Why Church and State MUST be Separate

The Religious Right is destroying our Nation

republicanjesus3“My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here” – John 18:36)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, it has become painfully obvious that a huge chunk of Republican Party politicians are very vocal about being biblical literalists and Christian Nationalists. In fact, as we wind down the 2016 election cycle, more and more of the religious right are getting involved in the political process, endorsing candidates, and explaining why they believe God has chosen their particular candidate to be the leader of the free world.

This appears perplexing, considering our secular constitution, and the concept of the first amendment. It also appears that these evangelical leaders and many of their followers are entrenched in cognitive dissonance, considering that Donald Trump appears to embody everything that Jesus Christ is not. It is not perplexing, however, once it is realized the mindset of the right-wing Evangelical. But that’s an entirely different conversation, and one that I will examine at another time.

The following are my thoughts on the issue of the desire of the religious right to destroy our Democratic Republic and replace it with a Christian Theocracy. Donald Trump may be their focus this time around, but Trump himself is actually incidental. The Conservative Religious Right (Republicans), have the same candidate they have always had. A man named Jesus Christ

But, First…

I’ve spent decades studying the bible in various capacities and for various reasons and institutions. I am very familiar with the book. I’ve written extensively about the contents of the bible over the years, and as time goes by I find myself able to explain my points of view with greater ease, clarity and accuracy with respect to the actual words that are written between the covers of the Scriptures. The reasons for this are multiple, but include the fact that I read the bible regularly, and have done so over the past thirty years in my career as an author, writer and journalist.

Reading” the bible is actually a misnomer, because one must also include using the knowledge that has been acquired in the areas of linguistics, which includes the anatomy of speech, sounds, symbols and the semantics that are contemporary to the time the writing took place. It also includes aspects of contemporary cultures.

sad-anxietyThis is why it is not only dangerous, but disingenuous, to assume that the entirety of the bible should be interpreted literally. It was never meant to be taken as a literal work, and the history of the church reflects this without question. The practice of biblical literalism is relatively new, beginning with the Puritans around the 17th century. Also newish, is the practice of splitting up the book into chapter and verse (particularly verses), which is not only used to clobber people with whom one doesn’t agree with, but with greater frequency, to advance a political agenda.

This is much like opening “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” to page 1070, sliding your finger down to line 30 and take the meaning of the words, “Like workmen. I’ll example you with thievery,” as permission to steal from your employer.

Among the problems that arise from a literal interpretation of the bible is something known as “cognitive dissonance,” which means an internal discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. This happens mainly in the areas of science, which has, for the most part, falsified huge chunks of Scripture. The problem is that humans strive for internal consistency. Thus, when we experience inconsistency, and we become uncomfortable, there is a drive to reduce these feelings, and avoid situations and information that we feel will increase it.

Thus we have those literalists who still believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and that the world and humanity were created much like a five-year-old makes things with Play-Doh. They have adopted some pretty draconian beliefs regarding human sexuality and the role and function of women in society. As well, some pretty outlandish ideas about angels, demons and wizards. This, in spite of what we know about the age of the universe, how planets are formed, the facts that make up the theory of evolutionary biology, and meteorological explanations for natural disasters. One of the more common ways we choose to reduce the dissonance between what we know and what we believe, is to cover literalism with a veneer of science, which, of course, ultimately falls apart under serious scrutiny.

Literalism almost always forces the use of the bible as a dictionary, without realizing this is about as ridiculous as using any book as a dictionary – except the actual dictionary. Due to the vehemency that the literalist believe the words printed on the pages of the bible are the literal will, wants and commands of God has made for some deceitful and very dangerous acts and/or threats, and has contributed to a near complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the bible and its place in their lives. When misunderstanding bubbles over to the public sector, particularly in government, there opens a whole new can of worms I like to call…

Christian Politics…

For the sake of saving you scrolling time, here’s the Scripture I used at the top of the page:

“My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here” – John 18:36)

HBWhat do these words mean? What is Jesus attempting to convey? To say that Jesus had contempt for politics is an understatement. In fact, “Christian politics” is an oxymoron. It’s the result of a literal interpretation of the bible that has infused with national exceptionalism. But Jesus’ message was a personal one, not one of politics. In fact, this particular segment of the bible makes it obvious that Jesus was not, nor had he ever, brought forth a political message.

