Friday, June 10, 2011

Separation of Church and State *eye roll*

I once got a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch published on this very subject.  Of course it was met with fairly vehement criticism, because I posited that most Americans have misread the establishment clause in the Constitution.

Many Americans don’t know that the phrase “separation of church and state,” or any near verbatim iteration of that phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.  Anyone who has read it knows that religion is only mentioned twice in the Constitution.  One is the establishment clause, I’ll leave you to guess the other.  Bonus points to whomever can respond with the right answer first without looking it up.

Anywho, I get that we’re supposed to be all about religious freedom.  Even if we disagree with someone’s religious beliefs, we’re supposed to tolerate that because it is every human being’s right to decide for himself what he believes in.

What I don’t like is how some people wish to banish religion from all facets of public life.  Does this mean that I support people proselytizing or pandering their religion to “win souls for God”?  Absolutely not.  I also do not support this movement to strike religion from all discussion in schools, though.

I know that some of my readers are atheists, and I totally get that.  You might be raising your kids to be atheist and don’t want them to believe in God, and I respect that.  It’s no different than a Christian who doesn’t want his kid to believe in Buddha.

The fact of the matter is, though, that you can’t just ignore religion and pretend that it is not an important thing.  I don’t mean “important” in the sense that everyone should be religious, but it’s important in understanding the human condition and civil society in general.

How can any social studies class be effective without discussing religion?  When I was an education major, I had to sit in on some classes with a 7th grade world history group.  The lesson was actually on the Crusades, and it was very awesome because the curriculum, surprisingly, gave an equal amount of time to present the Christian and Muslim perspective on it.  Since both religions were given the same amount of time, there was no conflict.

Perhaps the problem is that it’s probably tough to find teachers who would be willing to teach their students about world religions in an objective manner.  When I taught the lesson on how the principles of Christianity helped facilitate the call to Crusade, I did it objectively although I am Catholic.  The kids loved it, even the little Muslim kiddoes.  Why?  Because I wasn’t pushing the religion onto them, but merely helping them to understand it.

My cohorts and I get into a lot of arguments, it seems, about religion.  The arguments usually involve our sentiments on Islam.  The overall message that I always try to convey is that we have to understand the religion on its own terms, not necessarily in how the zealots interpret the religion.  The same can be said for Christianity as much as Islam.  Would we really want other cultures to understand Christianity from the Westboro Baptist perspective?  Jesus, I fucking hope not.

Understanding the religion doesn’t mean you accept it to be true.  Similarly, learning about the religion is not a bad thing.  We need to stop pretending like we can actually separate our religious self from our civil, secular self.  Although morality is not an invention of religion, most people’s morals are shaped by their religious upbringing.

Yes, I am intentionally trying to be offensive.
Should the state sponsor a particular religion?  Absolutely not.  Should we call ourselves a “Christian Nation”?  That’s a big negative.  Instead of promoting the separation of church and state, we should promote the scholarly engagement of religion in our public forums.  Of course, that would require a certain level of decency and open-mindedness, both of which are qualities that many Americans lack.

Think of it in the mindset of those debate assignments where you’re supposed to support the side you disagree with in a debate.


Harrison said...

You wrote:

"to understand the religion on its own terms, not necessarily in how the zealots interpret the religion"

Well when you "understand" something you are interpreting it thus you can never really see religion "on its own terms." Any conclusions you draw about it will, necessarily, be your opinions about it. Since it is only your opinion, it is not necessarily "better" than how a "zealot" (one who would describe themselves as being true to their religious beliefs) would view things.

Were we to say that if one ate a certain food and 90% of the people died, perhaps the food itself would be intrinsically deadly? Could that conclusion not be drawn correctly?

I think were we to look at religion and believers, certain groups could be considered violent while others would not. I do not know of any Hindu terrorists, for example. Just my two cents.

Jack Camwell said...

That sounds an awful lot like relativism. If it is possible to understand other ideas objectively, then it has to be possible to understand religion objectively, which is what I meant by understanding it on its own terms.

"Zealot," carries a pejorative connotation, and I'm not sure that zealots appreciate being called that. A zealot is one who expresses a great amount of zeal for his or her cause. To have zeal for one's cause makes it more difficult to examine it objectively. That becomes the challenge, and we all face that in other ideas as well.

Harrison said...

Understanding things "objectively" is an interesting point. Is it possible beyond things like "it is dark out" or "the dog is your pet"? We can say the 10 Commandments are central tenets in the Bible but you will never be able to understand things like "faith" objectively.

I would say that if one were to believe in god one should do so with "zeal." The word does have a bad meaning today, akin to "Extremists" but all I meant was they would say they are more fully "believing" than others.

Damien said...

Religion for me is a social reality as well as amongst the most influencial elementst that make us human - our ability have faith and make decisions.

The problem of course is not that religion is the worst thing that happend to mankind but what man has done in the name of religion.

Mankind's baseness comes down to the attractiveness of power over others and targetting that most key factor - our faith and individuality has always been the main goal.

The question is what is the benefit of religion? It has always been there and as much as it has been used and abused to the hilt since day one we forget that it has given us morality and standards, identifying what is evil, bad, good and great. It has inspired the best of mankind.

In once way secularism does not actually exist since the vast majority of mankind believes in one form of faith or another and thus by the power of nation building, education and voting we follow the tennants of faith.

The real issue here is placing and linking government and to a degree the life of everyone by the rules an codes of one particular faith - and thus by proxy those that run it.

For me declaring a State Catholic or Islamic is a mistake as it fails to confirm the already existing influences of the predominant faiths and notions of the populace - in a sense it is a lack of confidence or fear to have it naturally change and that is very much a human influence and not religous - yet again.....

Jack Camwell said...

"In one way secularism doesn't exist,"

That's a bit point I was trying to stress. Lawmakers are going to legislate based on their moral compass, and the vast majority of lawmakers were raised in some religion.

So many people say that religion is so awful and wrong, and although there has been a lot of pain caused in the name of religion, there has also been a lot of relief and good in the name of religion. Although there is violence in the Bible, Jesus was a pacifist, and he preached pacisfism.

It's the zealots today who ruin his message because they can't look at his message objectively. They read what he says, and they make it fit their passions and beliefs. The Apocalypse guy, for example, ignored whole passages of scripture that said the date of Armageddon is not knowable. Looking at it objectively, you would have to say "well, Christianity believes we can't know the date of Armageddon."