Faithful Facts

And today provides the third installment on my religion-and-government reflections, continuing from Tuesday and yesterday.

Problematically for our Christian-American religious zealots, the Constitution is a religiously neutral document, nowhere referencing God, Jesus or Christianity (except in the matter of the date of adoption, about which much nonsense, like the two links, has been generated but which merely translates into English the Latin Anno domini, A.D. — the only calendrical numeration system, predating the contemporary religiously neutral CE and BCE, available to the Framers and one that even nonbelieving I use, thus clearly no evidence of any Founder religious intent of any kind). The U.S. Constitution online discusses the complex matter here. The Framersʼ choice of words was most careful, deliberate and neutral. Indeed, historically, there was considerable outcry against the Constitution in the days of adoption because it was “Godless,” to some fervently faithful hyperChristians of the day (pretty much sinking the whole impossible Founders-as-Fundamentalist-Bible-Thumpers argument right there). As endlessly many sources, online sites and legal precedents insist, the Constitution (unamended) itself prohibits any religious qualifications in the government — “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI). That pretty much clinches the gargling demise of the Christian-Nation ridiculosity. And the First Amendment erases the doubts about a theocratic foundation for the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The statement is clear. Our federal government can in no legislative way establish any religion, nor may it interfere with the free practice of any religion. My extremist fundamental friends are free to practice their religion… without interfering (particularly legislatively) with anyoneʼs elseʼs practice or nonpractice, beliefs or nonbeliefs. That seems a straightforward and American way to behave. Perhaps, missionary zeal on the parts of some Christians (and those of some other religions and some atheists as well) may cause problems in this simple ideal, as may nonstandard religious practices like the consumption of peyote or ganja. My (imaginary) evangelically fundamental neighbor may not like the exclusion of her dearly held Creationist myth from high school biology, but an American public school is a public, therefore governed, trust, and religion may not be established there; she may sue in the courts for the privilege to insert her beliefs there (and fail again to change the course of law in the land). These situations and multitudinous, unimagined others are why the Constitution insists that Congress and the Judiciary will be empowered to make legislation and decisions to enact and refine the founding document (which is just what has happened ever since 1787/1791 — sometimes to my satisfaction and sometimes not). Just as Congress cannot interfere in the free practice of religion, there is absolutely no established religion for the nation, and Congress and the courts are permitted to make this principle work in real life hereafter. Thatʼs a Constitutional (amended) fact.

The Fundies donʼt like that. It means they donʼt get their way: to make this nation into a theocratic Christian state. Too bad. Ours is not a religious nation but a worldly (yep, secular) state. Many Americans donʼt appreciate all the “under God” and “in God we trust” and “so help me God” items that religious extremists enjoy and have inserted into our governmental and judicial practices since 1791 (mostly just over fifty years ago), simply because zealots have insisted at the ripe and proper historical moment and legislators and justices have meekly caved to the political pressure. But the Constitution remains, clear and adamant, against theocratic intrusions on the nation (or at least on the government, and likewise government intrusions on the varied religious or irreligious). Rightists may quail at the phrase, “separation of (or between) church and state,” but it is the simplest explanation of the exclusion clause I (or our federal courts) have heard or seen (thanks, TJ).

If youʼre a “Constitutional Fundamentalist,” then, you stand firmly and proudly for the principle of no government-established religion whatsoever and everyoneʼs right to practice freely his or her diverse religion(s) or lack thereof. To take any other position on religion in America is a contradiction, fundie zealots, and a Lie.

So the nation is definitively not Christian. But it is equally, definitively not antiChristian (or anitMuslim or antiBuddhist or antiWhatever-Religion-You-Like, for that matter). Fundamentalists may feel threatened by the bogus threat of secularism, toward which the Framing Fathers did seem to tilt the country in the foundational documents (to my relief), but they and all religious folk of whatever faiths or conscience are guaranteed the right to their free practice of their religion(s), regardless how humanistic, how secular, how agnostic or atheistic (or Rastafarian or Pastafarian or Muslim or whatever) the nation becomes. Itʼs guaranteed in the Constitution. And thatʼs a fact for folks of all faiths (and none).

And then, after closing, the most evil bit of selfRighteous activist warfare that my research uncovered is this wicked bit of video intolerance, deeming any unSaved Others as Nazis because, according to Rightist Revisionism, Adolph Hitler (a Tighty Righty fascist, if there ever was one, by the way — talk about glibly and blindly rewriting history to suit oneself!) was the first to use the exact phrase “separation of church and state.” (Which he didnʼt, but itʼs an established Rightist position, and the incestuous unimaginative carboncopying of notions by other Rightists is tediously well documented and easy to prove for yourself.) To the contrary, Jefferson clearly had a few hundred years on the evil, one-testicled, mustached dictator, and Jeffersonʼs letter to the Danbury Baptists (“separation between church and state”) comes much closer to the key phrase than any translation of Hitlerʼs remark(s) I have found.

