Friday, July 8, 2011

Christian nation and freedom from religion

Just recently I got into a Facebook debate that started with an article about how the United States is not a Christian nation. This is the sort of statement that gets a lot of people all stirred up, and I'm starting to realize that before anybody debates this, they need to define some terms.

When somebody says that it's a Christian nation, you need to ask them exactly what they mean by that. If the answer is that the population is predominantly Christian, and has always been so, then that's pretty hard to argue. If the answer is that many of our values are founded upon the Christian religion, then that's something that bears more of a discussion than an argument. For instance, which values that we have are specifically Christian? You can't say that our laws against murder and theft are specifically Christian, for instance, because I'm not aware of any society that allows for that sort of a thing. Honestly, I can't think of anything about our society that IS specifically Christian and/or has its roots in The Bible, but I'm willing to concede that there are some, and I hope some people could point them out to me.

Now, if somebody tries to tell you that this is a Christian nation in the same sense that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation, then they're wrong. I could go into several reasons for why this is wrong, but the easiest one is that all you have to do is look through our founding document, The Constitution. Jesus doesn't even get a mention, and it specifically states that there is "no religious test" for anybody who wants to serve this country.

Another thing that I've heard where I'm not entirely sure what's meant by it is the accusation that some people don't just want freedom OF religion, but freedom FROM religion. As an atheist, when I hear that, my first reaction is to think that they're saying that there's something wrong with a person who wants to be free of religion. I mean, are they claiming that everybody HAS to have some sort of religion in their life? I would certainly hope not.

Perhaps what they fear is that there are those who want to ban religion outright. Now, I don't actually know of anybody like that, but I suppose that there must be some. Personally, I would like to see a day when religion goes away, but I don't believe in forcing people to abandon it, and if the government started to shut down churches, I'd be amongst the first to protest it. After all, history shows us that when governments ban religion, they tend to create a new, far worse religion in its place (I'm thinking Stalin's Soviet Union, for starters). So, should the individual have the right to freedom from religion? Absolutely, and I think that even some of the most religious people in this country would agree with that. Should we work to abolish religion entirely? Absolutely not, and you'll find some of the most outspoken atheists against that idea (you know, like me).

I guess some people feel that there's an effort to abolish religion when people speak out against intrusions of religion in public life. For instance, there was the hoopla over a public prayer at the graduation ceremony of Medina Valley High School in Texas. A lot of the Christians were acting like their rights were somehow being infringed upon because they were told that the graduation at a public high school was not appropriate to have a public prayer. (It should be noted, though, that there are some religious leaders who also thought it was wrong for the prayer to be made.)

Honestly, I don't think that it's a HUGE deal that this prayer happened anyway, but it also shouldn't have been a HUGE deal for these people to not have one. Just because somebody tells you that you can't have a public prayer, that's not exactly the same as them saying that you have to take your crucifix off the wall. I think that the problem is that when people are in the majority, and when they have the kind of certainty that only religion can provide, they can't possibly comprehend how what they're doing might be offensive - and they ultimately don't care if the minority feels like their rights are being ignored.

Maybe what needs to happen is more discussion and asking people exactly what they mean instead of just simple talking-point arguments. You might be surprised as to how much common ground there is.


Nolan said...

Two thoughts:
1. I once engaged in an alcohol-fueled argument while in San Diego on my Aunt's horse ranch. My opponent was some woman who couldn't understand why I'd be against prayer in schools. I asked what type of prayer, since there would be many different religions represented. She said it didn't matter, as long as you "believe something!"

Later, at a country and western bar, she leaned over toward me and smugly asserted, "This is the REAL California." Your thing about being in the majority and having the certainty of religious beliefs reminded me of this night. The absurdity that this woman would characterize a shitkicker bar with line dancing as the true representation of California is mirrored by her certainty that everyone would pretty much share her views on wanting to pray in school. She lived in a very tiny bubble, as do lots of these communities.

2. This also made me think of that "Citizen U.S.A." movie I told you about, where the film chronicles the swearing-in ceremonies of newly naturalized citizens. In one state, they had a prayer before the ceremony. Not just a non-denominational prayer; it mentioned Jesus. Behold the blind arrogance of basically saying, "Welcome to America. Whatever religion you were before, forget it: We're Christians here."

Do you want to guess which state it was? Here's a hint: If you had just told me that story, and I'd tried to think of the most backward-ass, redneck state in the union, I'd have given the right answer. There is no surprising irony here.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

You should have taken her to a gay bar in SF and said, "Nuh uh uh...THIS is the real California!"

Nolan said...

You didn't guess the state! C'mon, I want to see if we both consider this the most redneck, backward one.

Lance Christian Johnson said...


Nolan said...

Oh, close. Mississippi. By far the state I would least like to live in. It has ZERO appeal.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

It's fun to spell out loud.