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Chapter 21: Fixing what’s wrong with religion in America

August 20, 2012

“I believe that the Framers of the Constitution made their intent clear when they wrote the First Amendment. I believe they wanted to keep the new government from endorsing one religion over another, not erase the public consciousness or common faith.” —Nick Rahall

What’s wrong in our battles about religion

  • Religious intolerance. Throughout history, millions of people have been ruthlessly murdered in the name of God. While we can hope for progress, this sort of killing is still taking place in the twenty-first century. It’s often a battle over whose God is right. A little more tolerance by all religions would make for a more peaceful world.
  • Mixing church and state. England’s Magna Carta inspired America’s founders to embrace personal liberty, private property, the rule of law, and separation of church and state. There are other nations that don’t share these values. In some nations, stoning, prison, or even beheading is condoned for those who do not submit to the state religion.
  • Laws banning suicide. One example of mixing church and state in this country are laws that make suicide illegal. It’s fine to oppose suicide because of personal or religious values, but why should suicide be illegal in a nation that respects individual liberty?  Those laws cause a lot of human suffering as well as unnecessarily increasing medical costs.
  • Pushing for a US religion. Some people think the United States should be acknowledged and promoted as a Christian nation because most of the nation’s founders were Christian. Many of the founders were quite religious as individuals. However, they didn’t want us to drift toward a “state religion.” They wanted Americans to be free to make individual choices about religion. They did not want the government to promote any religion.
  • The Christian majority. Some people argue that America should be a Christian nation because a vast majority of its citizens consider themselves to be Christians. A popular e-mail says the minority should “sit down and shut up.” The majority rules, right? Wrong! America’s founders were brilliant, and they put a lot of thought into what they created. They didn’t give us a pure democracy but rather a democratic constitutional republic. They wanted the government to protect the individual liberties of every citizen, not just the majority.
  • Religious symbolism. “In God We Trust” was added to US coins nearly one hundred years after the nation’s birth—one of the many things self-serving politicians have done to undermine the incredibly good work of the founders. Adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance came even later. In both cases, the politicians who did it gained some votes for themselves but damaged our Constitution. As a nation built on a foundation of individual freedom, our choices about God should be individual, private, and personal—not dictated by or even promoted by the government. “In God we trust” should be in your heart if that’s your choice, but it should not be on government coins. However…
  • Over-reaction on both sides. We waste far too much energy arguing about unimportant religious symbolism. Separation of church and state is important, but banning all displays of religious symbolism in public places is ridiculous. Who is harmed by a manger display at Christmas, the singing of “Hava Nagila,” or a discussion of the history of Islam?

 

How to fix our policies about religion

  • Honor the Constitution. Let individuals make their own choices about religion, and keep the government out of it. (See also the chapter titled “Freedom.”)
  • Uphold individual liberties. We shouldn’t restrict any individual expression of religious views. Yes, you can erect monuments, send e-mails, put bumper stickers on your cars, and so on. But it isn’t individual when the government expresses religious views on our behalf. The government is supposed to represent all of us, not just the majority. Let’s not forget that difference. And if you’re in the majority now, keep in mind that at some time in the future, you could be in the minority. (For more about this point, see the chapter titled “Democracy.”)
  • Legalize suicide.  In a free society, suicide should be an individual choice.  The existing laws drive up medical costs and cause too much human suffering.  Just as there should never be laws that force suicide on anyone, we should eliminate laws that make suicide illegal.
  • Focus on the important stuff. But let’s not freak out and waste a lot of energy over symbolism such as coins that proclaim faith in God—especially when there are so many other pressing issues that threaten to send America hurtling off a cliff. Really, shouldn’t we be prioritizing issues and talking about things that could actually restore America’s greatness? (See also “Congressional Reform,” “Deficits,” “Education,” “Energy and the Environment,” “National Security,” “Immigration,” and “Poverty.”)

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” —Italian physicist, astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” —Lebanese-American author Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet

3 Comments
  1. Mike Ruddell permalink

    The legalizing suicide is complicated. As someone who worked in forensic anthropology with agencies such as the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) and the FBI, suicides are always thoroughly investigated to rule out murder. So for this to be a option, it would have to be under a doctor’s supervision only, which violates the ethics as taught in medical school. Not too mention the Hippocratic oath.

    Like

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