The (Counter) Attack on Christianity

It seems that a week does not go by in which someone does not claim that Christianity is under attack.  Clearly, the blogosphere is alive with petty slams of any or all religion from a variety of individuals, but the “proof” of the attack is generally the number of cases in which some Christian minister or group was asked to play nice.

A recent story in the Houston Chronicle is one example.  An evangelical minister was asked to submit his planned invocation for a Memorial Day service, and was subsequently asked to remove several references to Jesus. The uproar sounded loud, and big money got behind a lawsuit to keep the Department of Veterans Affairs from selecting a more appropriate minister for the purpose, one that might see this as an opportunity to share comfort with all of the veterans and their families rather than a moment to once again remind everyone that Jesus is his Lord regardless of who theirs is.  Claims that his free speech is being violated, or his freedom of religion ring out.  It seems that some believe that freedom of speech means that you have to invite them in so they can speak, or that you have to give them a platform for spreading their faith.  How hard is it to see that their freedom, just like the freedom of everyone else, is limited to the point where it infringes on the freedom of others.  But public opinion is never logical.  People see things the way they are, or the way they imagined they were when the world was a perfect place and believe that all is “supposed” to be that way.

Let’s try a fable.  150 years ago, if you went to a market to get some grapes, the produce seller was there. “try one” he says, and you do.  Your child who accompanies you sees that this is how everybody does it.  When he grows up, he takes his kid to the market for grapes “Mind if I taste one?” he asks ask, “Of course not” is the reply, and he decides by the flavor if they are fresh and sweet. His child sees that this is how everybody does it.  He grows up and goes to the market and tastes a grape as the produce man simply smiles, and this is how it is done, the next generation goes to a store where the produce man is not always looking, but to pick the right grape, they taste one. The next generation says “it’s okay to eat a grape”, the next generation says “you can have some grapes” and when the grocers start to say “what makes you think you can eat all my grapes ?” they reply “it’s always been that way. My great grandfather had a book that said ‘always taste the grapes’.”

Now let’s look at another analogy.  The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a mountain range.  For this reason, there are not a lot of border towns in some regions because a mountain peak is not a good site for a town, but also there are areas where it is not easy to tell if you are on one side of the border or the other, because of the shape of the peaks, but it does not really matter because there is nothing there to dispute of any consequence. Would this mean that there is no border, just because the exact nature of the border is unclear? Would it make sense to claim that Islamabad is in Afghanistan because the border is not perfectly defined between Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Here is a hint: No, that would be stupid. But wait, what if Afghans often visit Islamabad? No, it is still Pakistan.

These two stories show how bad logic leads to mistakes in thinking. In the grape example, we see that the experience of a single generation combined with the lore of prior generations can lead to poor assumptions about what “has always been” a reasonable interpretation of actions. The Islamabad case shows that a little uncertainty is not the same as a total lack certainty. We know that whatever the border region looks like, there is a separation of sovereign countries in the bigger picture.  To properly use reason, we have to see these sorts of patterns.  The only reason I might maintain that Islamabad is and always was in Afghanistan would be because I was taught that is was so by someone who was ignorant, or perhaps as a pretext to invade Pakistan and capture Islamabad. This analogy is also not insignificant.

Today, there are members of the majority religion that are sick and tired of being told that they cannot use the government as a church. They claim that this was never the intention of the founders, that the founders actually intended not only to allow them to use the government as a church, but forbade any part of government from stopping them, despite the fact that the Constitution plainly states otherwise.  I hope to show that this position is deeply flawed to the point that it defies reason.  There are several arguments they make which all are flawed.  First, that when the Constitution forbids the use of religion, it was assumed that it meant one Christian faction over another and not Christianity itself.  Next, That the restrictions on having state sponsored religion only meant that the state could not forbid other religions from practicing, not that the state could not mandate a religious practice be observed.  Another argument is that because Christianity has historically influenced our opinions, which in turn has influenced our laws,  so this implies that passing laws directly promoting religious beliefs and practices and even mandating religious observances was never intended to be forbidden by the phrase “…no law respecting an establishment of religion…”  The last and worst argument is that Freedom of Religion supersedes any restriction, and trying to prevent someone from enacting laws respecting an establishment of religion is a violation of their religious freedom.

These arguments make up the attack on Separation of Church and State that is referred to as the Defense against the Attack on Christianity.  In as much as the Christian Right has taken and held an entrenched occupying position, the defense of the Separation of Church and State is easily characterized as an insurgency, and the counter-attack is labeled as an Attack on Christianity.  The entire process is exacerbated by the fact that politicians are generally spineless in when the choice is between following constitutional principles or pandering for votes. If the majority of voters either do not understand the Constitutional protection or do not care what the constitution says if they get what they want, the politicians who hold true to the principles will be replaced with those who gladly betray the principles. Voters and politicians who have historically been allowed to taste our proverbial grapes begin to think that the whole bunch is free for the taking, and that the grocer is trying to restrict their right to it, not protect his stock and trade. Judges who overthrow the unconstitutional laws are called “Activists” when the laws are popular or have gone unchallenged for years and “Strict Constructionists” when they are not.

The core fallacy of many of the arguments that make up the Attack on Separation is that if something was allowed for a time, it means that this was a tacit ruling in its favor.  If “it has always been done this way” in recent memory, then it was not the intent of the law to forbid it, they reason.  This stems from a misunderstanding of the judicial system.  There are things that are never a judicial issue despite being illegal.  For a case to be handled by the judiciary there must be damage and a remedy at stake. Violating a law is a sufficient damage in the case of criminal law, and the remedy is a matter of the penal code, such as a sentence if guilty.  In civil law, some harm must have been done and some remedy due.  If nobody claims to be harmed, then the court is not involved.  Hence, if no one wishes to exercise their right, then a law infringing on that right may go unchallenged indefinitely. This does not mean that the infringed right was not intended to be guaranteed, it simply means that it was not an issue for the courts. There are many reasons why an infringement would go unchallenged.  In polite society, people often bear minor oppressions in order to get along.  They deal with having their toes stepped on by wearing steel toed shoes, so to speak.  Those who step on toes come to believe that it is their birthright to do so.  The courts have ruled that some ceremonial religion does no harm, not that the government is free to inject religion into all activities, and certainly not that avoiding government religion violates the rights of the majority.  Indeed, the Bill of Rights is expressly for the purpose of limiting the power of the majority over the individual, and any interpretation to contrary defies the very meaning.


About UncleJoe

I'm a middle aged male who has attended a seminary as well as receiving a degree in philosophy from a secular university neither of which would particularly impress you if I said which. I have pondered and puzzled questions of faith and the lack thereof for many years. I don't not claim to be holy, or an expert on everything, simply observant and interested. I'll make bold statements about what I see as the way things are, and you don't have to take my word for it. Call me on it. I am here for the discussion.
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