A child is born neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, nor atheist, nor an adherent to any other brand of religious or philosophical order. A child is born a human being with an ability to learn, and from this raw material society builds her walls of nationalism and religious certitude. (Thoughts of Professor Hale from the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr)
Note: The following post concerns a highly emotional subject, the effect of which is an impediment to reason and understanding. Most of us have heard the admonition to never discuss religion and politics with family and friends. Yet, these are the very subjects that must be discussed with family, friends and strangers—with civility, empathy and an open mind—if we are serious about our desire for social harmony and, someday far in the future, world peace.
I believe that most of us can agree that the only path to social harmony is empathy with benevolent reciprocity. Real social harmony cannot happen through organized religion, as I shall explain. Social harmony begins when each individual brings about harmony within himself. This is a difficult task because it is within each individual where we find the strongest impediment to reason and understanding; our genetically based sense of insecurity—an inclination to xenophobia (mistrust or fear of strangers and foreign concepts).
So, how do we begin to remove these impediments to understanding? Each of us must come to understand that this roadblock to reason is what builds our walls of radicalism and self-righteousness in matters of politics and religion.
The first step is to realize that, for most of us, what we believe to be sacred truth was a thing taught to us as from tothood. Had I been born a Muslim, I would most likely still be a Muslim and one of radical persuasion had the environment in my formative years been so inclined. Were I born a Hindu or a Sikh, I would most likely be so today. No matter where I was born, I would have been taught the religious truths of my family and society and I would have believed those truths every bit as fervently as others believe theirs. This is the fundamental understanding we must accept for the sake of reason and empathy. Whether or not one’s religious truths are actually true is not in question here. The only appeal is to understand that they are a function of happenstance of birth.
So, what has the ACLU and other such organizations to do with helping us move beyond our impediments to understanding? The argument I pose above is not one that will meet very many eyes and likely not many open to my reasoning. The very existence of organized religion is to placate our genetically based insecurity. Thus it is most difficult for us to move out of that comfort zone and view other beliefs with objective and empathetic eyes.
It is unfortunate that social harmony—such as it is today—must be imposed by law in every nation on earth. The reason is because of our impediments to understanding and empathy. We do not see eye to eye and often passionately so. This is why we must have laws and organizations that help us move beyond our natural, social and political prejudices.
In the United States, it was the brilliance of our founders that provided our nation the necessary Constitutional tool—a means to help us remove the barriers to understanding. That tool is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Strong resistance to overcoming our walls of self righteousness is to be expected, but those who understand the intent of the clause must continue to use reason and civil debate in its defense. Even in the face of radical Islam we must not let go the means, but embrace it all the more.
It is common for a great many Christians to voice their believe that First Amendment watchdog groups like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are all about destroying or at least suppressing Christianity. Yet these organizations are the protectors of the means—the tool that protects each religion from the overreach of others by providing a peaceful environment conducive to learning and, hopefully, understanding why others believe differently.
Since Christianity is the predominant religion in the United States, I want to point out some facts, some necessarily approximated, that demonstrate what the Establishment Clause has brought about and what the Constitutional watchdog groups protect.
Not counting all other faiths, we have 350,000 Christian churches/congregations in the United States and thousands more in private homes, old business buildings and defunct shopping centers. By comparison, there are 98,706 primary and secondary public schools. There are, therefore, about 3.55 times as many Christian churches as there are public schools in the United States. The congregations worship in peace and no one is denying them that right.
Five hundred-forty dedicated Christian radio stations fire up daily in the U.S. Thousands of others become religious broadcasters on Sunday mornings. There are 49 dedicated Christian television networks broadcasting the messages of about 55 televangelists. And, the Internet is replete with thousands of religious websites and blogs. No one has ever suggested that any of these be shut down.
We find a Gideon Bible in virtually every hotel/motel room. In secular bookstores, whole sections are dedicated to religion. Drug stores and truck stops have dedicated Christian book racks. Additionally, there are about 8,000 full-blown Christian bookstores. No one is trying to shut these down or force them to add books on science.
The Campus Crusade for Christ flourishes on our college campuses across the nation. Hospitals and some large corporations have chaplains and rooms dedicated to religious worship. No one as far as I know objects to any of this.
Further, religious organizations, including Christian organizations, enjoy tax and zoning exemptions. It is the general public—whether or not they all agree with the various doctrines—who make up the lost tax revenue.
Some religious organizations are even exempt from health and child protection laws (sometimes resulting in child abuse).
As well, students may carry their Bibles to school and/or pray silently most any time (especially before a math test). Students may gather around the flag pole before or after school and pray. Bible clubs are allowed.
Check your local newspaper daily for religious news, messages and service announcements.
So why do First Amendment watchdog groups oppose prayer and proselytizing in public schools and on other public property? Because few student bodies, especially large ones, are religiously homogeneous—not all students were taught the same religion. It is the right of every parent to teach their children the religious beliefs they, themselves, were taught and which they believe to be correct. It is the duty neither of the state, nor any teacher working for the state, nor any elected official to promote a particular religion.
A public school or any other government agency, therefore, may promote neither Christianity, nor Hindu, nor Islam, nor Catholicism, nor Protestantism. The Establishment clause, then, demands government neutrality in matters of religion.
First Amendment watchdog groups, then, are mainly responsible for protecting and promoting, not destroying, the religious freedom of every individual. Such protections promote the peaceful environment necessary for introspection and understanding—a chance for each individual to remove his impediments to personal and social harmony.
Note: I am open to corrections on any data in this post.