Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Founding Fathers and Founding Faith

Again, I look at the perspectives on church and state, as well as the burning question: is the United States a Christian nation? To be honest, the answer is an ambivalent yes and no. Yes, the U.S. is a Christian nation in the sense that Christianity permeates the history and is the popular demographic of politics and citizens. No, the U.S. is not a Christian nation in any sense that the citizens or the government should give undue favor or special treatment to the Christian religion in any way, shape or form. Christianity being the majority only grants it popularity; it does not give it any right to say the minority doesn’t deserve equal treatment in the eyes of the government or to claim that Christians should be respected more than non-Christians of any type.

Historically, there was discrimination against other Christians in early U.S. history, pre Revolution. Catholics and other Protestants were exiled or executed on grounds of heresy or blasphemy, if I understand it even a bit accurately. In terms of the educated, however, there was the belief that religion was a private matter, something between you and “God”, espoused particularly well by Thomas Jefferson. In this way, even assuming he was Christian, which he was in the Unitarian sense, not believing in Jesus’ divinity, Jefferson wouldn’t want Christianity to be favored or sponsored in any official or implied sense by the government, but left to the individual’s devices as they sought truth and fulfillment.

Part of the disagreement might exist on that common or uncommon understanding of the term “Christian nation,” If you mean a nation governed by Christian principles, then there are disagreements amongst Christians as to what those would entail. Some Christians might go further than simply instating the Ten Commandments, though they would be a minority amongst the faith, since instating a great deal of the Levitical laws would go against the understanding in Christianity that Jesus nullified the temple purity laws and the like. Then again, even instating the Ten Commandments seems to be a problem, and I imagine most Christians realize that. So the only thing that seems to be left is simply granting Christianity some other kind of favor without directly sponsoring it through the government. Many would respond that the First Amendment simply means no single denomination would get favor but that Christianity would still have an important place in the government. I’d ask what they mean by that, since as I pointed out, there’d be problems with even instating the most basic of Christian foundations in the Ten Commandments, or even one of Jesus’ two primary commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul,” If, however you simply mean that the U.S. is a Christian majority nation demographically, then even the founding fathers would go along with that notion, since unless we have a shift in population or convictions of people, the general culture and traditions of society lean towards raising children in some form of Christianity. There’s always a minority who would either raise children in another tradition, such as Judaism, or those like myself, who’d endeavor to instill a sense of respect to all religions and independence to choose your own beliefs, even if they don’t conform with any particular group you identify with. I was raised Christian, but when I say I’m Buddhist in a secular sense, I imagine many Buddhists could conceivably see problems with my skepticism and even apathy at times about doctrines of reincarnation and rebirth as well as the actual existence in any sense of the six realms in common Buddhist cosmology, going from the hell and hungry ghost realms to the asura and deva realms at the top, right above human and animal, the two of which I’d reasonable assent to as actual realms one could conceivably be reborn in. My girlfriend and I probably wouldn’t have problems agreeing that we can raise our children to believe what they will, even if it is neither of our general traditions of Wicca and Buddhism respectively.

Saying that a Christian nation can allow people to believe what they want and not discriminate against them seems to clash with the idea that the nation pays favor in some unspoken sense to Christianity even if there isn’t an official state church of any denomination. If the country is founded on Christianity, what does it say in terms of policy about citizenship? Should every citizen be required to affirm Christian creeds or the like? If not, why call it a Christian nation except nominally? It seems as if the only people who have any real concrete idea of what a Christian nation consists in ignore any sort of First Amendment considerations about separation of church and state implied within or they outright ignore the very implications within the Christian text itself that attest, as other Christians have said previously, such as Mennonites in my post, “Separation of Church and State Loyalty”. The church remaining as the church apart from minor state involvement of political protocol (no supporting candidates, for example) and the state functioning as the state apart from the church’s general opinions voiced by the voters (ethical issues and such) seems a fair relationship. I don’t see why Christians would want to try to overstep these boundaries unless they’re insecure about the state of their beliefs. Most Christians aren’t like this, I’d imagine, unless they’re unduly influenced by charismatic leaders who suck these people in with rhetoric that preys on their fears and dreams together, wanting peace and avoiding discomfort. They would try to solve their problems with this sort of theocracy and people buy it even if they would otherwise say that people can believe as they will and that their rights to believe should be equally defended. I only hope that some middle ground can be found, that Christians and non-Christians alike will see that they can practice as they will without any need for the state to interfere beyond basic reasons we can see in everyday politics. Let Christians pray in their church, let politicians deliberate in their offices, and things will go about as well as they can go in both cases. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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