But the infusion of national exceptionalism borne out of biblical literalism is one the reasons Religious Right, Conservative Republicans often have the advantage within the voting bloc of Christians in general. It is because of this near universal melding of faith to politics, which is known as Christian Nationalism. This is the belief that somehow Jesus is on “their side,” when Jesus actually took no sides at all, save for the poor, sick and less fortunate.

Jesus went to great lengths to maintain significant distance from siding with any of the political factions present in first century Roman occupied Palestine. He was neither for nor against the presence and rule of the Roman Empire. I find our political climate of Christian Nationalism ironic, as it is often portrayed that Jesus, Himself, was carrying around signs and doing sound-bite interviews against taxes. The book of Matthew clears that right up in chapter 22, verse 21, which states,

“Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him”

Jesus advocated paying taxes, and was a fierce proponent of the separation of religion and government. In fact, the only thing he admonished the governments for was their horrific ignorance of the health and welfare of its citizens. But that’s another story, altogether. Jesus was also not particularly fond of the wealthy, and was particularly disdainful of those who made themselves appear pious to everyone who had the capacity to see and/or hear them, which also goes against the Christian Nationalism of the Conservative Republican believer. Consider, in context, his admonition toward those who used prayer to these ends:

“When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you” – Matthew 6:5-6.

He admonished those who stood not only in synagogues, but also in the public square, offering up their supplications, petitions and various woes. The context here is two-fold. Praying in the synagogues is contextually identical to praying in the churches.

Wait, what’s wrong with Christians praying in their churches? Actually, nothing. Praying in a Sanctuary is completely appropriate, especially during worship services. The issues that arise surround the types of prayers offered, and that is a whole other subject that I will not get into at this juncture. Suffice to say, it is not uncommon for prayer services to be a catalyst for gossip, or actual gossip itself. The church should be like Las Vegas; being what happens in a prayer service should stay in a prayer service. Many a can of worms has been opened via prayer requests for those who are needing deliverance from infidelity, viewing pornography, smoking dope, cheating on taxes or any number of personal issues being publicly exposed.

But I digress. The point I would like to more aptly make is in regard to the second point Jesus makes about praying in

The Public Square…

separationOur Founding Fathers knew the ramifications of mixing religion and government, and thus drafted a purposefully secular Constitution. Jesus, as we understand from His own words, felt likewise. Thus the constitutional protections regarding religious tests for oaths and the holding of public offices, and, of course, the First Amendment Separation Clause. If there was ever an argument for our country being founded on any principle from the bible, it would be Jesus’ advocacy for the separation of church and state. How’s that for ironic?

The Republican party and its various offshoots have embraced a code of external holiness of sorts. Many GOP politicians are, by biblical definition, the new Pharisees, and have a correlation to the whitewashed tomb that Jesus speaks of:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” – Matthew 23:7

So, strike one for Christian Nationalists who wear their religion on their sleeve. Jesus hated the religious of his time, because they were externally pious but internally rotten. Thus the rebellion toward the religious of the time by Christ, in his teaching that faith should be internal, a matter of the heart, so to speak.

Mockeries….

The story of the Passion of the Christ tells the story of a Roman government which was not at all convinced that Jesus was being truthful about his lack of political ambition. His execution was not for blasphemy, which was the charge of the religious leaders, but for insurrection and treason. Thus, he was branded a failed king and mocked with a robe and scepter, and was treated to a rather sarcastic congregation of soldiers who bowed to him in fake worship and obedience.

It should be an affront to those Christians who actually take the time to read and comprehend the message of Christ within the pages of the New Testament that Christian Nationalists are doing little more than carrying on the work of those Roman soldiers by completely disregarding the fact that Christ stated,

“My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here” – John 18:36)

 You’re So Vain…

WHCrossOne does not have to look far outside of the local news or social media to find an argument regarding the First Amendment. In spite of the stories making the current headlines about the “In God We Trust” stickers on local police cars (something I totally disagree with), one of the most common battles remains over the display in the public square of the Ten Commandments.

Christian Nationalists fail to understand that the very act of displaying the Decalogue is antithetical to the Second Commandment, which reads:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

In fact, the very image of the cross also violates this commandment, so when a cross is erected anywhere the Christian should be jumping up and down in righteous indignation. But I digress, once again.

The point is, Christian Nationalism is, in effect, a false religion as referred to in the bible. All of those statements, quotes and desires of Conservative Christian politicians who are stumping for Jesus to reign in our government are guilty of committing idolatry. As well, they are also guilty of what it actually means to take the Lord’s name in vain.

