Church/State Separation—Where Is the Line?

Church/State Separation—Where Is the Line? September 4, 2013

What is the fascination with putting Christian propaganda on public property? Is it a Tourette’s kind of thing, where some people just can’t avoid crossing the “Do Not Cross” line?

Another Christian display on public land

A year ago, a private Christian group erected a Ten Commandments monument on courthouse property in Starke, Florida. American Atheists fought to have the monument removed. They lost that fight, but they did force the county to create a “free speech zone” to permit monuments with other views, and they recently erected their own atheist monument. To no one’s surprise, some Christians are displeased.

In “Atheists Flood the Public Square,” Benjamin Wiker sounds the alarm to concerned Christians. This comes from tothesource, a site with the slogan, “Challenging hardcore secularism with principled pluralism.” (You mean like the hardcore secularism that’s defined in the U.S. Constitution?).

Wiker imagines an elaborate game of chess (or chicken) where the atheists exploit loopholes in the system to annoy honest, hardworking Christians who want nothing more than to exercise their freedom of religion. With luck, these atheists figure, they can so burden Christians that defending their God-given rights becomes too difficult and they retreat.

The strategy is to flood the monument market until Christians simply give up, give in, and move out.

I have no interest in taking rights away from Christians. I don’t think I’ve met an atheist who does. The problem may be that we disagree on the rights the Constitution gives to Christians.

Let’s be clear: the Constitution calls the shots. In the U.S., the Constitution grounds our rights, not Christianity or the Bible. Religion has a safe haven within society because, and only because, the Constitution says so. That haven doesn’t come from God or the supernatural. It’s not part of some “natural law” outside humanity that everyone can sense.

If your attitude is that the Bible is your Constitution, don’t expect any respect for that opinion in a courtroom. In fact, the U.S. Constitution was the world’s first explicitly neutral constitution and its protections make it the Christian’s best friend.

I don’t get why this author is so agitated in the first place. Christianity doesn’t already have enough public displays of its message? Or is Christianity’s hold on its adherents so fragile that it needs to rope the government into proclaiming its message as well?

Ah, but atheism is a religion!

The game atheists play, according to Wiker, is to “flood the public square with monuments” to drive away the Christian ones. Eventually, we’ll have the atheists’ goal, the “naked public square.”

If we’re talking about the literal public square, then Wiker’s hysteria is off target. Again, no atheists are talking about removing free speech, religion included, from the public square. On the other hand, if we’re talking about the state-supported public square—schools, courthouses, and government buildings—then he’s exactly right. Atheists demand no religion or, failing that, equal access for all worldviews.

But don’t pretend that this is fair, Wiker tells us.

The truth is secular liberalism isn’t what you get when you subtract all religions. What you get when you subtract religion is another religion, secular liberalism, an entirely secular worldview dominated by materialism and hedonism and exceedingly intolerant of all other religions, especially Christianity.

Again, who wants this? I see the problem with materialism and hedonism. I see the problem with religious intolerance. What fantasy world is this guy living in?

But approach this from another angle. See him as Chicken Little, spreading alarm to rally the faithful, and his rant begins to make sense. Whipping up support through hysteria seems to be the goal, not honesty.

Christians, you’re on your own!

Christians can’t expect the government to protect Christianity; Wiker says they must do it themselves.

Face it, we Christians have become slothful. We wanted the government to ensure that we could enjoy all the benefits of living in a Christianized culture, without any of the work or sacrifice on our part—a kind of welfare mentality in regard to the faith.

As before (with the use of “public square”), he’s using words with several meanings. What’s a “Christianized culture”? If it’s a culture in which religion is protected, that’s something that I want as well. Dr. Wiker, show me where in America the right of Christianity to exist or Christians to profess their beliefs in the (literal) public square is under threat, and I’ll publicly express my support for your cause. The Constitution that doesn’t protect the Christian won’t protect the atheist either.

But if “Christianized culture” means a culture suffused with Christianity (“Merry Christmas” during the holidays, churches on every other corner, overwhelming church attendance), you’re on your own. Look to the market to support this. Don’t expect the government to help you out or even to care.

[Our mistake is that] we want the federal government to ensure that our faith is displayed publicly, even though we have done precious little to evangelize the public, so that more and more of the public is less and less Christian.

Who could possibly expect the federal government to display Christianity publicly? The only reference to religion in the Constitution is to prohibit any religious test for public office. The First Amendment says, “Government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Just how weak is your faith that you would ever expect government help?

Other posts in this series:

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity.
When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a religion.
— Robert M. Pirsig

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  • smrnda

    In my very secular town, I still can’t escape a proliferation of Christian churches with easily visible Christian signs, symbols and messages, and Christians engaging in various sorts of recruitment activities all around. If there is less interest in the Christian faith, it has very little to do with visibility issues. With all the tax-exempt private space to put up monuments, why on earth do Christians *need* space on public land?

