4/29/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Right back at ya!

By DagoodS

Even as a Christian, I was surprised at the blurring of the distinction between Christianity and the American concepts of “Rights.”

I recall a Sunday School teacher talking of how the government was questioning one of his contributions to the church and whether it was a legitimate deduction. What I remember so vividly was his outrage followed by the statement, “This is a form of persecution on Christians.”

Excuse me?

Let me get this straight—something unheard of under both the Bible and U.S. Constitution, yet if you don’t get it, it is some sort of “persecution”? I am sure all those martyrs in Fox’s Book of Martyrs would go pale in the shock of how abusive this concept is—to NOT get a tax benefit for doing something you should do doing anyway. Shocked, I say!

A “Right” is a benefit conferred upon citizens by the will of the general populace, usually reduced to writing in the form of a Constitution. While “inalienable human rights” may be referred to, try convincing cancer you have a right to “life.” Or your boss on a sunny Friday afternoon that you have a right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Sure you have that “right.” You would also discover the “right” to find new employment!

What surprised me, and continues to surprise me is that Christians in America elevate their rights under the Constitution to at least the equivalent of the Bible, if not eclipse it. The First Amendment under the Bill of Rights is considered pragmatically more divine then the Song of Solomon.

How many times have we heard, “As a Christian I have the right to pray in school”? Or “…have the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse”? or “…practice my religion by doing _____”? Here’s a news flash—you obtain that “right” as a citizen of your country; not because you are a Christian.

In America, this confrontation over religious rights rests squarely on the first clause of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…
And the perpetual question we have wrestled is the meaning and limitation of what “establishment of religion” is or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Clearly, in reviewing our history, we HAVE limited the free exercise of religion. Ask the Mormons how polygamy is going. If I started a church in which one basic tenet is that we do not pay taxes in any way (property, state or income) I may have a large membership, but I would quickly find the government impinging our “free exercise thereof.”

Rather than focus on the legal machinations that have wended our way through this minefield, I would like to ask a more simple, basic question—with all the competing theistic beliefs, can we as humans manage a system by which we respect the other’s beliefs?

Let’s get two things out of the way. First, I understand that every person reading this blog entry has the correct theistic belief. I also understand that the simplest method would be to impose the correct theistic belief, which coincidently is yours. However, I hope you understand that many people with…slightly…to greater to even vast differences in belief also say theirs is the correct one.

If we say, “Use the correct belief” and then try and determine what “correct” means we are right back to where we started. Which is nowhere. We are all going to have to concede the fact that others believe differently than we do. Oh, sure they are wrong, but if we don’t respect their ability to be wrong, they will fail to respect ours.

Secondly, the reality is that not every situation will be to your liking. In fact, you are going to actually have to suck it up and realize that, on occasion, you will have to self-limit your own belief.

We often see the claim that atheism is a religion in the context that by not acknowledging any God, this results in the “establishment of religion.” A no-no. For example, if the courts determine that no prayer can be given before a football game at a public high school, a Christian may shout out that by NOT allowing a prayer, the courts have established the “religion” of atheism. (The poor agnostics never get a break in the “rights” department.)

Assuming that is true, we are left in a Catch-22. Allowing the prayer will impinge the non-theist’s “free exercise.” Prohibiting the prayer will impinge the Christian’s. Either one, somebody is not going to be happy.

If you are a parent, you learn that it is easier, sometimes, to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just Say ‘No.’” It is easier to draw a hard line in the sand and say NOBODY is getting ice cream, rather than hearing the bickering back and forth as to who was good enough, or who does not deserve the ice cream.

The courts have, in essence, flopped onto this policy. If the Christians get a prayer before the football game, then so do the Muslims. And the Jews. And the Branch Dividians. And the Moonies. And the Catholics. And the Baptists. And the Lutherans. We could never play football! While these groups may not be asking for the opportunity now, if they do, and we have allowed one…

It is easier to “Just Say ‘No.’” to all. However, I am talking about how WE need to get along, not what the Courts have done.

We could claim that the majority rules. That the minority must defer to the majority belief until it becomes the majority opinion. There are two significant problems with this.

First, it is not courteous to the minority position. Nor loving. If we start to lord it over the minority position, it is quite possible that someday our own position becomes the minority, and we would regret this policy. We learned in the schoolyard that just because you are the biggest and can beat the smaller, this only makes you a bully. Not better. I would hope we would want to be “better.” Not bullies.

Second, determining “majority” position becomes a difficulty. Is it the majority of people in the city? In the County? In the State? In the Country? In the World? And what do we do—keep taking surveys and votes to determine what religious belief happens to be the majority at that moment?

