Wednesday, July 04, 2007
It's Patriotic to Blog Against Theocracy
This is the second time I've participated in the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm. This time the participation dates were July 1-4 in honor of this country's independence, to show that being against theocracy is a patriotic stance to take. Since it is 9:43 on July 4th, I'm getting this in under the wire.
Today, as is traditional, the New York Times published the Declaration of Independence in full. My husband read it out loud, and as always we were touched by the bravery of the men who signed it, knowing full well that if the British caught them, they would be hanged as traitors.
The document is written so beautifully, spelling out one at a time the various transgressions that King George had perpetrated against the colonists. Interestingly, many of these actions are being taken by the government we have today. It makes me wonder whether it is time for a new revolution.
Those who favor the intermingling of religion with our government love to use the Declaration of Independence to prove that the Founding Fathers believed in God and were religious and assumed all of the people in the country would agree with them on this point. They point to Jefferson's use of "Creator" in the document and use it as a point in favor of allowing religion to permeate all aspects of the government.
But they are wrong. It is not the Declaration of Independence, important though it is, that spells out the rights and privileges of United States citizens. No, it is the U.S. Constitution that has this task.
I found a full copy of the Constitution on the internet. I searched in vain for a mention of "God," "Creator," "Lord," or "Jehovah." Each time the search came up with nothing. The only mention of religion is in the First Amendment, where it says:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The Founding Fathers didn't want the government messing with people's religions. They didn't want the government to be in the God business one way or the other. If they wanted to put God in the Constitution, they easily could have mentioned it. On the contrary, they obviously went to a great deal of trouble to leave God out of it entirely, since his name in any of its forms is not in the document.
Many of their ancestors had come to America for religious freedom, escaping from countries where there was one state religion and if you didn't follow that one, you were out of luck. They didn't want the same thing to happen in this new republic that they were founding. They didn't want people who practiced a less common type of religion to feel left out, persecuted, or uncomfortable because they were not in the majority. It was one of the principles on which this country was founded: the freedom to be yourself without fear.
Despite the clear directive of the Constitution, Christianity has been the mainstream religion that permeates our lives, whether we believe in it or not. In recent times, more efforts have been made to try to eliminate religious expression from government-related events and locations in order to prevent minority religious groups from feeling excluded from the public discourse.
And who howls in protest about this, claiming their right to religious expression is being denied? You guessed it: Christians. The largest religious group in the country, with countless churches, millions of members; the group with television and radio shows proclaiming their beliefs; the group whose holidays completely take over the public scene. Yes, them. They say their religious expression is being denied because their town won't put a creche scene on the town hall lawn at Christmas. Never mind that the town has a Christmas tree lighting and Santa Claus greeting the kids. Gotta have that creche scene or else their rights are being denied.
The problem with these people is, they don't have any conception of what it's like to NOT be the mainstream religion. They don't know what it's like to be the only Jewish kid among a group of kids celebrating Christmas. Or be a Hindu person at a Democratic fundraising breakfast who has to hear someone say a prayer that invokes "Our Lord Jesus Christ," with the smug assumption that Jesus Christ is the Lord of everyone in that room.
They have no idea what it feels like to not be the majority, to have to roll with the punches and smile as someone else's culture and beliefs are shoved down their throats. They don't know what it's like to be a Muslim in this day and age and hear the sly comments and whispers, or feel the prejudice.
Freedom of religion means you are free to worship the way you see fit, in the church, mosque or temple of your choice. It means no one will cart you away in a railroad car to a concentration camp for being Jews. It means that you don't have to hide your Catholic mass in someone's attic as they did in Amsterdam when the Protestants were in charge. It means you don't have to worry that someone is going to burn down your church. It means that you don't have to worship at all if you don't want to.
It doesn't mean that you can inject your own religion into every part of public life just because you're the majority. As the saying goes, your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. If your desire to practice your religion in freedom impinges on the freedom of someone else then your freedom must be abridged just enough so that both of you are free to worship without feeling stifled.
The only way this can happen in any practical way is to leave religion out of government. Sure, you could include every single religion in an opening prayer, but it would get pretty dicey when you add in the Druids and the Wiccans on top of the Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and the various other sects that exist in this country. I really think even the outraged Christians would agree not promoting any religion is the easier solution.
In case anyone wonders, my mother was brought up Protestant, my father was Jewish and converted to Christianity. I was raised Protestant (Congregationalist/United Church or Christ). I now consider myself an agnostic. I don't say I'm an atheist, because, as the New York Lottery says, "Hey, you never know!"
But I do admire people who follow their religion and who sincerely believe. I often wish I had that ability but I'm a born skeptic and although I've tried in the past, I never can get rid of that little nagging voice of doubt.
However, if I had been able to achieve true faith, I still don't think I'd have felt a need for my religion to be included in public events and on public property. I feel religion is a personal thing, to be celebrated in the company of your fellow worshippers, or alone. To me, that is freedom to worship as you please--and it should be enough.