Two things You Can't

Two Things You Can’t Talk About  110910
Fringe Editor

There are only two things you can’t talk about in polite company, two subjects that get the cops called to a Thanksgiving family dinner, and two subjects even shock jocks can’t talk about, so we’re going to talk about them here:

Politics and Religion

For much of human history, politics and religion were the same thing.  Indeed, much of European history and even more of the history of the Middle East, tracks religion and politics as two sides of a coin, which is fitting because in both religion and politics, the coin is the real master served.  Even our money says, “in God we trust”.  

In Europe today there are still places where a “church tax” is collected and provided to the dominant religion, usually the one with the coolest stonework and oldest art.  In Austria members of the Catholic Church pay a tax instituted by Adolf Hitler and never removed.  Many of the countries of the Middle East religion, and specifically the different sects of major religions, have a symbiotic relationship between religion and the state.  There are Christian and Muslim state religions and Buddhist and others, too.  Perhaps the most complicated relationship between a church and state would be Israel.  

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.  Thomas Jefferson

In the United States, though, it is supposed to be different.  There is an intentionally clear division between church and state.  Here, we value our freedom of religion, and the most important of those is the freedom to have no religion at all.  We have no tax for churches, though we do give churches tax breaks.  
Our Founding Fathers, contrary to what many wish to believe, were not particularly Christian.  Most were Free Masons; many including Washington considered themselves to be “deists”; Jefferson was not pleased by organized religion at all, and even re-wrote the New Testament leaving out the supernatural parts and focusing on Jesus as a philosopher.   

The Founding Fathers, particularly those handful who made the most contribution to our government, were men of the Enlightenment, a period when science, and not superstition, was the guiding principle.  Further, they were often well read and understood the cost in human life and human freedom of the Christian religious wars that had devastated Europe for hundreds of years before.  Just as Muslim sects war with each other now, Christian sects, often extremely close in dogma, have and continue to war with each other.  

That is because religion is not about dogma, it is about affiliation, group cohesion, and of course, coin.

Ben Franklin  “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another.”

Thomas Jefferson: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

Though our country is supposed to be free of religious bias, that is scarcely possible since religion, politics and wealth are so closely related.  When John Kennedy was running there were those who said he’d take orders from the Vatican because he was Catholic.  Nixon was a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, which should have prevented him from swearing oaths or making war.  Mitt Romney is a dubious candidate for president for 2012 because he’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, which some consider a “cult.”  (The LDS do not meet the sociological definition of “cult”.)

For a nation free of religious influence in its government, we are a surprisingly religious people, more religious than the French by far, and perhaps even more religious than the people of Italy, where the Pope hangs out.

And, why not?  A devout belief in God gives us many things in real life.  It provides for a source of hope, of appeal, an explanation for things that can’t be explained.  There is every medical evidence that praying and believing in God are good for you.
Indeed, compared to devout Muslims, Christians are slackers.  A good Muslim can explain God as the cause of any event.  Their lives are infused with several times daily prayer and frequent fasting.  

Ah, but, that’s God, and the individual’s relationship with God.  Religion is something completely different from God.  
The definition of “religion” usually contains phrases like “system of beliefs about life and the universe” and “signs, rituals and beliefs describing mankind’s relationship with the supernatural world” and so on, but these definitions miss the point, and sociology (that discipline born of the Enlightenment) defines “religion” very differently, and far more functionally.
Religion is a bureaucracy, a means of controlling resources such as gold and children; it is affiliation, belonging, community.  Belief in God fulfills one human need; religion fulfils a very different need.  Religion is networking; religion is social control.  Indeed, it is a source of humor among sociologists and anthropologists that the priesthood, and not prostitution, is the world’s oldest profession.  

Needless to say, that conflict between the bureaucracy of the state and the bureaucracy of religion is why the Founding Fathers wanted freedom from religion in the new nation.  It also explains why they favored “deism” or a personal belief in God rather than religion.

Thomas Jefferson provides a good example for all patriots on religion.  “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  This demonstrates the pragmatic and realistic approach encouraged by Free Masons, and the scientism and critical thought of the Enlightenment, and it’s a pragmatic approach even today.  As long as religions neither pick our pockets nor break our legs.

And yet, they are doing that.  Clearly conservative Christians are making life hard for the rest of us.  I understand that our current misunderstanding of the “mantel” of freedom of religion makes it unpopular to speak against Christians, but it is that very mantel, and the protection of the free speech clause, that allows us to be critical of those who insist on mixing religion and politics.   Jefferson might have benefited from the Enlightenment in the 1700-1800s, but it still hasn’t hit some folks yet.

Worse yet, these Bible thumpers often claim to be patriots, too!  Voting the Bible and living the Constitution are mutually exclusive, and indeed, has the world on its ass.  Right way up, one lives her or his Bible and votes his or her Constitution.  The spirit of liberty and self-determination spring from “The Creator,” not from religion.  Freedom, and belief in God, are deeply personal, and they are gifts the individual can practice without the intercession of others.  They are also gifts one does not deprive others of.

When the religious right, with the encouragement of neo-conservatives on the right, take to the pulpit to tell the folks in the pews how to vote, they’ve violated that trust that prevents government from intruding in to religion.  When a Catholic priest tells his parish to vote against a pro-choice measure, he’s exerting the bureaucracy of his church over the lives of Americans who are legally free of his dogma.  When a Bible thumper encourages his flock to vote against a measure which would ensure marriage for all people, he’s shoving not his beliefs, but the bureaucratic power of his pulpit into the private lives of people who should be free of his ignorance and lust to control others.  

But, there are other, more sinister ways those without the power of critical thought are being manipulated through religion.  There has arisen, from no legitimate source, the belief that Christians are at war with Muslims.  While this has certainly been true in the past, meaning when Christian nations relieved the excess number of young warriors on the people (Christians as well as Muslims) of the Holy Land during the Crusades.  But Christians are not at war with Muslims now, and most of all not in the United States.  

Yet, this ignorance and mistrust that many bedrock Christians hold toward Muslims is ugly and evident and as un-Christ-like as it is un-American.  Any male with a vaguely turban-like headgear (most notably Sikhs, who must cover their heads) is in danger of being harassed for being “Muslim.”  Muslim places of worship in the U.S. have been vandalized or administratively discouraged.

Among the populace, right wing emails, many produced by PR agencies, whip right wing Christians into a xenophobic froth.  Emails fly which show Obama as Muslim (so what if he were?) or use crude humor to distance Muslims and Arabs, who many confuse with Muslims.  

Why would a true American participate or even tolerate these egregious violations of the separation of church and state?  Why would anyone who really valued the protection the Constitution gives his church want to risk that protection by denying it to other religions?

It’s time for us to put the lid on people who want to abuse the separation between church and state.  Why should any church that wants to insert itself into the voting of its members deserve a tax break?  Why should those who want to restrict the freedoms of others because of their personal beliefs even get a public voice?

This is the United States, we have no state religion here, this is not a theocracy.  Those who try to use their pulpit to rail against people who believe differently should be exposed for the hypocrites they are.

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