The Dangers of Making America a “Christian Nation.”

As our president makes his way to the far east to attend the Olympic games, concerns about religious freedoms and human rights continue to overshadow the games themselves. Here at home, those same concerns are echoed in the ongoing Presidential race.

65% of all Americans believe that the nation’s founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. This is according to a national survey released Sept. 11, 2007 by the First Amendment Center. Quite incorrect*, and it highlights an increasing disconnect between perception and reality, and forewarns of a dangerous trend toward the establishment of a state religion.

Among other things, one of the underlying reasons behind the United States becoming the United States was escape from persecution of state religion. Both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary before her perpetrated a war on their religious opponents. Lands were seized, titles were stripped, and many were imprisoned and (in the severe case of Queen Mary) put to death.

But, you say, that couldn’t happen today. We live in a democracy. Yes, yes we do. A big reason we live in a democracy is that there is no state religion. Any time religion is involved in matters of state, a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people” is no longer possible. Because the church is part of the government and the government part of the church, the people’s wil and the rights of the individual become secondary.

One of the most dangerous things this administration has done is to forward the purpose of a “unitary executive,” with the concept that the President is a power unto himself, and answerable to no one. Previously, it was recognized by most politicians (if not most citizens) that endowing an executive with that much power could be disastrous, as eventually, the pendulum would swing, and the opposing party would gain the executive branch. This was always enough of a threat to keep checks and balances in place. Most Christians shrug at this argument, pointing out that we only elect Christian presidents. Very well, then.

What would happen if we elected another Catholic president? One who wished to make Catholicism the state religion? It’s a Christian religion, right? What’s the big deal? And being the unitary executive, (s)he has the power to make that a reality. What? Why are you getting angry?

That’s not even an extreme example. I’m sure there would be much more outrage if I substituted Catholic with Muslim. And that outrage is precisely the reason we CANNOT have a state religion. It is wrong, regardless of which religion is chosen, to impose that religion on others. Were anyone to attempt to do so to Christians, I’m sure a first amendment suit would be brought so fast, the irony meters wouldn’t be able to keep up.

We are now a nation of many cultures. There is no one that we can point to and call it exclusively “American.” Those cultures include religions. And all of those citizens have the right to practice the religion of their choice or no religion at all, regardless of whether we embrace it or not. As Americans, we MUST preserve that right.  

 

*True. It was never about God. Our government is secular, our society is predominantly Christian. Those who founded our country did so not on “Christian principles,” but on a rule of law and justice derived from Greek, Roman and English systems. Not the bible.

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15 responses to “The Dangers of Making America a “Christian Nation.”

  1. To continue your thought about “a rule of law and justice derived from Greek, Roman and English systems,” I am amazed at how anyone could be fooled into believing the Bible, and specifically the Ten Commandments, is the basis of our legal system (c.f. Roy Moore). Of the 10-12 laws put down in Ex. 20 (and Deut. 5), only three are consistently illegal in the US (murder, theft/kidnapping, and perjury (*)), with adultery occasionally added but unenforced. The three that are consistently illegal are common features of most legal systems. It’s hard to imagine a system of laws based on the Bible that does not include “Do not have any other gods before me.” It’s the most critical part of Biblical law. To think that the writers of the Constitution and the earliest laws based their system on Biblical law, but ignored most of the Ten Commandments (and almost all of Deuteronomy), is nonsensical.

    (*) Not even to bring up the controversies over what “kill” or “steal” mean in this passage.

  2. leftcoastlibrul

    pantheophany, I’m truly enjoying your continued participation on my blog.

    One of the things that most disturbes me is the continued insistence on a theocracy. As (titular) head of the Anglican Church, the Queen of England is, at least in name, spiritual head of the country. On the other hand, that particular role is not one that’s been truly exercised for some time. So although it’s what we use as a modern basis for comparison, I think most would agree that it’s easy to find theocratic governments which take their countries in directions NONE of us want. The closest I can imagine would be Iran, and I doubt anyone in this country would consider that acceptable. The clerics decide who can and cannot run for public office.

  3. Including religion in state affairs does not have to entail persecution of minority faiths although you are right to think that this is what is in the mind of many if not most religious people. A multi-faith, multi-law system where nobody is hurt for his or her religious choice can be established. This is actually in some respects similar to and better than what is being done in secular regimes. We have to accept that the secular state principle pre-supposes the correctness of not any “religion” in the traditional sense. But it actually presupposes all traditional religions incorrect and invalid in government and public affairs and establishes the primacy of the religion of secular humanism in these matters. Therefore, the secular state is as religious in an extended and more objective sense as a theocracy is.

    God willing, we Muslims and our intellectuals have yet to display more eloquently that a shariah regime can well be more universalistic and more embracing of differences than the best secular regime. We should work hard for it.