Even with “majority” difficulties arise. If we use the Abrahamic God, do we lump in all the Jews, Muslims and Christians, and claim that God as “Majority”? Or are those separate categories? Or do we use a method by which we label the categories in a way which best helps us? Like including the Jews (but not the Muslims) if we need their numbers to take us over the top.

And within each belief—what is the majority? For example, do we include the Catholics in our count of Christians? But a prayer to a saint! The Protestants may NOT want to include the Catholics. Unless they then lose their majority…

We all know what we would see. If convenient, certain theistic beliefs would be included in order to obtain a majority. If not, they would be excluded.

We non-theists are smart enough to play this card as well. See, the Muslims agree that the Jesus was not God. We could include them and the Jews and every other belief to “Oust” the Christians from their majority. Because a majority does NOT hold Jesus as God. Or we could join the Christians and Jews to “oust” Allah from being the majority.

Determining a majority would become a battle similar to what we have now. (And Perhaps the non-theists would be the constant swing vote! O.K. I can dream!)

Can we do better? Can we find a way by which we agree to self-limit our theistic belief, for the greater good of getting along? Oh, I still encourage all parties to go to the court system. (Have to pay the bills, ya know!) It is what is it there for. If you think that it is of vast import and having some person in a black dress tell you how to act with your neighbor—go for it!

I would prefer that we could rise above it as humans and not need the court to give respect to each other. Let me give an example.

Our American currency, from each coin to every bill in circulation contains the statement “In God We Trust.” I don’t trust in a God. There isn’t one. I am forced to use currency by virtue of living in America. Each day, I am passing around little statements that tell the world something I would prefer to not tell the world.

So what.

I mean REALLY—So What!

As actions speak louder than words, what I am actually saying is that I am relying on these little bits of green ink on paper to obtain those things that sustain me. In fact, the use of every single penny, every nickel is NOT saying “In God We Trust” but quite the opposite—“In Gold We Trust.”

By obtaining money, I am saying that I don’t expect God to provide for me—I expect this money to do so. By saving it, I am saying quite a bit about my anticipation for God to take care of me in the future—I think more of Alexander Hamilton doing so than God. By spending it, I am saying that God can’t get it for me—but Abraham Lincoln can!

Being a person that appreciates irony wherever I can find it—I truly enjoy it every time I see “In God We Trust” on money. Come on, Christians—do you see Jesus teaching how to pray:

“Our Father who art on the Ten Dollar Bill,
Unwrinkled be thy name,
Your picture come,
Your crisp smell done,
On earth because we ain’t in Heaven.

Buy us this day our daily bread.
Your portrait for debts
Both Public and Private.
Retain your present value compared to the Euro,
But deliver us from that blasted penny!”

Do you think God is excited about having his name on—of all things—money? I can see “In God We Trust” on Bibles. On Churches. Even on homes and plaques and pillows. But money?

O.K.—it is important to you for some inexplicable reason. As if that has some meaning. Can you take what you dish out? In England, Charles Darwin is on the 10-Pound note. Any Christian have a problem with that?

Christians: there is no prayer in school. Is it THAT important to have prayer? Yes, I know it impinges your free exercise of religion. (Sorta. You can pray to yourself, of course.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you give it up? Could you have voluntarily given it up for the betterment of humans?

Non-theists: our money mentions the “G” word. Yes, I know that impinges on your theistic belief. (Sorta. You can write checks.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you not care? Can you use it voluntarily for the betterment of humans?

Perhaps it is just me, but I am seeing a polarization of beliefs. We are DEMANDING that how we believe must be imposed on others. I want prayer--give me prayer! I don’t believe in god--remove it from my coins! If we can’t rise above this, we are but two short steps from the sectarian violence we see in the Middle East.

Can we be better? Rather than insist on our “rights” can we suspend that demand, and allow others to exercise theirs? It may be someday, we will realize that the group that can do that is the most Christ-like.

12 comments:

Joe said...

I am divorced and have four children. Their mother, the custodial parent, is a fundy. My children are taught that God belief makes people good. People without God belief are bad. Ergo their father is bad. I am currently working on a petition to improve my parenting time, in which my suitability as a parent is being challenged on the grounds that I have presented my children with the alternative view that there is no God. Never mind the context in which I introduce that possibility -- the idea that they, as young humans, have the capacity to determine for themselves what is good, and kind, and loving in any circumstance.

While I appreciate your analysis, and love the variant on the Lord's Prayer, I feel there is good reason to continue to exert pressure to reduce the environmental theism that implicitly endorses the rightness of theism and wrongness of atheism at every turn.