A short one today, to balance the lengthier consideration yesterday.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

9 thoughts on “Faithful Facts

  1. “My extremist fundamental friends are free to practice their religion… without interfering (particularly legislatively) with anyoneʼs elseʼs practice or nonpractice, beliefs or nonbeliefs.”

    This is never true in the practical world. Someone’s values are hindering someone else’s values all the time. Discrimination is a byproduct of every law on the books and every new “right” that is endorsed. Further, there is no reason that a man should deny the origin of his values which he bring with him into the governmental office he fills. To require him to be morally indifferent is to prohibit him from the free exercise of his religion. Those who cry about discrimination simply want to impose a different set of values on someone else, thereby discriminating against the moral values of others. There’s no getting around it.

  2. On individual liberties, I believe I would tend to agree, Daniel, if I understand you. Thus the lie of libertarianism, as each of us surrenders freedoms from birth, and society is a negotiation and process of compromise of personal liberty. Therefore, the law exists to promote individual freedom to the greatest degree negotiable.

    On the other hand, it appears that you equate morality (personal or otherwise) with religion, a false connection, disproved by the lives of innumerable moral but irreligious people (Iʼll select Bertrand Russell as one). And none in government has the privilege of imposing his or her personal values/morality/religion on others (in direct accordance with the principle asserted in your first two sentences). So how can you think it is otherwise?

    Your treatment of “discrimination” loses all coherence for me. However, I would deny that every item of legislation discriminates, although any particular law may regulate and therefore restrict my unfettered personal liberty (but then we already established that ideal is an illusion from birth). And in what way is living by the law of the land discrimination (“To require him to be morally indifferent is to prohibit him from the free exercise of his religion”)? I utterly fail to understand your point here, and not imposing oneʼs personal religion onto others is decidedly not “morally indifferent” but morally (and legally) correct and proper.

    Finally, who is crying about discrimination here, except you? Does your statement indicate that you want to impose your religion on others? Why is that necessary? But, yes, such aggressive crusading would be utterly unconstitutional.

    • Oh, yes, additionally, Daniel, having worked for the government briefly last spring and summer, I had to promise (by law) not to politic or preach in my role as a government employee (although how I behaved and what I said on my own time, as myself the private citizen, was unrestricted). That law is right and proper, as I was representing a Bureau of the federal government.

      Again, as a teacher, a very different kind of public servant, I also felt the need to compromise my personal beliefs by not preaching my personal values to the kiddies (which may explain my freewheeling desire to get some things clear and off my chest in this forum now that I am retired from education). That self-imposed restrictive behavior had the personal benefit of getting me to think about issues I supported as a teacher but might not have automatically accepted (or still yet actually believe).

      Society, living with other people, requires a constant negotiation (and compromising) of oneʼs personal innocence, ideals and freedom of action. But we all began such compromises as newborns…

  3. “On the other hand, it appears that you equate morality (personal or otherwise) with religion, a false connection, disproved by the lives of innumerable moral but irreligious people”

    Morality does not equal religion. Many people derive morality first from religion (more specifically, their core belief about God), and second from many other sources like culture or an inner conscience.

    Still others reject the religious source and derive morality from other sources like empathy, avoidance of suffering, and culture. People who live moral lives apart from religion do not disprove its validity, they simply hold to different sources.

    What I am saying is that the government elected official should not have to deny his source of morality even if it is indeed religion. Futhermore, he was elected by people that hold similar values as he. If the majority, who also hold to a charter, decide to put their collective moral issue to a vote, they should be allowed to if it does not violate the charter. These people reasonably expect their elected official to not only honor these democratically made decisions, but also to further legislation that aligns with their beliefs. If a person finds himself feeling discrimination while he lives in this particular area, he should move. The actions of people who operate outside of the collective morality of the society should indeed be discriminated against. If these offenders are bothered by this, they have the same democratic process available to them to make the change they need.

    • Daniel:

      Exactly. Morality exists independent of religion. Period. That morality can derive from religion is possible, among many other sources, including in particular oneʼs personal conscience (within which Jefferson, and Gandhi, felt all our “religious” battles ought to be fought).

      Second, you are attempting to rewrite our Constitution (and the history of the nation), which defends the rights of otherwise subjugated minorities and does not seek to exclude them, their values or their lives. (I note that you fall into the error of forceable excision/exile as a rationale to dispose of minorities, divergence and diversity — such as now-fearfully-worried me, perhaps.)

