that. Praise him in the streets, in the churches, spread his name and glory far and wide...but let's not involve the government. It's just easier this way.

Marie Cope said...

I'm just now catching up with the local news and your blog. Well said!
I had similar thoughts after Sept 11th. So many of my fellow Christian clergy were preaching patriotism ... and encouraging their flocks to wave the banner of our country rather than the banner of their faith. Not to mention that so many of our political leaders were dressing up much of their verbage with religious lingo. Getting politics and religious expression confused is, in my opinion, a scary way to live.

linda said...

Well said indeed! I couldn't agree more, and you put it beautifully. Thank you!