    The political conditions of the medieval ages prevented Muslims from doing this, although secular-minded historians themselves conclude that the medieval Islamic world was much more cosmopolitan, more liberal and more tolerant towards non-Muslim, Christian and Jewish minorities than Europe was towards their own religious minorities. Actually there were no or hardly any Muslim minorities in Europe at that time! …

    Regards
    Mehmed Mustafa
    Istanbul, Turkey

  4. Wasn’t blashpheming the gods a crime punishable by law in ancient Greece and Rome? I think you are idealizing ancient Greece and Rome too much and seeing them as the liberal, freedom-loving, tolerant people that they were not.

  5. Mehmed, to your point on ancient Greece and Rome, I don’t know if there’s a good linage of ancient Greek or Roman law into English law (which American law is directly decedent from). I understood that English law developed independently of Roman ius commune. In any case, the Roman crime you’re describing was radically different than the shariah crime of blasphemy. The Romans were true polytheists who believed in a large number of independent gods. “Gods” in this context are powerful beings that require specific forms of worship in order to keep them happy and prevent them from smiting you (floods, pests, illness, whatever). The Romans were very interested in learning about any gods they could, and then finding out how those gods were to be worshiped so that they would be protected from smiting, and also so they could receive favors from these newly found gods. Roman religion amounts to a system of mafia-style protection rackets. This was a fairly common form of religion in the ancient world, as the logical decedent of henotheism.

    This is so *wildly* different from monotheism that I think people miss the point. This kind of polytheism is ultimately tolerant in that it embraces all gods. But it is completely intolerant towards anything that gets in the way of keeping these gods happy. This is what got early Christians into trouble. They said “don’t worship Venus.” Romans responded that if they didn’t keep Venus happy, Venus was going to kick their butts. They saw Christians like we would see someone going around smashing river levies. When the river floods, we’re all going to die because of you. This is very different from sharia blasphemy (or its Christian counterpart).

    That said, I do not completely disagree with your comments on the Ottoman Empire, but you overstate them a bit. The Ottomans were tolerant of the People of the Book but subjected even them to jizya. They were not tolerant of faiths outside those explicitly protected by the Qur’an. I personally would not be protected as dhimmi and could legally have been converted by force, so I find the point a bit muted.

    I do agree with your underlying point that a secular system must be agnostic (or at least apatheist), and therefore de facto atheist. It really isn’t possible for a government to be completely neutral on such a critical point of fact. Either there are magical entities (or a single magical entity) out there that will smack us around if we do things they don’t like, or there aren’t such entities. If there are, then it’s a pretty important point of public policy to determine who they are and what they want. It’s like being “neutral” on whether hurricanes exist. You either build levies to protect against them or you don’t; there’s no “neutral.”

  6. leftcoastlibrul

    Hello, Mehmed, thank you for the reply.

    My comment regarding the Greek and Roman justice systems were nothing more than noting that our system of law and government were influenced by them as well as by English law.

    Our senate was modeled after the Roman senate, and several of our laws and precepts of law (innocent until proven guilty, right to trial in front of peers, etc.) were derived directly from Roman and Athenian law. That does not mean we copied them directly, nor should we.

    I think that Muslims are quite capable of exhibiting a fair justice system; many Muslim countries have done so. It is not any one religion that concerns me. It is, rather, the religious fundamentalist sects of ALL religions, determined to see their countries ruled by “God’s law” that cause me to fear for our system of government.

    We have a rule that all are equal under the law. That rule works best under a secular system.

  7. To rephrase, the primacy of “God’s law” (which is in my faith the shariah law based on the principles in the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet) in the legal system of a country does not entail ill treatment of those who do not believe in God’s law. They are judged by their own judges according to their own belief system. In situations that involve more than one faith community (including a secular humanist community et al.), the primacy belongs to God’s law instead of any other law system because one logically has to have primacy.

    It is wrong to think that secular western law is at an equal distance to any religious community. In reality, secular western law is the law of a particular faith community, i.e. the secular humanist community and it is an unjust imposition on believing Muslims who believe in the principles of law of the Qur’an and the sunnah.

    Hence secular western law is more repressive and devoid of plurality than “the primacy of the God’s law” system as I described it above. Secular law system does not give the primacy to the law system of secular humanist community. Quite in a more different and authoritarian way, it makes that law the only one and negates the law systems of other faith communities.

  8. But I understand you on this point. The religious people that you know does not understand law in the way that I have just described. They are unfortunately the intellectual descendants of the inquisitors of the middle ages who destroyed and not tolerated different faiths and legal systems. As this is the only religious outlook known to your tradition, you are right to fear.

  9. leftcoastlibrul

    Okay, let’s try this a different way.

