The Religious Right Sells the False Choice of the State or Christianity

freedom of religionChristianity insists that it is in sole possession of the capital-T Truth, and that a rejection of Christianity is a rejection of Truth in favor of moral relativism. That has been the tune the Western World has danced to for centuries. Christian fundamentalists still asserts this, and just yesterday Phyllis Schlafly warned on the Eagle Forum that,

The secularists and Progressives demand that Christians accept moral relativism, which means that each individual has a right to define his own morality. Once there is no objective morality, no universal good and evil, laws that are not acceptable to Christians, such as abortion, infanticide, easy divorce, redefinition of marriage, and euthanasia can by imposed by the government.

Christians should wake up and realize that supremacist judges and public schools have been the main engines driving the replacement of Christian morality with the utilitarianism and secularism of liberalism.

By the way, and take from this what you will, that would be the secularism of the European Enlightenment which produced the United States Constitution she is complaining about.

She writes that in contrast,

Parents must take on the task of teaching their children true history, that the Christian religion has been a positive force in our civilization, and that there is a Biblical base of good government. Children should be taught that the First Amendment was meant as a protection against attacks on religion by the government, not as a means for the government to erect a wall to keep religion out of American life.

If by positive force she means killing a million or so people a year in order to enforce Christian doctrines and dogma, then yes, Christianity has been a force of good in the world. But I think most would agree that genocide is not the measure of goodness.

And her argument is a straw horse. Nobody on the left is even trying to keep religion out of American life. Nobody is banning prayer; nobody is closing churches. Nobody is even stopping children from praying in school. Christianity today is no more persecuted than it was when Paul of Tarsus walked around spreading his anti-Semitic message. Nobody is going to exterminate Christians, whatever lunatics like Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin claim.

The first Amendment does clearly ban the establishment of a state religion, and with good reason. State-sponsored religion is capital-B Bad. European history demonstrates this beyond a shadow of a doubt, as the Founding Fathers knew very well. It is bad for non-Christians and it is bad for all those Christians who aren’t the “right sort” of Christians. In colonial days, that former category included Jews, and the latter, the Catholics, who were distrusted right up to the day John F. Kennedy was elected president.

And Schlafly’s claims aside, Christian morality is the only true morality only because Christians have long asserted – often at the point of a sword – that it is. It is not objectively true, whatever she may claim. The Christianity of today is not the Christianity of 30 CE, nor of the 50s in the Pauline churches, nor of the turn of the first century as the Gospels were being penned, or of the second when apologists began attacking Paganism and defending Christianity, or even the third. The Christianity of Egypt was not the Christianity of Paul and the Christianity of Paul was not the Christianity of the Jerusalem Community led by Jesus’ brother and disciples, just as Mediterranean Christianity was not Irish Christianity nor German Christianity and Catholicism is not Protestantism and neither is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. There are, and have always been, dozens of others.

Despite the efforts of the author of Acts to prove otherwise (including exaggerating Paul’s Jewish credentials in Acts 22.3) and (Acts 4:32: “the whole body of believers was united in heart and soul”), the differences in Christianity were apparent almost at once. We have but to turn to the pages of Paul’s epistles and even elsewhere in the Acts of the Apostles itself to see how fractured the movement was from its very inception. In 1 Cor. 1:10 Paul appeals to the Corinthian church to settle its differences:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

In just this one community we see four interpretations of Christianity. Cephas, of course, is Peter, the disciple of Jesus, and he represents the influence of the Jerusalem community upon Paul’s new congregations. Paul asks “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13) The answer is that he was, the moment he died. At that point, all bets were off.

In this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul appeals “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” for unity of “mind and thought”. But the unity Paul sought was for his own viewpoint. Like Schlafly today, he wanted everyone to get behind his cart and push. Leave the other carts by the roadside.

Paul thought he was right at everyone else’s expense, and Christians to this day are brought up to believe that evil elements must have been at work attacking the unity of Paul’s congregations. They believe it because Paul says it is so. The possibility is never considered that it was Paul himself who may have been wrong. And why not? Paul’s form of Christian won and the others lost.

Paul appends a stern warning to the end of his epistle to the Romans:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. (Rom. 16:17-18).

Paul further discusses the forces at work against him in his second epistle to the Corinthians He fears his congregation has been deceived “just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3) and identifies for us who in particular he considers his enemies were:

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” (2 Cor. 11:4-5).

Christianity only began to take on a homogenous shape after the fourth century Council of Nicaea, and even then this was a form of Christianity that had to be imposed by force from above upon all devotees of the myriad other Christianities. Those other Christianities, some of them older than Orthodox Christianity, had no First Amendment to protect them from state sponsored religion.

In recent years, the Religious Right has become obsessed with the idea that anything it doesn’t like is a religion. Even secularism and atheism are religions. And of course, liberalism is a religion. Schlafly, too, embraces this absurd position as a means of saying an actual religion is somehow not a religion, and therefore no threat, while something that is not a religion is a religion and therefore is a threat:

In studying these attacks on religion, you would find a new book by Dr. Benjamin Wiker a splendid introduction. It’s called “Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion.” Dr. Wiker makes a good case that secular liberalism should be called a violation of the First Amendment because it really is a religion. When Christianity is removed from public discourse, there is no room for the worship of anything but the state.

A false choice to go with Schlafly’s straw horses. There is no ultimate choice between Christianity and the state. There is, however, a choice between state religion and freedom of religion. The First Amendment gives us freedom of religion while Schlafly wants to shove her religion down our throats, and like Paul, count all alternatives as evil.

Fortunately, the First Amendment is the law of the land, not the Bible. We DO have a myriad of choices, not only of religions but of non-religions, and that is the way it was meant to be in the United States of America, and that will be remain whether Christianity is one of those choices or not, not that what Schlafly is selling bears even a passing resemblance to what most Christians think of as Christianity.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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