Sunday, April 29, 2007

Right back at ya!

Even as a Christian, I was surprised at the blurring of the distinction between Christianity and the American concepts of “Rights.”

I recall a Sunday School teacher talking of how the government was questioning one of his contributions to the church and whether it was a legitimate deduction. What I remember so vividly was his outrage followed by the statement, “This is a form of persecution on Christians.”

Excuse me?

Let me get this straight—something unheard of under both the Bible and U.S. Constitution, yet if you don’t get it, it is some sort of “persecution”? I am sure all those martyrs in Fox’s Book of Martyrs would go pale in the shock of how abusive this concept is—to NOT get a tax benefit for doing something you should do doing anyway. Shocked, I say!

A “Right” is a benefit conferred upon citizens by the will of the general populace, usually reduced to writing in the form of a Constitution. While “inalienable human rights” may be referred to, try convincing cancer you have a right to “life.” Or your boss on a sunny Friday afternoon that you have a right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Sure you have that “right.” You would also discover the “right” to find new employment!

What surprised me, and continues to surprise me is that Christians in America elevate their rights under the Constitution to at least the equivalent of the Bible, if not eclipse it. The First Amendment under the Bill of Rights is considered pragmatically more divine then the Song of Solomon.

How many times have we heard, “As a Christian I have the right to pray in school”? Or “…have the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse”? or “…practice my religion by doing _____”? Here’s a news flash—you obtain that “right” as a citizen of your country; not because you are a Christian.

In America, this confrontation over religious rights rests squarely on the first clause of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…
And the perpetual question we have wrestled is the meaning and limitation of what “establishment of religion” is or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Clearly, in reviewing our history, we HAVE limited the free exercise of religion. Ask the Mormons how polygamy is going. If I started a church in which one basic tenet is that we do not pay taxes in any way (property, state or income) I may have a large membership, but I would quickly find the government impinging our “free exercise thereof.”

Rather than focus on the legal machinations that have wended our way through this minefield, I would like to ask a more simple, basic question—with all the competing theistic beliefs, can we as humans manage a system by which we respect the other’s beliefs?

Let’s get two things out of the way. First, I understand that every person reading this blog entry has the correct theistic belief. I also understand that the simplest method would be to impose the correct theistic belief, which coincidently is yours. However, I hope you understand that many people with…slightly…to greater to even vast differences in belief also say theirs is the correct one.

If we say, “Use the correct belief” and then try and determine what “correct” means we are right back to where we started. Which is nowhere. We are all going to have to concede the fact that others believe differently than we do. Oh, sure they are wrong, but if we don’t respect their ability to be wrong, they will fail to respect ours.

Secondly, the reality is that not every situation will be to your liking. In fact, you are going to actually have to suck it up and realize that, on occasion, you will have to self-limit your own belief.

We often see the claim that atheism is a religion in the context that by not acknowledging any God, this results in the “establishment of religion.” A no-no. For example, if the courts determine that no prayer can be given before a football game at a public high school, a Christian may shout out that by NOT allowing a prayer, the courts have established the “religion” of atheism. (The poor agnostics never get a break in the “rights” department.)

Assuming that is true, we are left in a Catch-22. Allowing the prayer will impinge the non-theist’s “free exercise.” Prohibiting the prayer will impinge the Christian’s. Either one, somebody is not going to be happy.

If you are a parent, you learn that it is easier, sometimes, to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just Say ‘No.’” It is easier to draw a hard line in the sand and say NOBODY is getting ice cream, rather than hearing the bickering back and forth as to who was good enough, or who does not deserve the ice cream.

The courts have, in essence, flopped onto this policy. If the Christians get a prayer before the football game, then so do the Muslims. And the Jews. And the Branch Dividians. And the Moonies. And the Catholics. And the Baptists. And the Lutherans. We could never play football! While these groups may not be asking for the opportunity now, if they do, and we have allowed one…

It is easier to “Just Say ‘No.’” to all. However, I am talking about how WE need to get along, not what the Courts have done.

We could claim that the majority rules. That the minority must defer to the majority belief until it becomes the majority opinion. There are two significant problems with this.

First, it is not courteous to the minority position. Nor loving. If we start to lord it over the minority position, it is quite possible that someday our own position becomes the minority, and we would regret this policy. We learned in the schoolyard that just because you are the biggest and can beat the smaller, this only makes you a bully. Not better. I would hope we would want to be “better.” Not bullies.

Second, determining “majority” position becomes a difficulty. Is it the majority of people in the city? In the County? In the State? In the Country? In the World? And what do we do—keep taking surveys and votes to determine what religious belief happens to be the majority at that moment?

Even with “majority” difficulties arise. If we use the Abrahamic God, do we lump in all the Jews, Muslims and Christians, and claim that God as “Majority”? Or are those separate categories? Or do we use a method by which we label the categories in a way which best helps us? Like including the Jews (but not the Muslims) if we need their numbers to take us over the top.

And within each belief—what is the majority? For example, do we include the Catholics in our count of Christians? But a prayer to a saint! The Protestants may NOT want to include the Catholics. Unless they then lose their majority…

We all know what we would see. If convenient, certain theistic beliefs would be included in order to obtain a majority. If not, they would be excluded.

We non-theists are smart enough to play this card as well. See, the Muslims agree that the Jesus was not God. We could include them and the Jews and every other belief to “Oust” the Christians from their majority. Because a majority does NOT hold Jesus as God. Or we could join the Christians and Jews to “oust” Allah from being the majority.

Determining a majority would become a battle similar to what we have now. (And Perhaps the non-theists would be the constant swing vote! O.K. I can dream!)

