The Ultimate Power Grab

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In the news July 14th, 2009 was an article about a group of atheists and agnostics filing suit to prevent the words “In God We Trust” and The Pledge of Allegiance (burdened with the “under God” mention)in god we trust from being engraved at the new Capital Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. The group is candid in their purpose, as read in their name, Freedom From Religion Foundation. The proposed engraving in a public building would be considered by them an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The argument for the separation of church and State is nowhere to be found in the Constitution of the United States, but it is found in Jefferson’s other writings. Nevertheless, it is the oft-used Gold Standard for those against things religious as if it had Constitutional authority, and the Supreme Court has included Jefferson's comments in guiding a number of their decisions.

In the context of the Constitution, Jefferson’s thoughts were quite agreeable and made sense with what was deemed sufficiently stated in the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amen to that!

Given its sterling performance in any or all of its responsibilities, I don’t want to even imagine how our government might administer religion if God was under its authority. The European issues several centuries ago with church and State were far more dangerous than the issue brought suit against here. Those who disagreed with the prevailing creeds (Catholic or Protestant), vocally or visibly at least, were likely to be jailed, deported, or executed. Giving consideration to the more recent development of a fundamentalist Islamic State, there is little evidence that societies benefit under a theocracy, no matter their particular religion. The mention of God in a public building obviously pales in comparison.

But governmental recognition of the historic impact of religion upon the institution itself is not the point here. While the Freedom From Religion Foundation is most active with issues of church vs. State, the sentiment inherent in their name is the removal of religion and all its trappings from public discourse, in essence the removal of all PDRs (public displays of religion – such as against Christmas trees on public property, a posting of the 10 Commandments in a courthouse, pre-game prayers at sports events, or the presence of a cross in a church sanctuary being used for high school graduation). Neither these examples nor the ones filed suit against could in any sense be regarded as the government enforcing a State religion on its populace, not to mention enacting a law.

I’ll make some assumptions that FFRF and those of like mind find “the god hypothesis” to be scientifically proven unnecessary for all that "is," the existence of (any) god unproven or not provable, god to be an idea that emerged to explain natural events to primitives and later as a civilizing force of hope to the uneducated, and a societal force that wreaks more havoc than benefit.

On a more personal level, assumptions would include that they are greatly upset when a someone shares their faith, or when someone tries to hand them a religious tract, or when a prayer is held prior to an any assemblage of people outside of a place of worship, or when Billy Graham preempts their favorite rerun of "House" for an evangelical crusade.

They are certainly entitled to those or similar beliefs.

So what's the rub? This group doesn’t like religion, and they don’t like it so much that they’re willing to spend their time and resources to keep religion farther away than just their own arm’s length. One might say that they are fervent about their non-faith and are actively proselytizing the world in seeking disciples.

Sound familiar? The Freedom From Religion Foundation is just as guilty of inserting their own view of God/morality/virtue into public discourse as those they war against, only in positing the negative of theism. Atheism is every bit as much a worldview that shapes the thinking of its (non)believers as religions would hope to affect their own followers. But rather than respecting the philosophical landscape, they hope to put religion in a gradually diminishing box until it exits the stage of public awareness.

I confess I don't understand why someone would take pleasure, be it intellectual or otherwise, in the absence of a deity(ies) of choice. But I do understand the attraction. If there is a God, then it's fair to ask what expectations He (She, or gender neutral...) might have of us. To live a life free of ultimate accountability means that there is nothing that we must necessarily not want to do because of a feeling of wrongness, as one's own judgment of the morality of any act is just as valid as anyone else's.

Certainly the vast majority of people who do not believe in a god do not choose to rape, pillage, or plunder. But when someone does choose to do these things, they might certainly be found guilty of breaking a societal law, but there is no moral basis to say that what they did was wrong.

If morality is defined by what makes sense to a population's majority, it is necessarily a shifting definition that can vary over time. An absolute in moral terms (positing that something is truly good or evil) can only be found if there is an unchanging and authoritative lawgiver.

When faced with this unwelcome insertion of a God who defines morality and judges, it's not surprising that many would rather rest on the self-preservation tendencies of societal law and deny the existence of The Absolute. The logical complication of insisting that "there is no absolute truth," however, is that the statement itself is also said in absolute terms.

The rejection of ultimate accountability speaks to one of the simplest (and often ridiculed) of biblical stories, where man (Eve did it first!) ate fruit from the forbidden tree, yielding to the temptation: "You shall be like gods." One only needs to scratch at the surface of this very deep theological doctrine (original sin and autonomy) to recognize that in denying God, we are elevating ourselves to his vacant throne. After all, one must be omniscient to know absolutely that God does not exist.

It seems many are too busy to reflect on spiritual things or don't want to even think about "God" because of the potential implications and obligations that might affect the way they choose to live their lives. So I certainly respect the opinions of those who have taken the time to think these things through, regardless of their eventual choices.

As for me, I find it reasonable to believe that neither matter nor life created itself and that, as a result, life has a significance beyond what we choose to attach to it. The freedom of religion (or non-religion) as guaranteed by the Constitution makes sense, but the freedom from religion strikes me as strident atheism seeking to exclude theistic considerations, wherever they may be found.

Apologies to those who come here expecting lighter fare, but if I viewed life as ultimately insignificant, "Amused to Death" would have been a more appropriate summary of the content here.

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  1. I once heard a Mark Lawry tape (Christian comedian) talk about this. He said something along the lines of 'it takes a lot of faith to believe that us and everything around evolved from some gaseous belch of the universe. Order can not come from chaos without intelligence. I don't have enough faith for the complexity of the universe to have come from chance.' He said it would be like the odds of putting the pieces of a watch in a bag and shaking them for 6 billion years and opening the bag to find an intact working watch. Me, I don't have enough faith to believe those kind of odds either. I put my faith in a higher being with a plan.

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