Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Church and State.

I laugh as I read through some of the blogs, conservative columns and frantic letters to the editor that outline a sinister liberal agenda to promote homosexuality, atheism, and terrorism throughout the world. What a contrived reality this point of view conveys.

I am an atheist. That is to say I believe that there is no god. No heaven, no hell. Nothing. When you die that's it. End of story. Like a struck match, our time is fleeting. Some of us might light a few candles along the way, others might set massive blazes but we all end up snuffed out after our time expires. Some matches burn a little longer, some a little brighter but in the end it's all the same.

That doesn't mean I'm right and it is not my desire to foist that belief on others. That's why I want our government and, by extension, our public schools to promote secularism. Nobody knows if their theory is right or wrong, so let's agree to have a government that
remains neutral.

Secularism is not atheism. Secularism is the exclusion of religion from the public function of government. Elected and appointed officials are welcome to let their spirituality guide them in their duties, but they should never be inclined to impose their religion on others. When people move to take religion out of a school they aren't replacing it with a culture of atheism, they are simply leaving the question of religion unanswered so that spirituality can be guided privately. That's fair, isn't it? If you're a responsible parent you should insist on it.

Christians make the mistake of confusing secularism with atheism. In their small minds this is a Christian society and our government has a duty to promote Christianity. But which brand? I can't keep track of all the denominations but I do know that there is constant bickering within the institution of Christianity over which version is right.

Ironically one of the loudest voices supporting the separation of church and state was that of Jesus Christ. He saw how easily corrupted religion became when it was mixed with politics and everything he did was intended to empower the individual to take control of his own spiritual path. Jesus preached a message of introspection. When the Jews who subscribed to his teachings asked about the Romans, Jesus told them it didn't matter what the Romans did. Essentially the underlying message delivered by Jesus was to mind your own business. Pray not in public...Worry not about the spec in thy neighbor's eye...Let he who is without sin...yadda, yadda, yadda.

I had Christianity crammed down my throat as a child. I resented it. I lost all interest in Christianity when my second grade teacher told me that dogs don't go to heaven because they don't have souls. I didn't think that was fair and my concern led me to question everything about religion. If Santa Claus is a fraud and the Easter Bunny is a hoax, who the heck is this Jesus guy everybody is clamoring about? As I got older I realized that I was an atheist. Sure, it would be wonderful if there was another plane of existence after this one, but I just don't buy it. Who am I to think that I am worthy of immortality?

That's not to say that my position on this matter is based entirely on the fact that I won't be reunited with my dog when I die. That's not the point, although some Christians have tried to simplify it to that common denominator. That was the moment when I started to question religion and over the years I have become increasingly certain that there is no deity waiting on the other side. In my mind people are terrified of the finality of death so they create this concept of an afterlife. They need to believe that death is not an end but a beginning and I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't welcome an afterlife, but I can't buy into a religion just because I'm afraid to die.

Unlike Christians I don't feel compelled to get people to join me. As long as I can live in peace and not have religion forced on me I couldn't care less who else agrees with me. Christians, however, are so insecure in what they believe they require institutional reinforcement of their beliefs. They feel a need to convert others to their religion and desire the leadership of a theocracy. Maybe it's a strength in numbers sort of thing. Perhaps it's easier to believe in fairy tales when everybody else believes in them too. This is a dangerous aspect of Christianity. That very sort of thinking is what gives Osama bin Laden so much power in the Middle East. Do we want our own insane fundamentalist, Pat Robertson calling the shots for our government?

I resent the implication that removing religion from public schools is an attempt to force atheism on anybody. The reality is that the practice of secularism actually serves to protect religion by allowing people to control the manner in which they practice their faiths. Christians can't agree with each other on certain aspects of Christianity. How can we expect an objective
application of religion to be honored if we don't simply remove religion from the public domain all together?

Secularism is neutrality. It is a position of respect and one that is necessary in a society such as ours that is supposed to embrace myriad cultures and creeds. It's true that there are some traditions within our government that seem to embody Christianity but that was done in error in a time when people arrogantly assumed that everybody was Christian and the differences were minor. Time has proven that position to be false. In reality Christian denominations can differ bitterly, even violently, on certain issues and then we have millions of American citizens who are not Christian. Our government should be sensitive to these differences and avoid religion in the interest of fairness.

Religion shouldn't be about a society's connection with a theology, but rather the relationship an individual has with his or her deity. According to Christian texts, God will not be judging America on it's devotion to Christ but rather each person will be judged individually. One of the concepts mentioned in the bible is free will. This is the idea that god has granted everybody with the power to choose their own path. How does the political institutionalization of religion impact a concept like free will? It crushes it. A person can't come to Jesus freely if everybody and everything is shoving him in that direction. It makes you wonder how many people are true Christians.

So let's review: How does removing "under god" from the pledge of allegiance affect your personal relationship with god? Why would god be upset with you if the science curriculum at a public school doesn't promote Creation as the origin of the species? Is god really going to punish you because our government removed the Ten Commandments from a courthouse?

The answer is no. The laws of man have no impact on your relationship with god. You still have the right to read the bible, attend church and believe what you want to believe. As a parent you have the right to exclude your child from science classes that teach theories you believe are blasphemous and if that's not enough you can send your child to a Christian School. Nobody has infringed upon your right to practice your religion. Nobody wants to.

Secularism is a movement intended to protect everybody's individual beliefs and it's not a new concept. The idea was first expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Notice how he used the strategic phrase ..."endowed by their creator..."? At the time it sparked a bit of a controversy because he didn't mention God or Jesus Christ. A few years later James Madison infuriated religious leaders of the day when he excluded mention of God and Jesus from the Constitution of the United States of America. They told him that this was a Christian nation, to which he replied that it most certainly was not.

I don't practice Atheism. There's nothing to practice. I don't have a bible or a church to which I can turn to express my spiritual views. It doesn't bother me that people practice religion. I respect that. What I resent, however, is the arrogant assumption that our government was constructed upon a theological foundation and must be immersed in religion to be effective. This is simply not true. The majority of our founding fathers were deists who believed that there was a creator but not in the popular religious doctrines of that era. Most of our founders openly challenged Christianity's theological dogma and they agreed that our government had to be free of religion if it was going to protect an individual's religious freedom.

But don't take my word for it. Look within yourself and find your feelings. Get in touch with your spiritual side and ask yourself, what would Jesus do? What would he do indeed. Based on the passages in the bible that outline his teachings it seems abundantly clear, Jesus would have minded his own business.

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