I love good political discourse and debate. Over the past few weeks, I engaged several of my left-of-center friends in discussions on the meaning of government and religion in our daily lives. A recurring fear became evident in all four of the discussions – religion doesn’t bother them, it scares them to death. In each of the one-on-ones, a distinct fear of a religious takeover of the government came out. To a man, they all were concerned that the U.S.A. would become a theocracy at which point religion would be shoved down their throats.
I was stunned. Which religion would it be? Catholicism, Baptist, Judiasm, Islam…? The Constitution prevents the enactment of a national religion of any type and prevents Congress from making any laws that limit our religious freedom. It is literally in the Constitution .. not interpreted, not re-stated .. it’s in there – to the word. One might actually argue that as we have pulled God out of government, it has become more corrupt. Considering the decline of religion in our society, how is this fear of a theocracy rational? Where does it come from?
God has continually been removed from every facet of our public lives. So much so that now practicing a religion has become a deep dark secret outside of their respective religious communities. God is being made a bad word, a profanity. Supreme court cases have time and again used the first amendment to limit religion. Justice Scalia criticized this tyrannical use of separation of church and state as, “a bulldozer removing religion from American public life”. Rarely has it been used as intended – to limit government’s power over religion. Could that be the point of the anti-religious left? Reduce religion to a point that it is no longer the center of the community. The disappearance of this powerful societal force would leave a vacuum for the only other societal force of any size in our country – the government. Now what should we really be afraid of?
Churches have been the centers of American communities since our nation’s beginning. As in days past, a church is now not only a place to worship, but a place to gather, to commune. The church leadership often organizes or supports efforts of its members to help those in need within the community. Churches often host educational programs, social gatherings and personal support services. As churches become less-significant community centers, they lose their influence. As their influence diminishes, community members turn to government as a replacement. Instead of asking the church community for help when in need, they are forced to extend a begging hand to the government – welfare, jobless benefits, education, you name it. Where once a person belonged to a community, now they belong to the government.
The systematic removal of religion from American society reminds me of the plot in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Pale Rider”. The movie is about a group of prospecting gold miners that are on some land that a huge mining company wants the rights to. The owner spent months breaking their spirits and the prospectors were considering giving up. Then, a preacher, Mr. Eastwood, shows up at this pivotal moment and brings them back together, gives them hope, and strengthens their resolve. The owner of the mining company realized that in order to run the people off the land he wanted he needed to get rid of the Preacher. To oppress a community, you have to strip it of religion – of it’s sense of community.
This irrational fear of organized religion is unfounded. The oppressive size and reach of government is obvious in our present day society. Evidence of a power-grabbing, tyrannical church .. not so much.