The View From Here

What a discombobulating time we live in, full of contradictions. As a matter of fact, no one really seems to put a whole lot of trust in facts anymore, so you are just going to have to take me on my word for this one:

Our nation’s constitution requires freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

I know that statement is pretty straightforward, and maybe even easy to understand and believe, but recent events have me wondering what happened to the oh-so-obvious religious history of this country that many Americans are treating like an elephant in their living room.

For example, this year, an atheist appealed his case to the Supreme Court to censor “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Everyone is free to refuse to recite the pledge, and everyone is free to refuse to pledge their allegiance to God. That is exercising freedom of religion.

However, expunging God from the pledge is freedom from religion. And it makes just about as much sense as ignoring how deep the roots of faith go in this nation.

Devastating tragedies have been committed in the name of God, but on what do we base our opinions that those tragedies were tragic in the first place? Labeling things as “tragic” sounds like a moral judgment to me. Where do we get the ideas to make moral judgments? Possibly, from moral user manuals, like the book I like to call “Life for Dummies (and Those Not Willing to Call Themselves Dummies),” a.k.a., the Bible, the text from which so many people worldwide claim some religious heritage.

Another case soon to come before the Supreme Court illustrates this all too ironically. The nation’s highest court recently agreed to hear arguments for a case in which the plaintiff wants the Ten Commandments (in the Bible, see Exodus, chapter 20 and Deuteronomy, chapter five) to be taken out of public places. Cases like this seem to be all the rage these days, and the Supreme Court agreed to decide the fate of public displays of the commandments.

Interestingly, if the justices were to drive to work and park behind the Supreme Court Building, they would only have to look up at the architecture of the building to see a relief sculpture of an elderly middle-Eastern man holding a pair of stone tablets. Just in case that was not obvious enough, as they entered the courtroom, the justices would come face to face with another image of a pair of stone tablets with the numerals one through 10 engraved on a door of the building. In my view, calling these things representations of the Bill of Rights is absurd. The founding fathers did not carve the Bill of Rights into stone tablets and they did not look like ancient middle-Eastern men.

Of course, these examples are not all we have to suggest that those founders based their ideas in religion. References to God, Christianity and the Bible are all over our important national structures, including the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, U.S. district court building, and the list goes on and on. And then there’s that little phrase on our money that must look quite awkward to some. And don’t forget that, out of 55 of the framers of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, more than 50 were members of an orthodox colonial church. Even the very first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay matter-of-factly stated that “it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

To quote an overused phrase, “Captain Obvious strikes again.”

Granted, not all the religious references plastered all over our history are references to Christianity. Some are Greco-Roman. Even Confucius and Muhammad make cameo appearances. However, the simple (dare I say “absolute?”) fact is, Christianity, its principles, and its creeds were essential ingredients in establishing American society.

They definitely still are. All the survey information coming from the polls this last Election Day showed that morality issues were the number one priority of the majority of voters. Realizing this a bit late, both candidates made a huge shift in their campaigns in the weeks leading to the election. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the Kerry campaign was making sure that the public knew he was attending church every possible Sunday. Evidence shows that voter registration drives were very successful in getting people of faith to vote. Even in his concession speech, John Kerry asked his supporters to not lose their faith.

There is no doubt about the generally religious, and specifically Christian, legacy of the United States. No doubt, that has something to do with a lot of terrorists’ murderous hate for Americans. The question is, what will we do about it? Will we run from religion, tear down our national monuments, and rewrite history? Or will we accept the fact that faith that was essential in founding the nation and respond in a tolerant way?