The American Heritage of Religious Dissent


Conservative Christians, especially those of the biblical fundamentalist variety, will tell us that America is a theocracy under their God’s rule.  They will tell us that America is a Christian nation, born of a divine covenant. They will attempt to use government and civil authority to compel us to live according to their God’s design. They will proclaim that if only we will follow their God, their God will bless us and our nation.  But if we should stray from their God’s ways we shall be destroyed.

There is also a Roman Catholic brand of fundamentalism that finds its foundation not in the scriptures, but in Roman Catholic doctrine on such issues as reproductive freedom.  Often biblical fundamentalists will unite with doctrinal fundamentalists to impose their social agendas upon society.

The conservative Christians will attack modern science, and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology.  They oppose the teachings of Darwin, even though Darwin’s work has prevailed against more than one hundred and fifty years of scientific challenge.  If these biblical literalists were consistent, instead of just opposing evolution and Charles Darwin, they would need to oppose Copernicus, Galileo and all that those who have followed for the last five hundred years.

The biblical world view consists of a flat earth covered by the firmament, which was an inverted dome,  and separating the waters from above the firmament from the waters below the firmament (Genesis 1:7-8). This view of the earth can be envisioned as a dinner plate covered by an inverted salad bowl.  Furthermore, the earth was created in 4004 BC according to Bishop Ussher’s literalist chronology.

In the same manner as these fundamentalist attack science and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology, these fundamentalist endeavored to stifle our democracy and to replace it with a fundamentalist theocracy which they would control.  If any American really believes that they would like to live in a theocracy, they should live for a while in a country such as Iran or Israel just to see what that would be like.

The conservative Christians will tell you that America was founded by Christians for Christian purposes.  But the part that the conservative Christians will not tell you is that America was settled by religious dissidents who were seeking religious freedom.  The Reformation in Europe brought in its wake centuries of religious warfare and persecutions.

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

“America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition).” America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition). Web. 27 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html&gt;.

European Persecution

Many conservative Christians seem to have forgotten the lessons learned in this violent and painful era of European history and seek to impose a new era of religious subjugation, domination and persecution.  They have forgotten that religious warfare and persecutions in Europe were the result of heavy-handed governments trying to impose uniformity in religious faith and practices by force.

The freedom of religion is a core American value, born out of the lessons learned in centuries of religious conflict in Europe. Freedom of religion is essential to our democracy.  It is also freedom from religion.  Every American is endowed with the inalienable right to worship God in a way that they choose, and/or to avoid religion all together.

America, and its great democratic traditions, was, is and always must be, a land of religious freedom, free of religious oppression and tyranny.  It must also be free of any coercive religious doctrine imposed by the government upon its citizens.

The Declaration of Independence contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This great expression of human rights contains the mention of the Creator.  But what people often fail to realize is that this statement is Deist and not Christian in its tone and content.  Deism, as defined in Wikipedia, is,

”a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an intelligent creator.”

Note that this passage from the Declaration of Independence contains no appeals to religious affiliations, religious doctrines, or sacred scriptures of any type.  Rather, it is born out of the Deist notion that God can be perceived through logic and observation of the world.  The Deist God of American civil religion is much like the “higher power” in a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Deist God of American civil religion exists without sacred scriptures, creeds, sacred history, or religious affiliation.  The God of the Deists is abstract, formless and devoid of doctrine.  Therefore, no one may presume to speak for God, or to cite divine sanction for their own personal political agenda in the public life and governance of our nation.

We are a free people, free to worship God in our own way,  or not at all. We do not need “permission” from religious zealots or ecclesiastical authorities  to make our own religious or spiritual choices.  Our government must, under the constitution, be neutral on all religious questions, and must always defend our religious liberties against all oppression, either civil or ecclesiastical.

NOTE:  The recent political campaign by Rick Santorum, wherein he tried to deny reproductive services to workers at Roman Catholic related institutions was not an act of “religious freedom” for the Roman Catholic Church, but rather would be an act of religious oppression by the Roman Catholic Church against its non-sectarian workers.  The Roman Catholic Church has the right to create any rules it wants for those under religious orders. It also has the right to encourage various religious practices to its membership.

But it has no right to dictate the reproductive choices for a any workers not under religious orders.  For example, a Methodist or non church going accountant working at a Roman Catholic Church related hospital must not be denied the right to a vasectomy or an abortion because such practice might run counter to Roman Catholic doctrine.   And the Roman Catholic Church has no right to deny health insurance coverage to this hypothetical employee for these purpose.  If the hospital is hiring from the general public, then it is operating in the public domain, and therefore must follow all of the rules for all public employers.

Greg

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