This post was written several years ago. I did not post it on a blog at that time, it has been accessible on my personal web site in the Theology and Faith section. I place it here in hope that it will generate some comment, and perhaps dialogue. I don’t identify my own religion in the article, because I prefer to avoid the tie to religion and to concentrate on faith and relationship as my form of worship. I am trying to avoid the middleman.
A group of people I correspond with via Email has been debating several subjects. As I thought about them recently I realized that all of them had a basic root. Some of us are concerned about the principles underlying the issues and others are focused on the outcome of events. I have chosen three of the subjects as illustrations of the point I wish to make.
The first is about the religion of Islam and the fact that the majority of the recently reported acts of terrorism have been committed by members of that religion. Another is about homosexuality and how the desire of some homosexuals to be married to each other is an affront to, or perhaps an attack on, the Christian religion’s idea of marriage. A third is about whether this is a Christian country, and if it was intended to be Christian by the founders, that is to say those who wrote the constitution. I realize that to a large degree the last two merge into one, at least in the minds of some of us.
There may be other topics that would also illustrate my point but I believe these three will be sufficient. It seems to me that religion is the basis of each of these discussions, and that there is an implied position that Christianity is in fact the only true religion. We may in fact all agree to that premise, though it would be wrong for me to assume so.
What I am thinking about is the correlation of what we claim to believe and how we act. It occurs to me that what we
believe and the label we give it are not always consistent. If we claim a belief that relates to a well known and documented topic, then it seems to me that the documentation should, in some significant way, dictate the way we act. If to the contrary we do not act according to the documentation, in the case of religious scripture, we are not justified in claiming that we are acting in the name of that which we claim to believe. And in the case of citizenship we should act in our country according to the laws of the country and its documents of principle, which are its founding documents.
Consider Islam and terrorism. Just because some who claim to be Muslim commit acts of terror It does not follow that all terrorists are Islamic. It also does not follow that all who are Islamic are also terrorists. But because the largest majority of those who are terrorists claim to be Muslims it would be reasonable to assume that if you wanted to find terrorists it would be a good idea to look among Muslims. If on the other hand you were a faithful Muslim who read and attempted to follow the Koran in your daily life, you might consider that to be a crazy idea. After all if one reads the Koran carefully one will find that killing of innocents, that is non-combatants, is forbidden. No true Muslim would commit terrorism because to do so would offend Allah and condemn them to the status of infidel. The truest evil is that where a person claims to believe one thing while doing the opposite. Terrorism is destructive to its non-Islamic victims and to its Islamic victims as well. By the way I believe that in many cases those who are actually doing the acts of terrorism are the greatest victims of the act. They have been misled by someone who is using their desire to serve their god to do the exact opposite. It is not for God’s benefit or glory or for their own but for the benefit and objectives of the one misleading them.
Shift now to the last item: The claim that this is a Christian country, and that the founders intended it to be. In this case the document of import is not scripture. It is a body of work written by the founders including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of rights. It also includes less formal writings such as the Federalists Papers, Common Sense by Thomas Paine and letters from men such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Collectively those writings tell us several things. First that the authors were engaged in a serious physical and mental struggle with how to wrest control of the government of the American Colonies away from England and to survive doing so. Second they disagreed on quite a lot. Some of them undoubtedly thought this should be a Christian Country, while others felt it was dangerous to mix religion with the governing of a country. Some felt a single nation with a strong central government was the only way to succeed while others wanted individual states with only a cooperative agreement to assure mutual protection. In the end, after much debate and discussion including a public
discussion through the Federalist Papers, they settled on a Declaration of Independence, stating their reasons to the world for breaking away from England, and a Constitution which limited the power of the government more than
it enabled it. These men were cautious almost to the point of being suspicious of government. They considered it necessary, but worthy of close watching. I would argue that if one wants to be an American one needs to view the Constitution of the United States as the document of standard for the actions as a citizen.
I would also assert that if those men had agreed that this country needed to be known specifically as a Christian country, they would have said so in terms not likely to be misunderstood. The fact that they did not tells me they considered the importance of keeping the government out of the religious lives of its citizens to be very important. The fact that they later amended the adopted constitution to specifically restrict the government from either denying people from worshiping in their chosen form or from requiring people to worship in any form at all, tells me that they did not intend so. And that they felt to simply leave the words “Christian Nation” unspoken was communicating strongly enough.
Now to the topic of marriage: There are two forms of marriage in this country, religious marriage and civil marriage. The government has every right and responsibility to oversee civil marriage. It is after all the authority which grants the marriage. It is also the authority which oversees the subsequent activities. It acknowledges the child of a marriage of two citizens as a new citizen of the country, it adjusts tax structures based on the status of a person whether married or unmarried, it oversees the division of property upon the dissolution of marriage and so on. It also takes the reasonable action of accepting a religious marriage as meeting the requirements for civil recognition that a marriage is in fact complete. That does not violate the admonition that the government cannot direct or deny religious belief, it simply allows any religion to declare a couple married and applies all of the civil consequences to that couple. It makes the government friendly to the religious practice of marriage without specifying a particular marriage or requiring all marriage to be religious event.
In the eyes of the government the marriage can never be a religious event, it can only see it from the civil perspective. If marriage is also a religious event the rules concerning it are the business of the religion. If it is both then one will be subservient to the other and our practice has allowed religion to conduct the marriage, but the authority to marry is granted by the government. In so granting it also offers certain benefits of the marriage. If it allows one religion to define the terms under which marriage can occur for all people including those who do not hold that religion it turns over control of the granting of those benefits to that religion. If on the other hand the government states that no religion can perform a marriage between same sex individuals it is declaring the rules governing that religion and is in violation of its own founding documents. Therefore, if the government were to allow marriage of same sex couples, but not require any religion to conduct such marriages, or prevent any religion from doing so it would be in line with its founding documents.
If the government were to allow civil marriages of same sex people it would not be making any statement at all about the religious view of marriage, which is consistent with its enabling documents. If on the other hand if the government accepts marriages of religions who only allow heterosexual marriages as being civilly legal but denies the civil legality of homosexual marriages from religions who allow them, it has violated its charter which instructs it not to interfere with the religious beliefs of its citizens.
All of this is based on one idea. If you claim to believe something you should be as familiar as possible with what it is you claim to believe. There is a lot of talk these days about our national values and concerns over loosing them. The discussion is coming from both political parties and both are claiming the high moral ground. But the basis of the values they are discussing is not the constitution or the principles articulated by the founders of this nation. They are stated
as principles of faith. But in fact the principles are only alluded to, never clearly stated. They are called “Our Christian Heritage” by both sides, and are sometimes diametrically opposed in application. How is this possible? Well, it is easy if you never read Christian scripture and depend on the religious rhetoric which supports what you want life to be like as your standard. The problem is that while faith is indeed based on principle that is not necessarily so of religion. In this country there are hundreds of religions calling themselves Christian. Some of them are distinguished by relatively minor differences. Others are so far from the basic truths of Christian scripture as to be laughable. Calling this a Christian country would include beliefs that many would not consider Christian at all, yet the principles underlying many of the
non-Christian religions are so close to the tenants of Christian principle, as described in Christian scripture, that in normal conduct of social intercourse you would never know the difference.
If one wants to talk about one’s faith the scripture that defines that faith is the appropriate source of that discussion.
If one wants to talk about the society of the United States of America, the principle that should guide the discussion is the constitution and other founding documents of the country. I can find no place where either refers to the other for authority.