A Secular Nation

Start with this point. I am not you. You are not me. We each have different thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. Most people understand that we all have different thoughts and experiences. Where people and society get into trouble is the problem with beliefs, especially strong ones like religion – or lack of religion.

The problem with religion is simple. Far too many people firmly believe that everyone should believe what they believe and follow that set of beliefs. This ignores the basic fact that there are far too many different belief systems for that ever to work, especially in any nation that is not a police-state theocracy.

According to those who keep track of such matters there are more than 4,000 different religions in the world, and more than twenty that have more than a million believers. Even in the United States there are more than fifteen major religions/denominations with significant numbers of adherents, and some of the basic tenets of these faiths don’t agree on aspects of how society should be governed and even to what degree beliefs enshrined in faith should be legislated into law.

The Founding Fathers insisted on separating church and state. For them, at that time, that separation was politically and practically much easier because, despite all the bloodshed during the European religious wars, the main conflict was between Catholicism and Protestantism, and the two faiths weren’t as separated and as disparate – and numerous – as various faiths, including atheism, are today in the United States. Even so, the basic principle espoused by the Founding Fathers makes even more sense today.

That principle was the creation of a nation where the laws were based on the basic ethical principles on which both religious factions could agree, such as the fact that murder and theft were not acceptable and should be punished. “Non-conforming” religions were not banned, but certain practices, such as polygamy and human sacrifice, were criminal offenses, and what was legal and what was not were based on facts and political agreement – with, of course, the exception of slavery, which a failure to address on a national basis led to the bloodiest war in our nation’s history.

We’re now facing a schism along lines of belief, and it shows up in many fashions, from reproductive freedom to gender identify to the conflict over how far freedom of speech should extend, and whether government should address economic and social inequality.

In far too many of these areas, people have tried to enact laws based on beliefs they want to impose on others, rather than trying to work out practical compromises on the basis of science and common ground. Even when practical compromises have been worked out, they often don’t stay worked out for one simple reason.

Too many people believe that ALL their beliefs are correct and should be imposed on others. The history of Europe after the Reformation shows how well that worked out. [For those who have forgotten or never knew, in just one of those wars, Germany lost 30% of its population.]

There was a reason the Founding Fathers separated church and state to create a secular nation, but like so many lessons of history, that one appears to have been forgotten.

2 thoughts on “A Secular Nation”

  1. Tom says:

    It’s easy to understand something we believe in; difficult to understand something new; and almost impossible to comprehend something “different”.

    When we perceive something new we compare it to the familiar and disregard it if it does not fit our experience.

    When we are presented with a different view of what we have experienced before, we pray for comprehension from a higher entity – which expects us to work it out ourselves. After all that is why that higher entity (our teacher of all) gave us brains.

    Hence I do not agree that we have “forgotten” the reason the Founding Fathers separated church and state to create a secular nation. 72 million of us are just expressing our “free” willfulness.

  2. William F McKissack says:

    I am afraid you are being too nice. Religion especially when it is authoritarian is easily used as a justification for very non-faithful activity. It becomes another tool for a dictator to use to stay in power. What is ironic is that too many religious people have forgotten the reformation and listen to others rather than read their bible.

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