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February 14, 2005

Rendering Unto Caesar

Friend Blackavar takes me to task in the comments beneath Jesus Wants You To Pay Your Taxes

Your argument that state sponsorship of religion inevitably destroys religion is absolutely correct, at least in the instances where it is correct. State sponsored Catholicism and Shinto appear to have done all right.

On a larger point, you are using the language of the Right Rev. Barry Lynn, leader of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Mr. Lynn, based on the lawsuits he has filed, will not be happy until it is illegal to say the word "God" in public, whether it involves an act of worship, a curse, or mentioning that NBA'er God Shamgod just hit another three. Toward that end, he has sponsored lawsuits to end church tax exempt status, to ban even the ceremonial use of religion (think the graven image of Moses along with the other lawgivers on the Supreme Court building) and lawsuits to remove chaplains from the military - something our dying service members would surely appreciate. He is against prayer where it is most needed - at the start of legislative sessions; and although he is described as a minister, he is a Unitarian, which as far as I can tell hews to the dogmatic belief system, "hey, whatever you believe is cool, as long as it ain't that old time religion. Presumably, he's against churches using the publicly owned airwaves to proselytize as well.

Lynn has stated that when religion is fully driven from the public square, then it will be a completely personal matter, and a much more satisfying and fulfilling, and indeed religious experience for those who practice it.

There is a familiar word describing the achievement of that status: persecution.

I don't suggest that you are proposing Lynn's course, only hinting that you need to be careful in advancing Lynn's arguments - they are lions in sheep’s clothing, to which to feed the Christians. (I'll note that Lynn has never had much problem with the establishment of Islam or Judaism, except to the extent that citing a couple of radical Islamic Army chaplains made good fodder for his anti-chaplain lawsuit. Funny, that.)

I'd disagree that state sponsored Shinto and Catholicism are doing that well, though not vehemently. Shinto hasn't been state sponsored since WWII, and one could make the argument that the state-sponsored version of Shinto and its resultant cult of the emperor nearly destroyed Japan. It also appears to have been on the decline ever since. So obviously one could argue that religious decline is not soley due to recognition by the state.

Supposedly Catholic Europe is the least religious it's ever been, even in Ireland and Italy. Obviously, some blame this decline on Vatican II. I don't really have a dog in that fight, but I would argue that there's a large body of evidence from denominations other than Catholicism indicating that state sponsorship of a faith is bad for that faith

Aside: Wikipedia has a neat list of all the countries that still have an official religion. Aside from the Muslim ones, where I would assume evidence other than anecdotal would be hard to come by, I would bet that in most cases religions other than the official one in those countries have grown at its expense over the past few decades. It may also be that, as economic growth in those countries rises, religious practice falls. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, after all.

I don't believe that the removal of religion from the public square is necessarily evidence of persecution, but let's suppose that it is. Is that so bad? Islam, the Mormons and Conservative Christianity are among the fastest growing religions in America, and all of them claim to be persecuted. The Mormon church can make a legitimate claim that it has been persecuted throughout its history. Whether or not it is true, at least some Muslims and Conservative Christians are convinced that they're being persecuted at the moment.

The idea that a religion is being persecuted is obviously good for the membership rolls. God knows we Methodists could use some of that.

Yes, I realize that the Mormon church does not consider itself as separate from Christianity. As with the question of Vatican II, I have no dog in that fight. The separation was made for purposes of illustration only.

Man, attempting to anticipate what I might get raked over the coals for by one reader or another is freaking exhausting, especially since I know that the effort is almost certainly doomed to fruitlessness. My apologies to everyone in advance.

The practice of religion in the public square seems to me to be an either/or type of thing. Either you let them all in, or you let none of them in. Chaplains in the military are fine, in that they represent numerous faiths. Presumably, were there demands for a Santeria chaplain, one would eventually be provided.

Asking a specific deity for his blessings prior to a high school football game is not--though it strikes me that constitutionally there shouldn't be a problem with doing so before a professional football game. Rev. Lynn be damned if he thinks otherwise.

Maybe that's a way out...Christians, banned from the practice of religion in any forum where it could be construed that the government was subsidizing their faith, could begin to practice open displays of faith in areas where the government obviously does not have a role. It would not only reinforce the idea in the public's mind that Christians are being persecuted, it allows the open display of faith they seem to desire.

Such displays would seem to me to violate the strictures on the manner in which one should practice one's faith as outlined in Matthew 6:1-6, but so does much of what's going on now.

