Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I Don't Want to Live in a Christian Nation

There is a lot of chatter these days among those on the far right that we live in a Christian nation... or that we used to live in a Christian nation until the Democrats began to push us away from our Christian moorings.

Well, that is at best revisionist history and at worst a complete misunderstanding of the genius that is the United States... but that is another post. Regardless of whether that interpretation is incorrect, I don't want to live in a "Christian" nation. If we were one (which again, is a misread of history), then good riddance. If we were not (now you've got it right), then let's keep it that way.

First, let me address the idea of separation of Church and State. It was not an idea that came from secularists. The deepest roots of those ideas came from the Baptists, the Quakers, and the Unitarians. Indeed, the phrase, "wall of separation" came from the founder of the first Baptist church on English soil, Thomas Helwys. While many religious groups had experienced persecution under the state churches in Europe, those three groups had in common a belief that at its core, the soul must be free. They believed that an individual's relationship to God is between them and God and no outside body, including the state, has the right to dictate what that relationship must look like. At the simplest level, they knew that any time there was a state church, somebody would be unable to seek God as their hearts led them and somebody would be persecuted for not towing the line. Groups like the Puritans, for example, had experienced persecution for their faith but rather than seeing the Americas as an opportunity for freedom, they saw it as a place where they could impose their faith on others and often the persecuted become the persecutors.

The basic problem of living in a "Christian" state is whose version of Christianity are we talking about? Are we Roman Catholic? Or fundamentalist evangelical? Or staunch Calvinist? Or liberal mainline protestant? The early Baptists knew what it meant to be on the wrong end of those questions. Then, what force of the state will be used to enforce that particular understanding of faith? Prison? Using zoning or tax regulations to destroy organizations? The list could go on.

And finally, what happens if one is not a Christian at all? Do we use the power of the state to convert? To "train" children, taking away the freedom and responsibility of their parents?

I don't want to live in a country where any particular version of Christianity is imposed, even my own. I want even less to live in a country where the official state religion is some watered down, civil version of Christianity that has no teeth at all. I also don't want to live in a Muslim country, a Jewish nation, or a place with any other official religion you can name. Instead, I want to live in a place where the government has no say in matters of faith at all, where the government neither supports nor undermines religion. I want to live in a place where I am free to practice my faith or lack thereof as my conscience dictates and where you can do the same. It is only there that truth faith can flourish.


Salome Ellen said...

The problem with the "wall of separation" (and I agree that I want no state religion) is that many use it to keep Christians and others from publicly acting on their religious beliefs. If I say "_____ is wrong because Jesus said so" I become "biased", and any work I do to persuade others that my view is true becomes "proseletizing" not political discourse. I want freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.

roy said...

I agree. One important aspect of the religious understanding of separation of church and state was so people of faith could critique the state from a religious vantage point. If the state controlled religion, then it could & did squelch any criticism coming from the churches.
It is a fine line though. Just saying, "because Jesus said so," isn't enough when we're talking about public policy. I must be able to justify it from more than just a religious standpoint. If I can't, then I am imposing a religious belief into public policy. Ex. I can't say we should make eating shrimp illegal just because it is in the Bible, but I can say murder should be illegal because there are clearly other non-religious justifications for that. And what you believe Jesus said may be very different from what I or someone else believes Jesus said... that is obvious in many of the cultural discussions going on from reproductive rights to marriage to, to, to...

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

The President himself has said that while our faith can and should influence the way we act in public, we have to find non-religious justifications for enacting our visions. Thus, murder is contrary to our religioius traditions, but in enacting laws, we can't say that we're doing this because it says so in the Bible.