Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Church and State

What is the proper role of religion in government? The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion but exactly how that should be enforced has always been a controversial subject. I'm bringing this up now because of a couple of comments I heard. One was a segment in Thomas Friedman's A&E special on Europe. The other was a news article saying that the Ohio courts did not lower their flags to half-mast in honor of the pope because of separation of church and state.

The segment in the Friedman special rang true. He found some French students who equated President Bush and Osama bin Lauden because both are religious. While I reject the comparison, I accept that many Europeans think this way.

Side note - Afghanistan shows us what sort of government bin Lauden prefers. He was the power behind the Taliban. In contrast, Bush made no attempt to set up Christian governments in Afghanistan or Iraq. If Bush is trying to conquer the world for Christianity he's doing a bad job of it.

Still, Bush is religious. He refers to God in speeches. He prays for guidance. This reflects America where the majority of the population is religious to some extent.

Europe, especially "old Europe", has undergone significant changes in the last couple of decades. As recently as the 1970s, most of Europe was devote Catholic. Now only a few are. The official religion has become "secularism". This is being enforced. French schools forbid students from wearing any religious paraphanalia. Since both Moslems and Jews consider head covering part of their faith, they are the most affected.

This is the lens that the French view George Bush through - that no reference to religion should be allowed in public.

This attitude has also affected American liberals. It's easy to find examples. Look at Democratic Party chair, Howard Dean. Last year, when asked to name his favorite book from the New testament, he named the Book of Job (from the Old testimony). It was also obvious that this book didn't have any personal meaning to Dean, he was simply interested in the historical scholarship on it.

John Kerry was an altarboy. That was the beginning and end of his religious conviction.

The mainstream media has a bad relationship with religion, also. PBS anchor Bill Moyers recently published an out-right attack on the religious right as a threat to the planet.
We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges.
I could make a similar statement about Moyers. He obviously accepts human-induced global warming as an article of faith despite being in a position to know better.

Other examples of liberal attempts to eradicate religion from everyday life include re-naming Christmas as "Winter Holiday" and the aforementioned refusal to honor John Paul II.

I really believe that this attitude is misplaced. Freedom of religion is supposed to allow people to be religious. As long as your religion does not harm anyone else, you should be free to practice it as you please.

Further, government should be able to acknowledge religion to some degree without advancing it. There was significant objection to using government funds to restore the historic Old North Church in Boston. This is the church where the "one of by land, two if by sea" lantern was hung and as such, it played an important role in beginning the Revolutionary War. There should be no question about preserving it but it is also a functioning church. Liberals feel that any use of federal funds that might, in any way, benefit a congregation is out of the question and should be banned. They would rather see the church crumble.

Similar objections have been raised to school vouchers. Liberals are convinced that this is nothing but a way to funnel public money to churches.

Where did this outright hostility to religion come from? I suspect that it is a combination of European influence and American intellectual eletism. A lot of it comes from Marxism's traditional antipathy to religion.

In the coming years we will probably see growing hostility between secular liberals and the religious. This will happen for several reasons. One is that secularists are increasingly wary of the religious. Moyers' column is a perfect example.

At the same time, the secularists think that they hold a monopoly on the truth. Moyers is convinced that global warming is real and that Bush's religion keeps him from acting on it. Considering the state of the science supporting global warming, this is as much an article of faith for him as Christianity is for Bush.

The secularists also tend to lump all fundamentalism together so Baptists, pro-Israel Jews, and Islamists all become part of the same movement.

This has hurt the Democrats. One reason that Barack Obama is considered such a rising star is his ability to talk about religion.

At the same time, this attitude is polarizing the religious. There should be no conflict between religion and evolution. Geology, biology, astronomy, and nuclear physics all say that we are living on an old earth in an older universe. To argue against all of this, you have to believe that god is a jokester, creating a new world with all of the signs of being old. Never the less, recent polls show that a majority of Americans accept creation over evolution. I think that this is an example of polarization.

I will admit that there are people who are trying to reclaim America for Christ. At the same time, they have less influence than George Soros. The results of them succedding will not look anything like the Taliban, either.

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