The current political climate might be unfortunately tinged by partisan politics, but that doesn’t mean new points of view cannot emerge. A healthy society needs people who ask questions, challenge the norm and explore new ideas.
Dr. Paul de Vries, a columnist at The Christian Post, tries to make an argument that the Secular Left and Radical Islam have the same aims even if they go about it in different ways. He poses the question, ‘What could these two divergent groups have in common that enables their frequent, seeming public harmony?’. Although de Vries tries to compare the two he can’t help but offer a false equivalence and looking at his points leads to a different conclusion.
I was doing some “spring” cleaning by finally digitizing some old VHS tapes I had. These contained TV show clips and news stories I saved over the years. One of the news stories was about a controversy over a Nativity scene in Lancaster Ohio back in 1999. I wrote about it for my website back then but had no way of embedding a video clip. I watched it again and found a perfect example of Christian privilege and persecution complex in the space of a short 15 second comment from someone interviewed by the reporter. I now have a short clip I can show people who don’t know what Christian privilege is or don’t understand their expressed irrational persecution complex.
January 16th is National Religious Freedom Day. The day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. The Virginia Statute was the basis of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution and also can be used to support Jefferson’s idea of the separation of church and state. The Religious Right have of course co-opted the day by mass marketing misleading information about what real religious freedom means in this country. Luckily, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has some help available to tell the truth.
While reading the Washington Post online last night I came across this little headline:
Indeed – what gives?
It seems that according to a new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, 21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit, 12% believe in heaven and 10% pray at least once a week. I followed the link to the report and sure enough that is what their survey says. Being that atheists make up approximately 10% of the population – the survey results are pretty troublesome.
The Post posed the question to their “On Faith” panel for an explanation.
While most of the panel reveled in the contradiction of the results, with most saying basically “we told you so”, Susan Jacoby had the best response:
That one out of five Americans who identify themselves as atheists also say that they believe in God or a “universal spirit” and that one out of ten pray at least once a week can lead to only one conclusion. These people don’t know that an atheist is, by definition, someone who does not believe in God or in the supernatural. To say that you’re an atheist who believes in God and prays is the equivalent of saying that you’re a vegetarian who loves to scarf down barbecued ribs and T-bone steak. Or a Christian who rejects the teachings of the New Testament. Or a religiously observant Jew who also believes that Jesus was the Messiah. Or a Muslim who believes that Jesus was God.
I think that the explanation for these seemingly contradictory findings lies in a phenomenon I discuss at length in my recent book, The Age of American Unreason . Americans as a people have become supremely ignorant about and indifferent to the specific meanings of words, and they are equally confused about important historical distinctions.This is a serious cultural disease throughout our nation. A majority of Americans, in what is supposedly the most religious nation in the developed world, cannot name the four Gospels or identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible. Why shouldn’t some American atheists be as ignorant about the meaning of atheism as many religious Americans are about religion?
In the past week, Michael Newdow, the man who lost his lawsuit against “under God” in the pledge of allegiance on a technicality, lost his lawsuit concerning the use of the words “In God We Trust” on US currency. The federal judge based his decision on a previous case from the early 1970’s that upheld the words on the currency. Using Aronow v. United States, the court ruled that the motto is a “secular motto” having only a spiritual, psychological and inspirational value.
The topic came up with some co-workers who were upset that Newdow was making a big deal out of some words. What is more disturbing is that even some of my atheist friends make the same complaint. They tell me that Newdow’s efforts make believers hate us more and it is a waste of time to raise these complaints.
It all reminds me of the time I had to explain, to another friend, why such words about God go against all that this country is suppose to stand for and why it is harmful. I used a sports analogy. This one may not make sense to people outside of Ohio.
Imagine you live in a small town in Ohio and are a huge fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes. The majority of the town as well as the elected officials are bigger fans of the University of Michigan. Every football season the town council issues a resolution in support of U of M in their annual battle with Ohio State. Before council meetings the members lead those at the meeting in singing of the Michigan fight song. You find out that the council and the majority of the town either were born in Michigan or went to the University.
You complain that they are showing unfairness to non-michiganders. The council says they are only celebrating their U of M heritage.
While it is true, in this case, that such actions to confer special status for a group of people doesn’t “harm” people left out it does institutionalize separate classes of people. The “state” uses its time and tax payer dollars to give special attention to a particular group of people who happen to have something in common. Such actions ignore the plurality that is inherent in our democracy and that plurality makes those actions suspect.
Newdow explained the difference in a television interview when he compared the words “under God” in the pledge to the past practice of having separate water fountains for whites and blacks in the South. He noted that blacks still had water and the water was the same as what the whites drank but the practice was ended because it treated a group of people unfairly.
Or how about the debate in some southern states concerning the display of the Confederate flag on state property. It is claimed that it is just flag celebrating history but to others it symbolizes the entire era of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed the Confederate loss in 1864.
This isn’t about removing “God” from the public square – never has been. It is about holding our elected officials to the spirit of what it means to be neutral in a religious context. Singling out a specific sect for special treatment and recognition laughs at our democracy and makes a farce out of claims to be “only celebrating our heritage”. You never see a government (local, state, of federal) trying to single out any other sect but Christianity for special treatment.
Newdow’s fight against “some words” has some big implications and is neither trivial nor waste of time.