Thursday, February 12, 2009

Church and State

"Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."--Thomas Jefferson, Jan 23, 1808

There has been a lot of churchy talk in politics lately. From President Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech which concluded:

"So let us pray together on this February morning, but let us also work together in all the days and months ahead. For it is only through common struggle and common effort, as brothers and sisters, that we fulfill our highest purpose as beloved children of God. I ask you to join me in that effort, and I also ask that you pray for me, for my family, and for the continued perfection of our union. Thank you." his January 20th Proclamation:

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2009, a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and call upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century."

To Tony Blair's coercively worded keynote address at Obama's Prayer Breakfast:

"I finish where I began: in the Holy Land, at Mount Nebo in Jordan, where Moses gazed on the Promised Land. There is a chapel there, built by pilgrims in the 4th Century. The sermon was preached by an American, who spent his life as an airline pilot and then, after his wife’s death, took holy orders. His words are the words of a Christian but they speak to all those of faith, who want God’s grace to guide their life. He said this:
'While here on earth, we need to make a vital decision ... whether to be mere spectators, or movers and shakers for the Kingdom of God... whether to stay among the curious, or take up a cross. And this means: no standing on the sidelines ... We’re either in the game or we’re not. I sometimes ask myself the question: If I were to die today, what would my life have stood for... The answer can’t be an impulsive one, and we all need to count the cost before we give an answer. Because to be able to say yes to one thing, means to say no to many others. But we must also remember, that the greatest danger is not impulsiveness, but inaction.'
It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country’s history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God’s work and follow God’s will. And by the way, God bless you all."

As to what end we are to be directed by this sermon, we need only look to Mr. Blair's contribution to the British Labour Party Platform, the re-wording of Clause IV:

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning the religious faith of elected officials (even if that religion resembles Christian Socialism), I merely wish that our public servants would govern in a manner befitting the core values upon which our nation was founded. The Enlightenment which gave rise to our system of laws, placed value upon individual liberty first and foremost. This was a striking departure from the system which preceded it, in which an hereditary caste, and an accompanying caste of ascetic volunteers--and the preservation thereof--were the primary concern of government. A government in which the decisions over the fate and fortune of the individuals who composed the lesser castes of society were primarily in the hands of the former two castes. This government was based on a corrupt belief in a god who gave sacred authority to the first caste, divine right and privilege to the second, and little concern or mercy to the third. That fragments of such beliefs still exist is understandable, for even a god said to be immutable is able to conform to human understanding. But to begin again down the path to a hierarchical society with an ever-diminishing tolerance for individual variance from convention--and to enlist the service of a now more enlightened version of the same said god in order to accomplish it--is an abomination. That there is a benevolent Creator of our whole existence, I believe fully. But to recycle old traditions of barbaric understanding; to accept these as anything but parable to glean some understanding of ourselves, is folly. To apply such fatalism--such cowering defeat before the ghosts of ignorance--to the guidance of a civil government, is to turn backward down the dark path of history, even as the enlightened path lies just beyond us. Let us remember that progress can only occur when moving forward. Through the dismantling of artificial structures constructed by the ignorant. That our Creator loves his children so greatly that he gives them freedom from involuntary servitude, I have no doubt. That some may govern this land according to any other order, is surely both treason and disobedience!