Saturday, October 23, 2010

On the (Gated) Wall Between Church and State

This story dragged me into speaking about it, however politically apathetic I am. Seriously, how many other candidates for office don’t know the basics of the Constitution, like the 1st Amendment? I don’t claim to be an expert myself, though I do have a copy. But doesn’t it seem out of character for someone who wants to represent the United States, and has even promised to follow the Constitution as a Senator, to not know the text and political thought concerning even the very 1st Amendment of that Constitution?

The only one so far seems to be Christine O’Donnell, who I spoke about only two weeks ago in a commentary on how her claim that Satanism and Witchcraft were the same reflects badly on the U.S. pagan population. She’s not making herself any more vote-worthy, though I can’t say I’d buy into a political system that has generated so many hypocrites and doesn’t even seem to be generally united under anything, not even the Constitution so many speak of as sacred scripture. But I shouldn’t blame those that misuse politics in my rejection of it as generally useful today. A Latin phrase I take to heart as much as possible is “abusus non tollit usum”. The basic translation is; “Just because something is misused doesn't mean it can't be used correctly,” This applies quite well to both the situation here with senatorial candidates who don’t seem to know much about the Constitution beyond what benefits them and a related story that has been in the news for a while now on a Christian flag being fought over as to its legality of being flown on public government property. With both of these events, there is an intersection of two contested areas; these being church/religion and state/politics.

First, we have Christine O’Donnell’s ignorance as to the proper way in which the more private religious sphere should interact with the more public political sphere. Thomas Jefferson, one of the originators of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” has much to say on the subject. He wrote; “Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle,” which seems to suggest he believed that however genuine one’s devotion to a faith may be, it does not mean that they have a right to enforce that faith as something everyone else must follow and vice versa with the government in telling the governed how they should worship. Christine O’Donnell has personal issues with homosexuals, claiming they choose to be that way by social conditioning, opposes virtually all abortion and doesn’t see it as a violation of the Constitution to teach creationism in public schools. This exemplifies what I’ve spoken on as a persistent problem: candidates for public office don’t seem to have more than a passing knowledge of either religion or the Constitution’s stance on government sponsorship of it. This has been shown by people like Ron Ramsey and Lou Ann Zelenik saying Islam is either a cult or a political movement, not a religion, and Christine O’Donnell making an amateurish analysis of Satanism and Witchcraft, saying they’re essentially the same, without understanding it beyond what she thought was a date on a Satanic altar. If candidates had mistaken beliefs like this, but shared similar political positions to their constituency, I could forgive the masses for voting for them in spite of their willed ignorance. But I can’t imagine a sensible person voting for O’Donnell after finding out that she didn’t know the wording in the First Amendment that the government should not permit any sponsorship of religion of any kind in publicly funded areas. O’Donnell’s response to her opponent’s criticism was that teaching evolutionary theory in schools was violating that same principle that she apparently only knows enough to point fingers at the “secularists,” She confuses the scientific theory of evolution, separate from any particular religion, with secular humanism, recognized by the U.S. government as an official religion, which happen to believe in it. There are Christians that believe in evolutionary theory as well, so clearly it is held in common by both religions without it being a matter of either of their belief systems. It seems like Ms. O’Donnell feels threatened by evolution as it “forces its way into public schools” in her view. If she really wants to do something about Christianity’s supposed suppression, maybe she could advocate schools teaching about Christianity in history or as a literary tradition. It would be both beneficial to her campaign and would be quite legal on both counts.

Secondly, concerning the controversy surrounding a Christian flag, the solution seems quite simple, however much veterans are making this an issue not unlike the “Cordoba Mosque” in New York. However insulted you might feel that the government is telling you that it is not legal to raise a Christian flag on federally funded property, it doesn’t mean that they mean any disrespect towards you or Christianity. Selling the property for the flag hanging area to the veterans’ association would make it private property and fit for demonstration of any religious symbols. This misuse of the freedom to practice religion shouldn’t make one think that any demonstration of religious belief in public life is illegal. It’s just that when you start making your religious beliefs as they relate to public politics something people have to automatically respect, it’s gone too far. You have every right to believe as you will about the afterlife, deities or Deity, ethics and vote accordingly in elections, but only to the extent that you do not use that system to legislate those beliefs on others that don’t share them. I certainly don’t want veterans to feel like they can’t honor their fallen Christian allies, but there’s no reason to force the public to sponsor that when they don’t all share those beliefs about religion or patriotism. Here’s hoping this will blow over like the desert cross I spoke about a few months ago. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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