Can we do better? Can we find a way by which we agree to self-limit our theistic belief, for the greater good of getting along? Oh, I still encourage all parties to go to the court system. (Have to pay the bills, ya know!) It is what is it there for. If you think that it is of vast import and having some person in a black dress tell you how to act with your neighbor—go for it!

I would prefer that we could rise above it as humans and not need the court to give respect to each other. Let me give an example.

Our American currency, from each coin to every bill in circulation contains the statement “In God We Trust.” I don’t trust in a God. There isn’t one. I am forced to use currency by virtue of living in America. Each day, I am passing around little statements that tell the world something I would prefer to not tell the world.

So what.

I mean REALLY—So What!

As actions speak louder than words, what I am actually saying is that I am relying on these little bits of green ink on paper to obtain those things that sustain me. In fact, the use of every single penny, every nickel is NOT saying “In God We Trust” but quite the opposite—“In Gold We Trust.”

By obtaining money, I am saying that I don’t expect God to provide for me—I expect this money to do so. By saving it, I am saying quite a bit about my anticipation for God to take care of me in the future—I think more of Alexander Hamilton doing so than God. By spending it, I am saying that God can’t get it for me—but Abraham Lincoln can!

Being a person that appreciates irony wherever I can find it—I truly enjoy it every time I see “In God We Trust” on money. Come on, Christians—do you see Jesus teaching how to pray:

“Our Father who art on the Ten Dollar Bill,
Unwrinkled be thy name,
Your picture come,
Your crisp smell done,
On earth because we ain’t in Heaven.

Buy us this day our daily bread.
Your portrait for debts
Both Public and Private.
Retain your present value compared to the Euro,
But deliver us from that blasted penny!”

Do you think God is excited about having his name on—of all things—money? I can see “In God We Trust” on Bibles. On Churches. Even on homes and plaques and pillows. But money?

O.K.—it is important to you for some inexplicable reason. As if that has some meaning. Can you take what you dish out? In England, Charles Darwin is on the 10-Pound note. Any Christian have a problem with that?

Christians: there is no prayer in school. Is it THAT important to have prayer? Yes, I know it impinges your free exercise of religion. (Sorta. You can pray to yourself, of course.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you give it up? Could you have voluntarily given it up for the betterment of humans?

Non-theists: our money mentions the “G” word. Yes, I know that impinges on your theistic belief. (Sorta. You can write checks.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you not care? Can you use it voluntarily for the betterment of humans?

Perhaps it is just me, but I am seeing a polarization of beliefs. We are DEMANDING that how we believe must be imposed on others. I want prayer--give me prayer! I don’t believe in god--remove it from my coins! If we can’t rise above this, we are but two short steps from the sectarian violence we see in the Middle East.

Can we be better? Rather than insist on our “rights” can we suspend that demand, and allow others to exercise theirs? It may be someday, we will realize that the group that can do that is the most Christ-like.

(Posted on as well.)


  1. **Christians: there is no prayer in school. Is it THAT important to have prayer? ** Shouldn't the answer to this be no, since Christians are supposed to go into a closet and pray?

    I wonder how much of this is a backlash against the fact that Christians could do much of this even, what, fifty years ago? And now that we've become more global, there has to be restrictions on such things as school prayer.

  2. Heather,

    It is my opinion that the two court cases of public prayer in school and abortion were the mobilizing force to create the Christian right. The combination gave them impetus to have an agenda. A common enemy, if you will.

    With that opinion, you can see why I agree with your term of “backlash.” I DO think that is exactly what we are seeing, 30 – 40 years later.

    While I could not help but discuss the court’s rulings, and the impact on the notion of “rights” I wish that people would rise above court systems and actually start listening to fellow humans. One of the reasons I wrote this blog was that societyvs asked if I would protect his right to believe in a god.

    I think he meant practice his beliefs, and this is my long response.

  3. I cannot get away from the thought that Christians who try to legislate their existence are making a gesture of unbelief. The bible is full of stories of how God would undertake to defend or protect God's people and if God didn't it was God's will.

    It seems to me that Christians are trying to protect themselves from the effects of gospel that offends. I think you are correct, Dagoods, that there is a "blurring of the distinction between Christianity and the American concept of "Rights." It seems that American legislation is more potent than the bible because there is a court system to back it up.

  4. In relation to Christian "rights", one can't help but wonder if God is conveniently being used as a "frontman" to further a political agenda.
    The Christian is, technically, one who says, if we had our "rights" we'd be in hell. Maybe it would be better to just keep our mouths shut on the "rights" issue.
    As a Christian, I am thankful to live in a nation that protects the rights of Muslims and Hindus and Mormons and Buddhists and Branch Davidians to pray and meditate and otherwise practice their religious beliefs in ways that are not harmful to others. I fully support their right and their responsibility to choose for themselves what to believe and how to demonstrate it in ways that do not infringe on the rights of others. I support the rights of atheists and agnostics to not believe in or participate in religious demonstrations.
    I do not need a government mandate in order to pray in a way that is inoffensive to others in school or at football games or anywhere else.
    Constantine imposed his brand of Christianity on his subjects, proving it an exercise in futility, and we have shown ourselves fools a thousand times over since, attempting to do the same.
    The human heart will not be forced. Love cannot be mandated. A God who calls himself "Love" may be chosen or rejected, but he will never be legislated.

  5. I agree with Dagoods on this principle he levy's here - maybe there is something quite noble about not pushing religious beliefs into the 'limelight' (namely onto money) and allowing for our beliefs to be ours - a true freedom of intellectual thought (all religious or non religious thought). I am down with that (and OPP).