    1. The fact that I’ve lived the majority of my life in San Francisco, one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet, and have known people of all religious stripes, is not really germane. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t really support or detract from the facts regarding religious law v. secular law.

    2. Secular law is neither Eastern nor Western. Once law is secular and separate from religion, it is no longer about geographic differences, only differences in policy.

    I’m going to point out that secular law “negat[ing] the law systems of other faith communities” applies only in the same way as any other faith community would negate secular law. In other words: All legal systems, in some shape or form, deviate from all others. Secular law can be overturned or amended, which is its greatest advantage over religious law (IMO). If we find a law that 100 years ago was perfectly reasonable, but now infringes on the rights of citizens, it can be struck down. Religious law, unfortunately, does not recognize that society evolves, and that people do not think or act as they did 2 or 5 or 10 centuries ago. Therefore, religious law cannot advance with society. It can only hold it back.

    Secular law, in its best form, guarantees the greatest amount of freedom to the largest number possible of its citizens while still protecting society as a whole, regardless of race, religion, age, sexuality or (and this is important) gender. All are equal under the eyes of the law. “Your rights end where mine begin” is perhaps one of the most important concepts reinforced by secular law.

  10. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, but I’m not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December. I don’t agree with Darwin, but I didn’t go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his Theory of Evolution.

    Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what’s the big deal? It’s not like somebody is up there reading the entire Book of Acts. They’re just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and to the fans going home from the game.

    But it’s a Christian prayer, some will argue. Yes, and this is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles. According to our very own phone book, Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect–somebody chanting Hare Krishna? If I went to a football game Jerusalem, I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer. If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer. If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha.
    And I wouldn’t be offended. It wouldn’t bother me one bit.

    When in Rome ……

    But what about the atheists?…..is another argument.

    What about them? Nobody is asking them to be baptized. We’re not going to pass the collection plate. Just humor us for 30 seconds. If that’s asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of ear plugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand. Call your lawyer!

    Unfortunately, one or two will make that call. One or two will tell thousands what they can and cannot do. I don’t think a short prayer at a football game is going to shake the world’s foundations.

    Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek, while our courts strip us of all our rights. Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating, and to pray before we go to sleep. Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now, a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.

    God, help us. And if that last sentence offends you, well, just sue me.

    The silent majority has been silent too long. It’s time we tell that one or two individuals who scream loud enough to be heard that the vast majority doesn’t care what they want. It is time that the majority rules! It’s time we tell them: ‘You don’t have to pray; you don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance; you don’t have to believe in God or attend services that honor Him. That is your right, and we will honor your right; but by golly, you are no longer going to take our rights away. We are fighting back, and we WILL WIN!’

    God bless us, one and all…especially those who denounce Him. God bless America, despite all her faults. She is still the greatest nation of all. God bless our service men who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God.

  11. leftcoastlibrul

    Hi, Beartracks. Thanks for the comment.

    It isn’t about Atheism or Buddhism or Christianity or Pantheism. It’s about the highest law of the land. While we’re at it, you didn’t quote the Constitution. You quoted the Declaration of Independence. Don’t feel bad; people do that ALL the time; it’s just a pet peeve of mine, like nails on a blackboard.

    We do not have a state religion. Frothing rhetoric aside, our politicians don’t want a state religion any more than I do; religion tends to interfere in government to the extent that it’s not possible to responsibly govern.

    You’re not having any rights taken from you. You can still pray at a football game (as if god cares at all about football or sport in general; if the other team prays just as hard, what’s a responsible god to do?). No school official is allowed to lead others in prayer, because they are employees of the federal government, and as such, that would be the government endorsing one religion over another. What if one of the players is Jewish? Or Sunni? Why should they be forced to pray to a Christian god just because the coach happens to be Christian? Now you have two First Amendment violations on your hands.

    You as a private citizen, however, are welcome and encouraged to pray to whatever god you decide is real in public or private. For that matter, many employers make concessions to workers to accomodate their religious beliefs (fasting days, holidays, etc.)

    Calm down, stop acting as though Christians are being persecuted. The only difference between now and thirty years ago is that now there are enough people of other religions that Christians actually have to adhere to the Constitution, whereas before the question was almost academic.

    Frankly after reading stories like this one, I have grave misgivings about the famed “love” of Christians for their fellow man.

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  15. mathaytacechristou

    I am a Devout Christian and I agree with you 100%. My Right to practice my religion in accordance with my conscience is directly connected with your ability to reject religion and live by your conscience. We cannot give some rights to some citizens and others to others. We must all have the same rights concerning religion, or tyranny rules.

    In fact, I wrote a post about this (from a Christian Perspective in fact) called “America is not a Christian Nation, Thank God!” I would appreciate your thoughts on it.

    http://mathaytacechristou.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/america-is-not-a-christian-nation-thank-god/

    God Bless

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