Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Bad Apologetic for American Religious Freedom

It's the national day of prayer, and my local Christian radio station is talking about how we need to remember that "our nation was founded on Christian principles," and they're saying that because of this people have no right to change our laws in any way that would limit Christian religious freedom or obscure our nation's religious heritage. I've heard this argument so many times, and i don't think it holds water.

I am a Christian, I'm all for religious freedom, and I'd love to live in a country where they pray in Jesus' name and read the Bible in school. But saying that our nation was founded on certain principles and therefore we shouldn't change them doesn't hold up.

The United States, when it was created, had built in to its government the ability to change its government. And since its creation we've changed a ton of things. Its the way the system works. The government adapts to suit the ethics and beliefs of the people. When the majority of the people are Christians, the government is going to reflect that set of ethics. Most Christians like this kind of adaptation. But when most of the people aren't Christians, the government adapts to that too. It's the way the system works.

We don't tell the Islamic nations that, because they were founded on strict Islamic law, they shouldn't change. Many Christians and many others want to see the hard-line Islamic nations change their rules because we believe those rules are unfair. We don't believe that the past justifies the present when we're talking about anyone else. We only use that argument if it works in our favor.

Again, i'd love it if our country was still a run by Christian principles. But arguing that it should be because it was in the past isn't going to convince anyone. The problem is not the laws - the laws just reflect the people. We made it that way. We should stop whining when it doesn't work in our favor.

Which is the greater tragedy - that a minority of Americans are losing some of their religious freedom, or that a majority of Americans are living without the freedom that is found in Christ? Lets focus on the real problem.


Brian Cooper said...

I agree with ya on that on Joy. I'm also under the thought that if we are truly disciples, then we don't have rights. We are called to be servants to those around us no matter what cultural context we are in. If anyone had rights it was Jesus. He was God! Yet he "emptied" himself and I feel that we should do the same and spend less time arguing for our "rights". I feel this is where people blend the faith with their patriotism. We have rights as Americans, but not as disciples.

Joy said...

Another good blog about blending faith and patriotism is at for anyone whos interested in the topic.

Esther said...

Actually, the Lockian philosophy that our government was founded upon cannot work in a secular government. I'm not saying that the argument you speak against is a good one because it's not. But the reality is that we don't even have the same system of government we had when this nation was founded. It hasn't just changed it's transformed. True self government was lost a long time ago.

On your point that there are more important things, like discipling people, to worry about I totally agree. But I am a student of political science, and I try to correct where I can. ;oD

Joy said...

Just wanted to say that i've asked Esther to elaborate a little more on this. I hope she does . . .

Esther said...

You are a curious one. Okay, here goes, I'm trying not to be obtuse and I'm trying to force this to make sense to non-political science majors. Bear with me.

John Locke attempted to reconcile political philosophy with Christianity and he came up with the doctrine of rights (i.e. rights to life, liberty and property). These things are based on the notion that all humans are created equal.

In order for the doctrine of rights -- based upon the premise that all humans are created equal -- to work, one must have self-government. In this idea, we give up our rights to someone else to protect those rights, that is the government. Because all people are equal, the construction of a government requires unanimous consent of the governed. Once that is done the government can operate to protect our rights. It was only constructed for that purpose, in reality. Thus, government is meant for the people, it is not a tyrant. It is composed of the people, they represent each other. And it is by the people, they set it up.

Still, none of this could actually work without self-government on a small scale. That is our governing of our own motives and actions. If the first president had decided to start a dictatorship then self-government would have been lost right then.

In the same vein, that's why we constructed a government with checks and balances. It is a very Christian perpspective to take on government. Our founders believed that human nature is sinful and will find a way to abuse power. Therefore, instead of saying that the government was for the protection of rights and letting it run off in whatever direction it chose to take, they set certain things in place to control it and keep it from going in the wrong direction. There are three branches of government, the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Each has a way to check the power of the other.

Yet, if we were an un-Christian nation then the morality behind these checks and balances fails. If we lose the respect for religion that honors the ideas of self sacrifice, honor and self discipline then we have no reason for our government to be disciplined and to limit its power anymore. It then becomes okay for the government to do things like steal our money and give it to others, or even define marriage, which was originally defined by God and cannot be re-defined by any person. Those are just examples.

That's my argument, and if you have specific questions feel free to ask them. I'll check back so you don't have to put your questions on my blog.

Joy said...

Hey Esther,
Thanks for the clarification. I think i basically understand what you're saying - that self-government only works when there is a moral standard keeping our government officers in check. Of course, you don't need to be a Christian to have a moral standard, but generally speaking its hard to stay a moral person without the Spirit's help.

I guess that's why i'm glad i get to be a pastor instead of a politician - it seems like basically any system is doomed to fail as long as the people running it are trying to function without Christ.

Thanks for your thoughts :)

Esther said...

Yeah, you said in about three words what I said in twenty. I just had to lay all the groundwork first. You're welcome, anytime.

I'm not going to be a politician either. But I would like to write political philosophy.