Before I launch into my main message, I'll start with one of those dorm-at-night questions: Who was worse, Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler? According to a cool web site they were both terrible. Comrade Stalin's Soviet Gulag State killed 62 million of his own citizens and Herr Hitler's National Socialism killed 21 million. Before we declare Stalin the winner of the Worst-Person-of-the-Twentieth-Century Award, we should note that Stalin won and Hitler lost, so just think of what damage Hitler would have done had his National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party been victorious. If we made the terrible decision to resurrect either of these two men's visions, then it isn't clear who would be more horrible.
For this essay, let us assume that American's founding values coming down from the signing of the Magna Carta culminating in the Constitution of the United States of America are something we want to preserve where we have them and to restore where we have lost them.
In prior pages I have discussed three areas fundamental to conservative American thought, or at least fundamental to my understanding of it. First establishes a logical basis for morals and values, specifically human life, liberty, livelihood, property, and contract. Second explains the important difference between America's two sides is more about having or not having values than what those values might be. Third exhorts us not only to follow our values but to defend them against encroachment from liberal-Democrat policies and programs.
I've felt this way about
religion and politics
since I was a teenager five decades ago,
so why am I so upset about it now?
First, hatred in general, hatred for Jews, and hatred for Jews in England and the United States is rapidly rising as it did eighty-five years go in Germany. We're on the verge of terrible things for America in general and for Jews in particular, so this is not a good time to be divisive on the topic of religion in our political discourse.
Second, I'm meeting people who not only revere Jesus Christ but who feel people who do not revere Jesus Christ do not belong in our American-values movement and are not legitimately American. This new Religious-Right comes across with a new and vicious hate I haven't seen or heard before from American conservatives.
Third, conservatives and conservative thinking are under attack in new and terrible ways and we need unity rather than division. Telling non-Christians they don't belong is a bad thing even if your own values come from Christianity. There are other ways to be a good American and it's time to reach out to as many potential supporters as possible.
I'll admit that religion in general makes me squirm and that the religion offered to me in my childhood was not Christianity.
I'm going to express three fallacies in the comfort to use religion as a sole path to good values and then I'm going to express a specific concern for my own health and safety.
Fallacy One: Religion is an acceptable part of government. Theocracy has been the major form of tyranny for centuries. Christianity created its terror for twelve centuries, the so-called dark ages. In case you think this was so long ago as to be uninteresting, the Spanish Inquisition ran until 1834, forty-five years after our Constitution was signed. If that's not compelling enough, then look at Islam, 610 years newer than Christianity and going through the same Jihad-Crusades today as Christianity in its 1410th year. (Lest my Jewish friends be smug about the absence of that sort of religious tyranny in their faith, the Kohenim priests of ancient times demanded gifts and animal sacrifices for their services, long-enough ago to be mostly forgotten.) The horrors of theocracy go far beyond brutality to an oppressive, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific vision, boots stepping on the faces of humanity. The well-known tragedy of Galileo is almost certainly mirrored by hundreds of stories less well known.
Let me re-ask my first question on a larger scale. Whose followers were worse, Jesus Christ's or Karl Marx's? As expressed so eloquently in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, Collectivism Version One was religion and Collectivism Version Two is socialism, born of the same desire for despots to rule. Socialism killed 262 million since its emergence as a major political force in 1912 (I'm using Woodrow Wilson's election as the starting date) while Christianity's twelve dark centuries may have cost nowhere near that many lives, maybe closer if we add Islam's carnage. Still, the world's population was so much larger in the Twentieth Century than in prior history that Marx had the advantage of more people to kill. Let us not minimize the despotic death and destruction from religion just because the socialists had more opportunity for genocide.
Please do not take this as an assault on religion. Somewhere around 95% of the world's people believe in some deity without hurting other people. Their beliefs give them strength, dignity, and decency. The whole conflict between religion and science frustrates me as I see no reason we can't see science as humanity's way of catching a glimpse of the mind of God. Why can't we appreciate Darwin's Theory of Evolution as the mechanism God used to create the wondrous myriad species that populate our blue planet?
My concern is the mixing of religion and politics, a theocratic state where the principles of government are based on religious principles. I'm not put off by the Ten Commandments in a courtroom or a holiday nativity scene in the town square any more that I'm put off by statues of Buddha in Chinese restaurants or Ganesha in the office where I worked (briefly) in India.
In spite of being a Jewish state, Israel is not a theocracy. Founded as a Jewish refuge with a "Law of Return" (automatic citizenship for Jewish immigrants), Israel is deliberately tolerant of all religions and ethnic groups. Being Jewish in this context is more a matter of ethnicity than religion. Religion is clearly part of Israel's culture and Jews clearly get a few perks, but there is nothing like the horror of the medieval Christian Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the more-recent Islam jihad. Israel has resisted the temptation towards being taken over by religious extremists and is a parliamentary democracy with Jewish leanings today.
