The Sciences

We are not a Christian nation

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMay 7, 2010 6:14 PM


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I have no problems with people being religious per se. I think that people have the right to believe in whatever they want. If they happen to believe in something that is demonstrably wrong, well then, they should be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of reality. The problem tends to come in when some religious people try to impose their religion on others. If you go through my posts on religion, you'll find that this is where I tend to step in. Want to teach creationism in the classroom? Uh uh. Want to oppress women? Sorry, fella. Think abstinence-only education works and you should get government grants to teach it? Keep it in your own pants, please.

The problem is amplified by the fact that pretty much every religion tends to think of itself as the One True Belief. And when they get some political clout, things get very itchy indeed. Or have we already forgotten what the Taliban did to the Buddhas of Bamyan? That's why I worry when I hear politicians in the U.S. saying we're a Christian nation. We're not. We're a nation of mostly Christians, to be sure, but there are other religions here as well, and a bunch of non-believers too. When confronted with this, most of these politicians tend to say the Founding Fathers were Christians, and based this country on Christian beliefs. But that's not true either: the basis of our country's law is the Constitution, and the Founders took a great deal of care making sure it kept religion at arm's length (despite what some politicians believe). With the far-right going apoplectic every time someone mentions non-believers or religions other than Christianity (remember this?), I imagine the 2012 Presidential election will be one where every candidate tries to out-religious the next. But we have the 2010 midterms coming up, and it'll be an issue there too. That's why I like very much what the Freedom From Religion Foundation is doing: they've created wonderful ads with quotes from the Founding Fathers showing precisely how they felt on this issue. The one above of JFK is cool, because his candidacy was attacked for him being a Catholic, of all things. The thing is, he was a religious man, and still understood that religion must be kept away from politics. But far and away, I love this one the most:

Not a lot of wiggle room in that, is there? Sarah Palin, of course, disagrees (read that link; Barry Lynn's -- sorry, I mean the Reverend Barry Lynn's -- comment there is wonderful). But I suspect that her grasp of the actual history of this nation is somewhat tenuous, given her many inaccurate statements about it and about reality in general. Anyway, these banners (seven in total) will run on buses, and it'll be interesting to see how the far-right religious folks will react. I'll note that the FFRF ran a full-page ad in the New York Times yesterday about how the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, which I agree with. Strongly. What strikes me as funny is how the über-religious in the US fight to tear down the wall of separation, not realizing that they are weakening themselves. What stands between their religion being dominant and, say, Muslims? This is one of the many problems with having religion intertwined with government. As long as it's your religion, hurray. But see those guys over there praying in a place of worship with slightly different architecture from yours? They feel exactly the same way about their religion as you do about yours. The only way to protect your own freedom of religion is to protect your freedom from theirs. There are two ways to do that. You can either emulate the Taliban... or you can make sure that laws, politics, and government are kept wholly and, I dare say, fundamentally separated from religion. The choice is ours.

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