Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Freedom of / for / from religion

In South Carolina one can now purchase an automobile license plate bearing the emblem of a cross with the words "I believe" embossed on the bottom of the plate. In my own church Sunday, the congregation said in unison (during the call to worship) "our nation was founded as a Christian nation". I take offense to both those expressions and discuss my reasons below.

Some evangelicals tout the United States to have been founded as a Christian nation; yet, nowhere in the founding documents (Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.) is Jesus Christ mentioned. We do have freedom of / for / from religion in this great nation, and I, as a Christian minister, am proud and grateful that we are a secular "republican-democracy" instead of a state-sponsored theocracy.

I know of no religious group which would want a theocratic government dominated by some religious viewpoint other than their own. That is the key reason for rejection of any tinge of state-sponsored religion.

The assumption by most zealous religious groups is that the rest of the population shares (or ought to share) their own perspective. But in the real world, even the seemingly universal Christian statement "I Believe" is open to controversy. The emerging progressive Christian movement holds that a transforming relationship with God is more important than creedal beliefs.

So, can one order a South Carolina license plate which says "I relate"? To take the
argument even further, will other religous perspectives be allowed on the state-issued licenses? The star of David? The crescent? The words, "Hail Mary, full of grace"? Or even "I don't believe"?

Jesse Helms is quoted as saying that when religous critics espouse "freedom of religion" they mean "freedom from religion". While he may have meant that to be a derogatory condemnation of the "non-religious", I find truth in his statement.

While I will defend anyone's right to their own peculiar religious expression, I cherish deeply the protection that I am constitutionally guaranteed to have freedom from the imposition of "their religion" on me. The tyranny of majority religions being forced on minority perspectives presents itself as a sad and despotic stain on freedom's flag.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Methodism was so popular in the United States, it is said, that a movment wanted to delcare it to be the Church of America. As a Methodist, I am extremely happy that idea died away (I am sure my good Baptist friends also agree).

The choice to express, or to refrain from the expression of, theological / religious tenets in this nation must be vigilantly guarded against the efforts of the well-meaning but zealously self-righteous ones who seek the sanction of government.