Fallacy Two: America was founded as a Christian nation. Other than a passing references to "Nature and Nature's God" and "their Creator" in the Declaration of Independence and a line "In God is our trust" in the fourth and last verse of "The Star Spangled Banner," any mention of religion is conspicuously absent in our country's foundation. The First Amendment of our Constitution goes a bit further to say, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is not because religion is unimportant, in America and it's history, but, I believe, because the separation of church and state is essential to preserving the freedom our country was founded upon. In case the folks signing these documents in Philadelphia weren't already afraid enough for their lives and their new country's future, the Spanish Inquisition was still happening and would continue for forty-five more years until 1834.
"I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," no mention of God there, "E Pluribus Unum," One out of Many, no mention of God there either. This was neither an accident nor a deliberate rejection of religion, but a clear understanding of the horror of theocracy, at least through 1953.
What changed in 1953 was the threat of communism, a visibly darker cloud than the memory of religious tyranny over a century earlier. Since our enemy was a bunch of "atheistic commies" it was a natural reaction to retreat to religion. Twelve centuries of Christian tyranny were the distant past and Islamic tyranny was far away, so adding "under God" to the Pledge and making "In God We Trust" our national motto seemed harmless enough. These changes represent a knee-jerk response to a clear and present danger rather than any notion of religion being part of America's foundation or our country being a Christian nation.
Fallacy Three: Christianity in particular and religion in general is a good source of guidance for America's political future. My first objection is simply that what brought horror in the past isn't a good thing for the future. The correlation between tyranny and religion in politics is the same as the correlation between tyranny and socialism. The evidence that those who preach compassion and decency exercise those virtues in their own lives any more than those who are silent on compassion and decency is slim indeed. Counting on the priesthood and ministry to be free of evil doesn't sound like a good plan.
Most of the tyranny that used to be religion in politics has moved seamlessly to socialism. Helping the poor in spirit has changed to helping the poor. (This is another reference to The Fountainhead.) To pick another example, even if we admit that the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the German Nazis are faint ghosts of their horrible pasts, I'm not sure I want people wearing white sheets and swastika armbands strolling around my neighborhood.
Another issue is that tying decency and values to religion gives an easy out to those who reject them. Should people who don't go to church feel unaccountable to morality? Also, once we pick a religion such as Christianity, are those who aren't Christians not part of America? For whatever reasons, the differences between religions has been divisive rather than inclusive. America's values should include all Americans and it should welcome all those who want to become Americans.
My Concern: I believe those who justify America's values as solely Christian values are far less likely than non-religious supporters to come to the aid of Jews when we need their help. Those of us who have been paying attention are seeing a rise in anti-semitism here in the United States of America. It follows a similar recent wave of hate in western Europe and it also follows the pattern of political hate eighty-five years ago in central Europe. I think of Jews as the canaries in the political mine, we tend to die first when the atmosphere gets bad. Of the twenty-one million of his own citizens Hitler killed six million were Jews, highly disproportionate. Those of us whose names end in Berg or Stein have plenty to worry about in today's version of America.
I have confidence that many of those who support American values as described in my web pages as well as other scholarly works would use their deadly force to protect us when the men in the brown shirts come for us, just as they came to the aid of black Americans sixty years ago during the Civil Rights movement. There's a strong feeling we're all in this together against the socialist progressive left-wing river of hate.
I have less confidence in those who base their values solely on Christianity. Those who reject non-Christians as participants in a society of moral values are less likely to come to the aid of those non-Christians when the going gets rough. I don't recall Jews having a lot of friends in Vatican City during Hitler's holocaust.
Those who claim our general American foundation values as only Christian might want to consider how poorly Christians throughout history have adhered to these so-called Christian values. We need and we should want a broader base of support for our beliefs.
I'm comfortable with Christianity being a basis for morality. I believe most Americans get their values from their religion and I'm fine with that. It's when they actively reject alternative points of view that I become afraid. America's values come from many sources including religion, economic success, intellect, and historical experience. Those who accept all of these as legitimate sources of support for human life, liberty, livelihood, property, and contract make me more comfortable than those who can only see Jesus Christ as the path to political success.
We can eat our cake and have it too. We can keep our religion and our science and our ethics and our normative perspective and our Ayn-Randian intellectualism and our utilitarian historical precedent. All of these point to the same values of human life, liberty, livelihood, property, and contract. In our fight against the horrors of progressivism and socialism we do not have the luxury of saying, "Only my way to the truth is valid."
Should we exclude 5500 million non-Christians as not eligible or not worthy of participation in the American ideal of personal freedom and liberty?
I have said religion is the right profile of the same monster whose left profile is politics. I'll narrow that down that Christianity in politics is the right profile of the same monster whose left profile is socialism. None of it belongs in our political universe as these are personal choices.
It's time to look for ways to include as many mindsets, attitudes, and beliefs that point us to a free, healthy, and prosperous America. From the movie "Chocolat," "I think we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include."
2:41:41 Mountain Standard Time (MST).
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