Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Religion should Continue to have a Privileged Place in our Nation

This country has privileged religion. Our First Amendment protects us against government infringement upon the “free exercise” of religion, and consequently, up until now, we have enjoyed incredible religious freedom in our USA! However, now voices are now forming a chorus against this right. A new Federal Hate Crimes bill has threatened our freedom to preach in as far as the preaching can possibly be construed to lead to a ‘hate crime.” A distorted interpretation of the First Amendment’s injunction against setting up a Federal religion has been pushing religious expression out of the public. Many Christian student groups have been barred from campus because of their insistence on retaining the Christian nature of their group.

Now, many are arguing for further restrictions on religion:

  1. Taxing Churches
  2. Placing Churches and other Christian groups under restrictive Federal Guidelines
However, Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee, argues that it is essential that the USA retains its protections of religion. (I will summarize four of his five reasons for this with some modification.)

  1. Our Tradition: McClay argues that all of the Founding Fathers signed on to the understanding that religion was essential and needed protection from government:
    • The Founding Fathers had diverse views about a variety of matters, very much including their own personal religious convictions, but they were in complete and emphatic agreement about the inescapable importance of religion. (Christianity Today, Nov. 2012, 27)
To support his point McClay quotes George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796:

·        Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.

In 1789, Washington also stated:

·        If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution…might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it.

  1. American Pluralism: In opposition to today’s secularism which wishes to extend its control into all areas of life, McClay writes,
    • A society flourishes best when the moral communities within which consciences are formed – churches, synagogues, mosques, and the like – remain healthy.
However, their health is being increasingly threatened by a federally supported religious secularism that has little tolerance for any religion apart from its own. The universities have barred many Christian groups from meeting. Ironically, they cite their “non-discrimination” policies which they use to discriminate against the free expression of Christian values.

We have a tradition of religious liberty worth preserving. Ibn Warraq, Muslim turned atheist, argued in favor of Western freedoms in a panel debate on “Why the West is Best.” Here is the substance of his presentation:
    • The great ideas of the West—rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law and equality under the law, freedom of thought and expression, human rights, and liberal democracy—are superior to any others devised by humankind. It was the West that took steps to abolish slavery; the calls for abolition did not resonate even in Africa, where rival tribes sold black prisoners into slavery. The West has secured freedoms for women and racial and other minorities to an extent unimaginable 60 years ago. The West recognizes and defends the rights of the individual: we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live lives of our choosing.

All of this is now being threatened by a monopolistic, totalitarianism secularism that only allows expression of its own values. For example, two students in graduate counseling programs were both threatened with expulsion from two state schools because they wouldn’t agree with the gay agenda.

  1. Danger of Alienation: When there is a sense that the prevailing society respects the rights of the religious, we can together celebrate our shared traditions and history. McClay therefore writes,
    • If believers sense a general willingness to acknowledge their legitimate role in public life, they will likely feel a stronger and deeper loyalty to the American experiment. But if they encounter instead a rigid insistence upon a rigorously secularist public square, the result could very well alienate religious subcultures, whose sectarian disaffection could become so profound as to threaten the very cohesion of the nation. (28)
At best, this disaffection will cause Christians to further disassociate from a culture which they regard as hostile. While many secularists are hoping for just this result, they need to count the costs again.

The American contract – the contract that has nursed and supported us – calls for liberty. This is what we have all signed on for.

  1. Social Benefits: Historically, Christianity has provided the vision to build hospitals, health care centers, and to build schools. In a 2008 article in The Times (UK) by Matthew Parris, a journalist and former British MP, reflected on his visit to Malawi:
    • Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOS, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone, and the machete.
Speaking more globally about the benefits of Christianity, McClay cites Thomas Jefferson’s words that decorate the walls of the Jefferson Memorial in DC:
    • God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. (29)
Perhaps, we should all be trembling!

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