Well, you’ve heard it said… and I imagine many of you have said it yourself, exasperated with some atheist complaint about prayer in school or a creche scene in front of a courthouse: “It’s freedom of religion not freedom from religion.”
Well, actually it is both; you cannot have the one without the other. But take heart, since freedom from religion might not mean what you think it means.
No, I am not saying they are both a part of the first amendment and you have to accept a “packaged deal,” I am saying it is metaphysically impossible to have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. With one specific exception (which proves the rule) which I will get to.
Let’s take an example many of your co-religionists like to cite. In Saudi Arabia, apparently, it’s illegal to build a Christian church. (That is the claim anyhow, and for purposes of this argument I will accept it as fact. If it’s not true then please consider this a hypothetical case rather than a real one.)
It’s kind of difficult to practice your religion under those circumstances, isn’t it? The Christians in Saudi Arabia do not have freedom of religion. And why is that? Because they are not free from that other religion, Islam. Islam not only is the majority religion there, but the government helps enforce it, and tries its level best to crowd out other religions, to force Islam on the non-Islamic.
Now when I say that the Christians in Saudi Arabia would have to be free from Islam to have the freedom of their Christianity, am I saying that the Muslims must cease to be Muslims, must cease to pray five times daily and must not observe Ramadan and must tear down their mosques?
What they’d have to do is stop forcing Islam on the non-Islamic by government fiat. That is all it takes for those Christians to be free from Islam. Get the government out of the job of pushing Islam. (Isn’t it cowardly of them? Can’t Islam withstand a fair exchange of ideas?)
And that is what we–atheists, and non Christians in general of every stripe–want too, over here. For us to be free to be what we are, the government must not push Christianity. (And vice versa.) And for that matter, it must not push Islam either. And for you to be free to be Baptists, or Presbyterians, or “non-denominational” the government should not push Catholicism, and vice versa.
But by the same token we do not… listen closely now… do not… and let me repeat it again because I know so many of you have trouble understanding this–I’ve read comments like this on every church-state news story… We DO NOT want to deny you the freedom to practice Christianity outside of the government. (Got that?)
The overwhelming majority of Christians in this country are willing to let other Christians be, even ones as different as Catholics and Baptists are from each other. Many even recognize that it’s wrong to use the government to push their particular brand of Christianity on other Christians. (Though admittedly some might change their minds if they thought the government would push their particular type of Christianity, most I think are more principled than this, at least when it’s other Christians involved.) So you see… each and every one of you is enjoying the benefits of freedom from religion–freedom from the peculiar religion your next door neighbor professes.
[And now time for the exception I mentioned at the beginning: The only way you can have freedom of religion without freedom from religion is if your religion is on top, in the driver's seat, getting to use the government to push itself on others. But then you'd better hope it stays that way or you will find it's a double edged sword. There's an old joke that the Puritans thought so highly of religious freedom when they got here they decided to keep it all for themselves.]
Of course in many cases a carefully “generic” Christianity (that won’t actually contradict someone’s specific doctrine) is pushed. “Non sectarian” prayers. Creche scenes. Ten commandments monuments (that start off with “thou shalt have no other god before me” but be careful, the Catholic list is different from the Protestant one). This is wrong too. And if you cannot see the principle, well maybe you’ll find it interesting if I hit you with something concrete.
Right now, today, in the United States of America, there are places where the majority religion is not Christianity. (And it’s not Islam either.) And in those places, the government is pushing the non Christian religion, the same way you so cavalierly use it here, with publicly funded prayer under the aegis of government.
So if you cannot see why it’s wrong to push Christianity on the non-Christian using government school prayers, creche scenes on government property, etc. then try this on for size:
Yes I just approvingly cited a World Net Daily article.
Read it and understand. The way you treat us is the way this man was treated by non Christians.
This is one Christian who will never unthinkingly give others the finger by telling them just to step outside or ignore the prayer, and I would be pleased to have him as a neighbor even though I don’t agree with him.
Because we can live with each other.
The separation of church and state benefits everyone. Not just those cranky atheists, but everyone, including you.
I hope by now you see my point. If you do then we’ve finished, the remainder of this letter is not addressed to you.
But if you don’t, keep on reading.
You believe that Christianity–your specific version of it, is the one true faith. Yet you think it cannot prosper, it cannot win, without you forcing it on people. Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar? Here’s a clue to where you might have heard about this just recently: Isn’t it cowardly of you? Can’t your faith withstand a fair exchange of ideas?
If after reading all of this, you take the attitude that it’s OK for you to do it, but not for others, because you are Christian and they aren’t, then I have this to say to you:
You–the intolerant–are unfit to live in modern society. You probably hate it anyway, all that non-Christian stuff out there and god forbid even some queers (and horrors–even atheists) out there. But the problem is not with society, it is with you. You are unwilling to peaceably coexist and cooperate and trade with others–which is what society is all about–unless you can force them to be like you. Well you don’t get to have your way, not in the United States, and not in any nation that isn’t a despotic toilet run by thugs pretending to be a legitimate government. Our Founding Fathers got this right–yes, they’d be disgusted with you–and you are dead fucking wrong. I can only hope that it is you, not your neighbors, who ultimately suffers the consequences of your mistake.
UPDATE (6 April 2013):
Someone I met online who lives in the area mentioned in the World Net Daily article has complained it’s factually inaccurate. This allegation has been made in other places as well. Here’s one of them that includes a response from the author of the WND piece.
Regardless of the truth in this specific instance, the author is correct in making the point that government sponsored and propagated religion is a double-edged sword.