At this time with so many challenges facing humanity, it is more crucial than ever that we band together using objective means of measurement and clear thinking in identifying, understanding, and finding solutions to our shared problems. Autonomy of the individual is very important, for our freedoms allow us to be fulfilled and happy. However, the public sphere cannot and should not be populated by subjective beliefs, if we are to maintain our civilizations and quality of life. This blog is dedicated to examining the political, religious, psychological, and philosophical aspects of our modern discourse in the public sphere, endorsing that which is beneficial, and exposing that which is not.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Separation of Church and State

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. -Thomas Jefferson

I am an ardent secularist. I don't find fault with personal religion, other than the mindset of accepting ideas, beliefs, and practices without reason, that it seems to require. That being said, I would like to reiterate that I am irreligious not anti-religious. I recognize that it plays an important role in many people's lives. There are numerous well supported psychological studies that show that a person who believes in a god is on the average more happy and less stressed than a non-believer. Of course, a correlation shouldn't be construed as causation (and I can make an argument that this is indeed nothing more than correlation, or an analogy that shows that it is likely a placebo effect). Nevertheless, despite any personal benefits that religion may bring, it does not benefit us as a nation to mix government with religion of any type.

The United States of America is comprised mostly of people who ascribe to the Christian faith. This is indisputably true. There is an important distinction to be made between this fact and the idea that America is a Christian nation, though. There are slightly more people who identify themselves as Democrats. Does that make us a Democrat nation? No, of course not. Of course, Democrats probably wouldn't mind that label. But, those who don't identify as Democrat would. This is also true for those who do not ascribe to the Christian religion in America. Look again at the percentage of non-Christian Americans in our nation. You will see that they comprise roughly 20% of our population. This is not an insignificant number. A rough estimate based on a population of roughly 370 million shows that this percentage translates to about 74 million people. This is certainly not an insignificant number of people. These are people who pay taxes, who vote, who share the American dream. Is it the American way to disenfranchise a sizable portion of our population?

Our founding fathers created this nation in the wake of the Enlightenment taking place in Europe. They were greatly inspired by this movement in their creation of our great nation. The Enlightenment on both continents sought to place reason as the means of judging all things. This naturally led to the application of this concept to the question of the existence of a god. The result of this process was the concept of a creator god, largely unconcerned with human affairs, who nonetheless endowed us with the unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. This concept is referred to as Deism. I am not saying that all of our forefathers were Deists. I am saying that they created our nation from a Deist perspective, however. Realizing that reason is the only objective means to discern reality, they determined that reasoned debate would be the best method to make, and enforce laws.

They debated long and hard over the contents of the Constitution of the United States of America, the blueprint for our government. If you have never read it, I highly recommend that you do. However, for the purposes of this article, I will draw your attention to certain parts of it. It is first to the First Amendment of the Constitution that I would draw your attention. The part where it says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" is the main precedent of the idea of separation of church and state. The legislative bodies cannot establish a religion. If there can be no law made concerning it, then how could the executive branch, or the judicial branch, constitutionally make or enforce any law concerning religion, when congress is the only maker of federal law in the United States, according to section 1 article I? Of course, it can't be done, and be in line with the Constitution. The second part to which I wish to draw your attention is the 3rd clause of the VI article in the main body of the Constitution. This contains the following, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States". This is further proof that our government was not intended to be mixed with religion. This says in effect that it doesn't matter what religion or non-religion with which a person identifies; there is no requirement for a political figure to be religious, or of a particular religion. The final fact that really brings the secular intent of this document to light is that except for the date given, there is no mention of any deity in the entire document. Go ahead, look. It's not there. They didn't call upon the name of God even once, not even in the preamble.

Another document that shows our government was intended to be secular (and textually speaking perhaps the most direct proof that America is not founded as a Christian nation) is the Treaty with Tripoli. This document was read aloud before Congress, and ratified by them in 1797, including the part which reads, "Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries". I don't know how this point could be drawn more clearly than that. That is an unambiguous statement that we are not a Christian nation, albeit composed mostly of Christians. One can see, from the evidence given, that the mixing of church and state that we see in current events was not the intention of our founders, despite any faith they may or may not have held.

The final reason I will submit that there must be and remain a wall of separation between religion and government is that of subjectivity vs. objectivity. To be objective is to remove as much as possible the personal, emotional, and thus variable aspect of a given thing, idea, or phenomenon in determining what it is, how it works, or what the consequences of its existence may be. As I mentioned before in this article, reason is the most objective means of discernment of these qualities by means of its use in debate. Religion, as they are all based on faith, are by definition subjective. Despite certain sacred texts that give the precepts of a religion, these texts are interpreted in Christianity's case alone roughly 38, 000 different ways. This is the estimated number of Christian denominations in existence. Which of these interpretation should we allow to affect our government's legislative, executive, or judicial processes. As you can see, it is not only a matter of Christianity versus other religions, or non-religions, it is a matter of various sects of Christianity in disagreement with each other. This is another strong reason that reason should be the sole means of crafting legislation. Of course, some of those who comprise our government, being of a religious mind, will be affected by this mindset in their decision making. This is unavoidable. But, these people should remember the wise intention of our founding fathers to make reason the ultimate authority in matters of governance.

To conclude, let me reiterate that I am not against Christianity, or any other religion. What I am advocating is objectivity in electing and appointing government officials; and that these officials use reason as the objective means to make, judge, and enforce laws. Thomas Jefferson said it best in a letter to the Danbury Baptists where he wrote, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties".

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