Thursday, September 15, 2016

And Which God Would That Be?

I don't cover a lot of political stories here on Augoeides because my personal politics are kind of a mixed bag. But one principle that I have adhered to for decades is an absolute refusal to vote for any candidate who supports dismantling the separation of church and state. Some of that is self-interest, as I have no interest in seeing my beliefs marginalized or even criminalized. I also think it's the right way to do secularism, as opposed to how it's done in countries like France where public displays of religious symbols are entirely banned.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, though, is now sounding like he's having none of that. As reported by Huffington Post, Trump has now concluded several of his speeches with the phrase "We will be one people, under one God, saluting one American flag.” Except that we never will be, because not all Americans worship the same God and this is entirely by design, going all the way back to the founding fathers. That is, unless Trump can enact policies that in some way eliminate the separation of church and state.

Broad overtures to notions of the U.S. as a “Christian nation” built on “Judeo-Christian” values are hardly uncommon in American politics. But a presidential candidate vowing to unite all Americans under “one God” can hardly be viewed as inclusive. Trump’s campaign even capitalized the “One God” phrasing in his prepared remarks for his Pensacola rally. “By his very nature, Trump is always dividing and excluding. That’s what he does, and that’s what this statement does,” Alan Wolfe, director of Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, told The Huffington Post.

Trump’s language appears to conflict with the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment, which holds that people in the U.S. have the right to practice whichever religion they choose, or none whatsoever. Many Americans subscribe to polytheistic theologies and may worship many Gods. Followers of monotheistic religions also have differing views about the supreme being they worship. And let’s not forget the growing ranks of religious “nones,” including atheists, agnostics and others who don’t consider themselves members of a traditional religious affiliation.

Now I do think a couple of the more hyperbolic claims in the article are probably overblown. Thinking through the implications of his statements is not really Trump's strong suit, and even as President he would have a hard time tearing down such a fundamental constitutional principle. But it is disturbing to me that from these remarks, it really does sound like he wants to at least try. If he did manage to change the constitution so that, say, he could ban Muslim immigration, how long would it be before those new laws would be used against other minority religions?

It may simply be that Trump is pandering here to Poor Oppressed Christian voters, as it lines up neatly with their desire for a world in which everyone else would stop oppressing them by, say, going on living while disagreeing with them. The fact that they can feel victimized by the mere existence of other opinions has always floored me. Still, it seems unlikely that they are ever going to vote for Hillary Clinton, as they've hated the Clintons since the 1990's. Trump's statement doesn't really affect me either, since I have never been a supporter and have never planned on voting for him.

I do think it's important, though, for anybody who does support Trump to carefully think this through and understand the ramifications. An America united under "One God" is an America where the separation of church and state no longer exists, and that separation has been good for churches. Countries with official religions have far fewer churches and much lower church attendance than the United States. That conservative bugaboo about churches being forced to conduct same-sex marriages? It can't happen ever in the United States, again thanks to the separation of church and state.

If we somehow eliminate or redefine that principle, all bets are off. It may sound reasonable to those who fear terrorism to change the constitution so that we can restrict Muslim immigration, which Trump has supported since the beginning of his campaign. But government rarely cedes power, and do you really think it will stop there? There are people in government right now who believe that various minority religions, not just Islam, are evil and should be eliminated.

So who decides? Isn't the right answer to that question always going to be "nobody?"

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble


kold_kadavr_ flatliner said...

You're in error, friend: 1-outta-1 croaks; we all will have to go to the King of Hearts, stand before Jesus... and get sentenced on what WE have done in our existence finite.

-> God gives U.S. free-will in our lifelong demise, dude... thus, what we mortals do with it determines our destiny. Think about that.

Gitta backa to me, Pops, in Seventh-Heaven. Let's go for a beer celebrating our resurrection...

Scott Stenwick said...

You are welcome to believe that Christianity is the One True Religion, if that happens to be your spiritual path. You might even be right, even though I think that viewpoint is rather narrow, and I could always be wrong when I suggest that it's a perfectly reasonable spiritual path, just not the only valid one.

But that's not the point of this post at all. The point of this post is that basing secular law on religious ideas is fundamentally problematic. We should be working towards a society in which everyone is free to believe what they want and practice as they see fit, so long as those practices don't harm anyone else.

I'll take the spiritual consequences of believing as I do and practicing as I do. But I will never, under any circumstances, support using the law to force people to conform to a spiritual system that said people don't accept of their own free will.

In fact, as I see it, anybody who supports such a thing is not much of a Christian.

kold_kadavr_ flatliner said...


As you know, only 2 realms after our lifelong demise, pal, and 1 of em aint too cool - doesnt matter if you're a warlock with 1,000+ demons following you; God Almighty will still damn you and your cohorts for breaking His laws, namely, the first commandment.

As sure as I sit at my kitchen table RITEn this, Jesus shall Divinely Judge me, too... yet, Im going Upstairs to enjoy the fruits o'my labour for eternity. While if you dont change and continue following that sinister, evil path which quickly leads to ruin, Jesus will say to me in the Great Beyond, 'At least you tried, yet, Scott was too proud to change - that fool thot he could slip-by God and practice his worthless art in Seventh-Heaven when I AM the only One you must worship.'

trustNjesus, brudda.

Scott Stenwick said...

And again, you entirely miss the point of this article. Regardless of our theological differences, why should your religion (or any religion) be enshrined in law? Do you believe that if people obey Christian law only because they fear legal punishment, that it somehow counts the same as actual faith? That's not what Christian theology says, so if you believe it, that makes you a heretic. And last I checked, heretics burn too.

If you really are so insecure in your faith that the only way you feel you can practice it is to force other people to conform to it and go around trying to convert them, it seems to me that it's your faith that needs to be examined. Don't waste your time on me; if your religion is the only correct one, which I personally doubt, I'm a lost cause. But maybe, if you can get over yourself, there's still hope for you.

A great and wise spiritual teacher once said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." That sounds like the separation of church and state to me. Just because the original context was paying taxes, that doesn't mean that's all it applies to. The basic principle is fundamentally sound.

And success is its proof; by keeping government and religion separate, the United States has become one of the most religious nations in the world. Countries with Christianity as an official religion have more atheists, lower church attendance, and bureaucratic requirements imposed on churches. As a Christian, I can't imagine that you find any of those things good.

Christians don't have to support a theocracy to practice their faith, and frankly, I don't see a Christian theocracy working out well for anyone, including the Christians.