There is no question that atheists run the risk of falling into irrational argument and we should be on our guard. The last thing we need is to start using our own slippery slope arguments against theirs. Doing so puts us all in the realm of "what if," and reason, the essence of the atheist argument, is lost.

God is imaginary. There is no sense in doing things in his name. How and not whether to promote that view in a effective way seems to me to be the question of the day.

stronger now said...

"A right is a benefit conferred upon citizens by the will of the general populace"...

I don't think so. I think a right is something iherrant in human existance. It is(or should be) recognized at birth no matter of country or sex or color or anything else. Just because the general populace can infringe upon a human right doesn't make it a conferred benefit.

The mormon pursuit of happiness is a right no matter that polygamy is infringed upon in the U.S.
And cancer infringing on the right to life does not make it less of a human right.

This is not to say that rights are unlimited. A persons right stops when anothers right is being infringed upon. A mans right to marry as many women as he wants does not give him the right to make a woman marry him.

People should do their best to get along without getting their panties in a twist over what someone else is doing.

I could be wrong.

Joe said...

Stronger Now,

It seems there are at least three types of rights in play here: human rights, civil rights, and statutory rights. The lawyers among us can let me know if my definitions are off, but generally, I think of the former as rights inherent in of us as humans, the second as those that we obtain broadly as members of a given society, and the latter are conferred narrowly based on some status (i.e. as a patient, as an employee, as a member of a church, etc.).

The right to a tax free status for religious institutions is a statutory right. It can be legislated in or out and extended or limited as the law sees fit. Xians seem to elevate this statutory benefit to some sort of higher order of right. And that just ain't so.

SpaceMonk said...

DagoodS.
As you briefly mentioned, the problem about prayer in schools needn't be as complex as you've implied.

Christians still have the right to pray in school and before sports, etc. They just don't have the right to force everyone else to pray with them.

Prayer can be in their minds, keeping it between themself and their god. It doesn't have to be a loud mouthed exercise in group conformity.

DagoodS said...

Joe,

I have a great deal of sympathy for your situation. In Michigan, one of the factors in considering custodial cases is which parent has the capacity and disposition of raising the child in his or her religion and creed, if any. If your children were raised in a fundamentalist environment, and your ex-wife is a fundamentalist while you are a non-believer, she would prevail in my state.

Understand I am coming from a position where that is exactly my situation. My wife is a fundamentalist. My children attend church. I would lose on this factor. If we were divorced, I would begin to take my children to church, in order to avoid parenting time problems.

No, it is not fair.

However, on perhaps a bit harsher of a note—our court system is often faced with two parents (NOT just people) who cannot set aside their differences for the betterment of the children. Yes, I realize that it is often very one-sided. That one person is causing more problems, whereas the other one desires to resolve it.

The only remedy is to turn to the court system. We have parents that cannot get along enough, so they come to a person in a black robe to make the decision. Can’t agree on which school to send the child? We will do it for you. Can’t agree on who gets to see the child when? We will do it for you. Can’t agree on what time and where to drop off the child? We will do it for you.

And once you step into our system you will find (as I am sure you have) that we are cold, callous and uncaring. We make snap decisions that affect every persons’ lives for years to come, and one minute later break for lunch.

The judges’ sole emphasis is the best interest of the child. What we have to realize is that judges will continue to retain the child in the most stability as possible. If they went to church before the divorce, the judge will want them to continue. If they went to Boy Scouts before, the judge will want them to continue.

Obviously I do not know any of the dynamics of your situation. If you asked my professional opinion—it would be to challenge the law. My personal opinion—be the better person. Easy for me to say. I always wonder if, faced with similar facts, I would be able to follow my own advice.

Of course, due to my lack of knowledge, and this being the internet and all—please feel free to disregard any advice I have given.


stronger now,

You are correct (and I only briefly touched upon it) that “rights” can have a variety of meaning. I was focusing on Constitutional rights in this blog. It is what I see most people utilize when they are claiming some sort of “right” to do something.

Although you raise an interesting dilemma in what, exactly, is a “human” right. Traditionally we see, “life,”, “Liberty” and “pursuit of happiness” but those can be awfully tricky to define or delineate.

stronger now: People should do their best to get along without getting their panties in a twist over what someone else is doing.

That sums up very nicely what I was saying in this entry.

stronger now said...

Those fuzzy lines around rights are interesting. It's good to know there's a raisin of clarity in the oatmeal of my mind.

