God to Schools and Government
As stated in an earlier essay (On
Critics), I believe it is an important obligation for someone who expresses
an opinion to disclose the biases that inform that opinion, so let me make some
things clear at the outset.
- I am not an atheist.
- I am not opposed to religion.
- I do have some issues with organized
religion, which is different.
Following the attacks of 9/11, there
has been a renewed cry to return God to American schools and government. The
Internet is abuzz with forceful reminders that our country was founded on
Christian principles, that the president ends every speech with "God bless
America," that "In God We Trust" is printed right on our money,
and that the decline in moral values is largely a result of the prohibition
against prayer in schools.
Proponents of religion in school and government
jump on every crisis as a lever to push this point of view, and the 9/11 attacks
are no different.
It sounds reasonable at first blush, but it's a
bad idea. Why?
Because it's imposed religion that got us into
this mess in the first place. Coming back with "Our God is better than your
God," or "God is on our side, not yours," is not the smartest of
Without exception throughout history, every time
religionists have gotten their hands on the reins of government, it's been an
absolute disaster. It's true of Islamic fundamentalists like Sheik Omar and
Ayatollah Khomeini, and it's true of our culture, too. We don't like to think of
the fact that the Inquisition was one of the darkest and ugliest times in
A great deal of good has been done in the name of
religion. At the same time, more evil has been perpetrated in the name of
religion than any of us would like to admit.
Generally speaking, the evil has been done only
when clerics have been in control of the government. The good has come when the
clergy has conducted its business privately.
The Founding Fathers were brilliant when they
mandated the separation of church and state. Church rule and priestly authority
are by their very nature anti-democratic. The people don't get to vote on their
religious leaders, whose authority is based on the same kind of divine right
western society condemned long ago. You don't vote on religious doctrine, you
just obey, and this kind of enforced obedience has no place in a democratic
Don't misunderstand me. If people want to obey
their clergymen, that's their business and their right.
Where I have a problem is when they have no
choice. Citizens under Taliban rule don't have a choice. British citizens prior
to the 19th century didn't either.
We in America do have a choice, although sometimes
we don't really have much say in whether we're going to get a religious lecture
or not. I was at a sporting event recently where things were kicked off by a
prayer from the official chaplain. He spoke to God and informed Him that all
2000 people in the event were racing for His honor and to bring glory to His
name, and that everyone was profoundly thankful for His blessing and His
I personally knew of at least three people in that
audience who were actually racing for other reasons. I suspect there might have
been a few more, but I'd be guessing. I
also wonder how the Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists felt when the chaplain
gave thanks to the Lord, Jesus Christ, on behalf of everybody present.
When I made casual mention of this, some friends
told me that I shouldn't really pay attention to the fact that one particular
God, Jesus, was specifically named, that he was really a stand-in for
everybody's individual form of God, because they were really all the same, after
all, and just called different things.
Part of the problem with mainstream religion in
America is that the majority of its adherents believe that this person's
statement is reasonable. To a Muslim, it not only isn't reasonable, it's an
insult. To a polytheistic Hindu, it makes no sense whatsoever. To a Jew, it's
just plain wrong, and to an atheist it's arrogantly presumptuous.
And as far as the very popular "Christian men
and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation" argument is
concerned, consider that this nation was also founded by slave-owners, women
weren't allowed to vote, and it was legal to execute witches. So let's not pick
and choose which of the founding principles we want to hang our hats on without
embracing them all, and some were simply atrocious.
What the founding fathers thought and felt two
hundred years ago is irrelevant. The only time anybody ever
invokes it is when the fathers said something they agreed with, so we really
need to get off that horse forever. One of the lesser known reasons a separation
of church and state is in our Constitution is that church participation was
mandatory in several of the original colonies and the new citizens rebelled
There is also the argument that, without religion, we have no moral absolutes to anchor ourselves, no moral authority to teach us right from wrong.
You don't need religion to inform you that murder and stealing are wrong, and the only moral authority you need is law that is democratically imposed.
If you're not comfortable with that, consider this: The Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded demand honoring of the Sabbath. It's so critically important that it's one of the ten commandments.
Yet there are virtually no laws on the books in the country demanding adherence to it anymore. And, while we're at it, there are no laws prohibiting the taking of God's name in vain, either, which is another commandment.
At the same time, we freely condone killing in many forms, including war, self-defense, protection of property and criminal executions. All this, while another commandment says "Thou shalt not kill," period.
So let's get off that moral compass argument because it's not even debatable.
The practice of religion should be a private, purely voluntary matter. It has no place in a democratic government, and it shouldn't be imposed on anybody, implicitly or explicitly. To see where that leads we need only look at our present enemy, who feels perfectly free to murder innocent civilians because he feels his God commands him to, and we can't argue with that so long as we keep telling ourselves our God is on our side and so we're free to bomb the other guys.
Pitting our God against his God is not a smart way to go, so let's leave God in our hearts and just do what's right because it's right, not because we claim divine permission.
from: A Practical Guide for Everyday Living, by Lee
* © Copyright 1996-2001 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. - All Rights Reserved
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