Christian Nation…

AdamsI’ve been involved in many debates over the years with the more zealous regarding the erroneous belief that the United States is a Christian nation. The most often repeated example I use is the Treaty of Tripoli, which states, in part:

‘The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.’

The Treaty of Tripoli was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, receiving ratification unanimously from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797. It was then signed by Adams, taking effect as the law of the land on June 10, 1797. There are numerous historical documents that also pertain to the unique secularism of the United States, in spite of what that idiot David Barton and the rest of the history revisionists would have us believe.

Those in politics who would like to see the United States actually become a Christian nation have little or no idea what a theocracy is, or how dangerous one is. They also, apparently, have no understanding of the purpose of the American Revolutionary War. They do not understand why we endured those bloody battles or the reason we decided that we could no longer be part of the Monarchy of United Kingdom in its form at the time, due to its history of repeated violations to the basic human rights of those under its rule.

Perhaps these people need to be reminded that those under Crown rule at that time were the subjects of absolute tyranny, and entire legislative bodies were often relieved of their duties because they were not in agreement with the Monarch. Perhaps they do not realize what it meant to be under martial law, even in times of peace, and that the members of a standing army were held immune to prosecution no matter how heinous the crimes against the Subjects of the Crown were.

fireThe American Revolution was not about taxes alone, and it had nothing at all to do with establishing a Christian nation. It was about being deprived of such things as trial by jury, the ability of the Monarchy to wage war on it’s own citizens and, without reservation, to plunder our seas, ravage our coasts, burn our towns, and destroy lives without any judicial or legislative regulation. The list of charges levied toward the Monarchy, and specifically King George III, in the body of the Declaration are numerous and largely unknown by our own citizenry. The crimes against humanity that were committed by the Crown were egregious and many.

But instead of recognizing the Declaration of Independence as an important document stating our insistence to individual freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it has been relegated by the religious right as a weapon they wield to promote their desire to bring the United States back to a form of government that would be almost identical to the one we originally fought so hard to be free of. The sole purpose of the Declaration was to “dissolve the political bands,” and not to set up a religious nation. Its authority is based on the idea that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” which is contrary to the biblical concept of the Theocracy that the Conservative Religious Right would impose upon us.

Regardless of how much the Conservative and Fundamentalist Christians work hard to convince everyone that the Founding Fathers established this country on “biblical principles.” History does not support this. A significant number of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were not bible-believing Christians. We are governed by the Constitution, which is a secular document and very purposely begins with “We the people” and of equal purpose does not contain any mention of God or Christianity, save for a reference of the word “Lord” in the date, which was a literary tool, not a spiritual one. The only reference to religion in the Constitution is one of exclusion, by virtue of the very first amendment, which states

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion. In 1971, referencing the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, the Supreme Court forged what is known as the “Three Part Lemon Test” to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clause.

1) A law must have a secular purpose.
2) It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
3) It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.

The fact that a majority of our citizens are Christian does not make us a Christian nation, and on constitutional matters there is no majority rule. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or religious belief or the lack of religious belief. The wisest policy is the constitutional one, and that is neutrality.

Impunity…

SpoiledThe more time that goes by, the more that the Conservative Religious Right are behaving like petulant, spoiled children. Cries of persecution abound, and they are, frankly, ridiculous. Nobody is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere. The state has almost no say regarding how churches are run or how and where an individual worships God. But still they fight and cry persecution whenever someone reminds them that our Constitution assures no public official from the governor all the way down to the public school employee may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution, and that at every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.

Our secular laws are based on the secular humanist principle of “justice for all” and they provide protection against crimes that our secular government enforces through a secular criminal justice system. The ignorance of history, law and fairness is at the base of the effort of the Conservative effort to turn America into the Christian nation that it never was. America has never been a Christian nation. It was not founded on Christian or Biblical principles.

Finally…

Jesus was a rebellious character, and this is apparent throughout the New Testament. Every single institutional authority in his time, both religious and political, seemed to make him writhe with disdain. This included his disdain for religious leaders,

“Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers.” – Matthew 23:8

 And his disdain for religious political leaders,

“And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah” – Matthew 23:8-10)

JesusDeadConservative Christian politicians continue their efforts to institutionalize Jesus, and every time they do, they stray farther and farther from his message. Those who disagree with them are often chastised as being false believers at best, and immoral, irreverent, blasphemous and a hater of God, at worse.

I find it quite ironic that Jesus was also called these things, and those admonitions came from both politically ambitious religious leaders and religiously ambitious political leaders.

Pot, meet kettle…

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