Joe, I can't seem to find a raisin for you. My heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

This may sound harsh, but this country was founded on majority rule. Therefore, if the majority think that only men should vote, then that's how it is. If the majority think slavery is OK, then that's how it is. Some people may not like it, but when issues are put to a vote, a majority is easy to determine. We don't have to choose between gods based on categories; you could just put all the "gods" to a vote if you want. You could also put all theological issues to a vote too. If this country had followed this rule since inception, this certainly would be a "Christian" country. While some people may not like this idea, that doesn't change how this country was founded. Emotional appeals and appeals to logic are beside the point, unless of course, you are in the majority.
By the way, I am basically an "I don't carist" in terms of religion; it doesn't matter if God exists or not, since he doesn't do anything anyway.

resonate11 said...

Amen, DagoodS. Good thinking.

Melissa said...

Anon. said: "This may sound harsh, but this country was founded on majority rule."

The factual answer is no, we were not founded as a majority rule...that would make us a Majoritarian or Mobocracy, as in rule by the masses or majority.

Initially, we were a Jefforsonian Democracy. Even that changed rather quickly in the 18th and 19th centuries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffersonian_Democracy

The U.S. is one of the oldest Constitutional Republics in the world, which is also a form of Liberal democracy.

We have a representative democracy, with supposedly free and fair elections. (I think there are serious doubts about this MOST important right, especially with the last few elections and the fancy new PROGRAMABLE electronic voting machines.)

Anyway...

The U.S., for most of it's history, has advocated the protection of minorities, which is the opposite of "rule by majority" or "mob rule".

We emphasized the rule of law, a separation of powers, and allowed for the protection of liberties by freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and property.

See Wikipedia entry for Founding Fathers: "Notwithstanding the spectrum of beliefs held by the Founding Fathers, most viewed religion in a favorable light. This is noted through their statements in speeches and correspondences in which they describe its role in molding
"national morality" and securing the rule of law (George Washington), its check on human "wickedness" (Benjamin Franklin), and its preservation of a free government such as America (John Adams).

Regardless, the division of church and state was always emphasized by the founding fathers.

"The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," states the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli.

This document was ratified by Congress without much debate or contention and stands today as a reminder of the founding fathers' intentions.[9]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founding_Fathers_of_the_United_States

Also, you did not sound harsh. I hope my small critique here is not taken as such either.

Anon: "By the way, I am basically an "I don't carist" in terms of religion; it doesn't matter if God exists or not, since he doesn't do anything anyway."

IMHO, No god(s) is capable of doing anything because they are all fictional ancient myths and imagined icons born out of fear and confusion. Gods were created by man, not the other way around.

Yet another one of those harmful "false realities" being pepetrated by religious fundamentalists all over this world, who remain mentally hostaged to dark aged beliefs.

Good Day!

Melissa said...

I think it cheapens the worth of their (worldly) God and makes a mockery of their faith, as it gives them yet another icon to worship and fight over, along with everything else in between.

What about the make no graven image commandment...does $$ fit his holier than thou image?

To trust in God...is to trust in money. All mighty God and the All mighty Dollar. Greed and God belief do seem to go hand in hand anymore. America loves God Pie.

Well, the One True God appears to be the ultimate source of greed, as he claims to be THE supreme master of HIS universe, where only the "few special chosen ones" are accepted into HIS cosmic supremacy cult, where he loves hoarding heaven all to himself and his prime pick of the human crop.

Might make a good commercial. Visa; Don't leave home... without God on your money and a prayer in your pocket.

It all spends the same. Or does it?

Melissa said...

Joe,

I feel for ya. That stress would probably give me high blood pressure and then some. She must be a uber control freak, as the worst fundy's usually are.

Just keep talking to your kids and assure them that being a good person has nothing to do with religious beliefs. Show them the wonders of this life we have to experience, here and now. Show them the rare, but beautiful balance we find ourselves living in. They will grow and change in time, that is one thing your ex cannot control. Your love is much greater than ALL imaginary beings combined.

I agree with you here: "God is imaginary. There is no sense in doing things in his name. How and not whether to promote that view in a effective way seems to me to be the question of the day."

Keep your head up, and hold their hand when you can. That beats faith and prayer, every day!

Joe said...

Thanks for all the kind words of support. I think I'll make some clippings for the fridge. Melissa, your reminder brought to mind the famous words:

"The tighter you clench your first, the more star systems will slip between your fingers."

I recognize that my children's minds are indeed complex systems. Those minds are doing their work of making sense of the world. Love and commitment without god is incongruous with the church's system of thought. I hope that that alone may serve to give them a handle on reality.