Take heed that you do not practice your righteousness before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Therefore, when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have praise from men. Truly I say to you, They have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing: That your alms may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and at the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you.

Given that Jesus himself appears to be against the practice of religion in the public square--at least as outlined above--the only explanation I can come up with as to why some American Christians so fiercely resist that removal is that they have no sense of what it is like when the officially approved religion on display is not their own.

When the Book of Matthew was written, the religion of the Pharisees was the "approved" one, and Christians were persecuted. No wonder they were advised to worship in secret. When America was founded, every single religion that came to our shores could legitimately claim to have suffered at the hands of a state religion. In the case of England our mother country, they all; Catholics, Anglicans, and Puritans, took turns persecuting each other.

Governmental power in the hands of a religion has a corrosive effect upon that religion. People get burned at the stake, or stoned, or shot in the back of the head in a soccer stadium. Yes, busing public school students to church for bible study is a far cry from any of those actions, but not busing public school students to church for bible study is an even farther cry from them. When the outcome of sliding down the slippery slope is so catastrophic, defending against even the smallest of steps towards that slope becomes obligatory--for all citizens, not just the irreligious ones.

As the man said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."

As the other man said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

From my point of view, American Christians have a duty to ensure that our religion does not encroach upon the public square, and far too many of us shirk it, because we are comfortable with the status quo, forgetting that the status quo always changes. The only way to ensure that we are not oppressed by an unwelcome religion in the future is to vigilantly guard against even the appearance of oppressing others with ours now.

Posted by Bigwig at February 14, 2005 11:48 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
Comments

The most openly persecuted "religious denomination" in the USA is atheism and it is also the fastest growing segment according to several studies and polls.

Posted by: coturnix at February 15, 2005 01:42 AM

The LDS Church (Mormons) have also been very careful to be stricktly seperate from the government. They never endorse a specific candidate or party in an election (although they encourage all church members to vote) and have turned down accepting funds from the President Bush's "Faith-based initiative".

Posted by: el jefe at February 15, 2005 10:25 AM

Bigwig, I raked you over the coals? Please. You have seen a proper coal raking conducted by me, and you know damn well that when I'm done, there is nothing but a path of diamonds left under the victim. This was at best a carbon-patting, or perhaps a coke-shoveling. No rakes were injured in that comment.

I was merely criticizing the argument you used, which is basically the same language used by Barry Lynn. The larger debate isn't about some goofball little town in East Buddha, West by God Virginny. Most of us would agree by acclamation that that is wrong. The larger debate is about the absolutism of folks like Barry Lynn, it's about scraping a relief sculpture of Moses off a courthouse because he is pictured alongside 20 other lawgivers; about banning the military from employing chaplains to comfort troops going into battle, and coming out of it on their way to the grave; and prohibiting little ceremonial references to the Almighty that are part and parcel of our public and political culture. Yes, silly little cultural artifices matter to people.

As for atheists feeling persecuted by the existence of publicly available judeo-christianity... well, I'm really sorry you have hurt feelings. But the free exercise clause doesn't guarantee your freedom from hurt feelings. Hell, it pains me as a Catholic that Calvinists preach this loony predestinarian doctrine, but then say that we have to "accept Christ" to be saved. No we don't - if we really believe in predestination, then it doesn't matter what we do, we're either in, or we're out, and we don't really have a choice, God will pick us to accept him or not, so we might as well just sit here... It drives me nuts that they argue in favor of these two incompatible doctrines. But it's their right, and if some Calvinist politician refers to this country as "God's chosen people," or if some preacher abuses the public airwaves by saying so too loudly on a Sunday morning, well, I'll get over it.

This country was founded in large part due to the actions of religious lunatics, and it is still populated by them, and they like some mentions of God in their public discourse. I've made my peace with that, and frankly, side with Niccolo Machiavelli on this - it is good for public leaders to be a little religious, but not too much so.

And frankly, I'd rather be around a rabid Baptist than a rabid atheist. A rabid Baptist will only rarely sue me in court to make me live like he does.

Posted by: Blackavar at February 15, 2005 01:16 PM

I don;t think you raked me over the coals at all in the previous post. I was doing my pre-cringing for reaction to this post when I made that reference.

In political posts I'm perfectly happy to piss people off. Not so much in the religious ones.

Posted by: Bigwig at February 15, 2005 09:02 PM
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