      Your collectivist morality was greatly approved by Lenin and Mao (and Hitler, but thatʼs another can of worms). Such notions seem to lead not into democracy but totalitarianism.

      The presumption that elected officials actually represent the (undefined) moralities of the electorate is pretty much untrue, even aside from the issue of multiplicities of opinions. It might be valid in a religious state, like ancient Egypt or the Islamic Empire or medieval England (but of course, being religious states, all of those were monarchical dictatorships, unlike the United States); but we are a secular democratic republic. Besides, to use me as an example, I regularly vote for lots of folks whose morals are not mine and vote against people sometimes whose morality is in close alignment with mine — on issues, not generalized, amorphous “morality” (by which you still seem to mean, not morality, but a particular religion).

      Furthermore, to use your own language (“If the majority, who also hold to a charter, decide to put their collective moral issue to a vote, they should be allowed to if it does not violate the charter”), such action(s) do violate the charter, the Constitution (as what you are hiding in your rationalization is the imposition of a religion). This issue has been the whole point of my posts these few days. The Religulous Right hasnʼt a leg to stand on in trying to reinvent the country to fit their delusions/supposedly “religious” notions, which is why the malicious among them seditiously realize they must falsify history (or at least expeditiously convince their sheep of a pseudohistory suitable to their own ends) to achieve an objectively undesirable and admittedly innovatory “Christian America.”

      Oh, and finally (I tried to resist this one), to answer your vile statement, “The actions of people who operate outside of the collective morality of the society should indeed be discriminated against,” to paraphrase Mark Twain, Adolph Hitler couldnʼt have said that better. In effect, he did. And so we see where these intolerant (immoral?) values lead.

  4. “Second, you are attempting to rewrite our Constitution (and the history of the nation”

    When did I do that?

    “I note that you fall into the error of forceable excision/exile”

    If they leave, they do so of their own free will. I did also said that they could use the same democratic process to further their own values. For instance, I do not agree with abortion and I do not leave the country. I choose wait for change.

    “such action(s) do violate the charter,”

    Cultural issues can be decided upon while not violating the contitution. Criminal acts, however, that dwell outside of the morals of society must be dealt with and the offenders should be “excised” from society and put into prison.

    Democracy will not lead to totalitarianism if it is kept in check by other branches of government that make sure the charter is not violated.

    • Your revisionism attempts to deny what the Constitution does actually say: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI) and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (Amendment 1) — the, uh, entire point of todayʼs bog post… (You can reread it now, if you wish).

      “Free will” for you evidently does indicate forced exile (Hitler said the Jews fled Germany from free will in the late Thirties, as well). The creation of a nation in which what the Religious Rightists define as “morality,” like Nazi Germany, would alienate (and alienize) any diverging opinions. And we know what happened to those who chose not to flee but wait for change in Germany back then (I feel again that growing shudder of fear in me…). However, to recognize the Gandhian principle, Hitler and the Nazis did finally fall, six million-plus lives (and an awful war) later: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Always. Whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that, and then try to do it His way.”Gandhi

      Oh, Iʼm no fan of abortion, either, but I also know, having lived as a child and youth through abortion Prohibition, that legislation definitely does not stop the practice, just moves it into organized crime and the back alley (viz. also genuine Prohibition and our contemporary lost War on Drugs). I would prefer unwilling mothers to live, having no crusaderly convictions to impose on the rest of humanity. Permitted abortion, a private choice, troubles me less than state-sanctioned murder (death penalties).

      “Cultural issues” (a novel tactic in my limited experience) appears to me perhaps to be the latest neo-Rightistspeak for imposition of religion (which still appears vividly to be the hidden agenda in your notions), and we are again in Nazi territory (they also defined their agenda in cultural terms). As I already said, theocracies are dictatorships. We can only hope (and pray) the courts are not misled by the innovatory language because the radical position you endorse is seeking to undo history and the Framers.

      A crime, by the way, is a violation of law, not morality (the realm of sin instead). What you appear to imagine is Sharia, just based on other (weʼre guessing supposedly “Christian”) things than the Quʼran and Hadith. And again we are in the realm of totalitarianism.

      And your insistence on majority opinion ruling is lousy, too. Majority views are so often (perhaps invariably, I don’t know yet) wrong (the earth is not flat nor is it merely 6000 years old, evolution is the evident operative principle of biology, Nazism did not save Thirties Germany from ruin…)

      I may finally begin to understand why we are a representative democracy. Constitutionally.

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