    And if secular liberals or atheists or whatever label they want to use get rid of all Christian monuments on public land, that still leaves a massive amount of visible Christian real estate out there.

    • wtfwjtd

      And if secular liberals or atheists or whatever label they want to use get rid of all Christian monuments on public land, that still leaves a massive amount of visible Christian real estate out there.

      One of my profs in college back in the ’80’s told us that fully 20 PERCENT of all property in the US fell under the tax exempt status of religion. Massive indeed! It seems that we taxpayers are stuck with financially propping up organized religion with our tax dollars whether we want to or not, and even with all that free stuff they still expect more.

    • I believe that it’s because public monuments have a captive audience, since ordinary citizens all make use of these spaces, and for their own comfort. The apparent frailty of their own belief, which must be reaffirmed by public displays, has to be marveled over.

  • RichardSRussell

    Wiker is quoted thus: “The truth is secular liberalism isn’t what you get when you subtract all religions. What you get when you subtract religion is another religion, secular liberalism, an entirely secular worldview dominated by materialism and hedonism and exceedingly intolerant of all other religions, especially Christianity.”

    Bob says he sees the problem with materialism and hedonism. I demur. I’m actually pretty fond of them. Of course, I’m fond of food and couch potatohood, too, and overindulging in any of these can lead to problems — but doesn’t have to.

    Anyway, my main quibble isn’t with Bob but with Benjamin. Perhaps he explained this in the part of his essay that Bob didn’t quote, but how exactly did he make the leap from plain, ordinary secularism to secular liberalism? They don’t seem equivalent, nor even necessarily related. The Soviet Union’s Communists were secular, but I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone refer to them as liberal.

    And how is one supposed to parse the logic in “SL isn’t what you get when you [do X]. When you [do X], what you get is … SL.”? Are those not directly contradictory statements?

    And, even assuming the validity of his ludicrous premise that SL is is religion, if it’s still there after you’ve subtracted all religions, then you haven’t actually subtracted all religions.

    And finally, how is anything supposed to “dominate” a public square that’s been cleansed of ideological propositions?

    I suppose there are people who consume this gobbledy-gook and nod sagely, as if the author has just imparted some pellucid pearl of wisdom, instead of utterly illogical horseshit, but that just speaks to the sad deficit of teaching critical-thinking skills in school.

    My gratitude to Bob for being willing to stomach his expeditions into the scarifying world of Christian apologetics and evangelism to report back on what spells the witch doctors are casting on the natives.

    • smrnda

      Many religious people don’t understand the idea of neutrality or reject the idea altogether. To them, NOT having a religious monument is the same as State Atheism, since it’s a for or against thing. I’d say a banner proclaiming “god is dead” or something would need to have State Atheism.

      • RichardSRussell

        Well, in ONE sense of the word “atheism”, they’re correct: We DO have state atheism (or should have). That would be the most benign, neutral sense of the word, meaning “without god belief”. Our political and governmental system should no more be based on the premise that there are gods than that there are space aliens or telepathy, while always recognizing that individual citizens may indeed hold such bizarre beliefs, as is their right as free people in a free society.

        Of course, there’s the more widespread interpretation of the word as referring to that minor subset of atheists who affirmatively assert “There is no god.” And, of course, if THAT’S what you think of when you say “state atheism”, heck, I’m opposed to it, too. As is the 1st Amendment.

        • Carol

          Constitutionally, we have state agnosticism in which the State keeps its nose out of its citizens’ religious beliefs [or the lack thereof] as long as they “do no harm.”

          Would to God that individual believers [or disbelievers] would do likewise! As Martin Luther pointed out: “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.”

          The problem with any civil religion, Christian or otherwise, is that it is always more about the love of power than the power of love. Since the power of love is the common thread in ALL of the Great Religious Traditions, civil religion is the worst thing that can happen to any authentic religious movement.

          When the institutions of government and church join in a cooperative enterprise, it is always the Church that provides greater service to the State than the State to the Church. Whenever the balance has begun to turn, the State always calls the deal off and begins to persecute rather than support the Church.

        • Pofarmer

          Carol, you are refuting your own argument here. If the Church provided such great service to the State, then the State would never have reason to abandon the service of the Church. In reality, when the Church has sufficient power, it attempts to subvert or assume the authority of the State, there are numerous recent examples of this. I think, if one looks objectively, you would realize that organized religion of any flavor is more about power than it is about love, or else, why would the faith traditions care so much if you moved and went to another one? They just want you to be happy, right? The Catholics will still love you if you become Quaker, right? The problem isn’t with the mixture, the problem is with religion, period.

        • Carol

          In the West the Church assumed the role of the State after the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was the only institution with enough authority to fill the void. In the East it was the Emperors who meddled in ecclesiastical matters rather than the clerics meddling in affairs of State, so I think our Western experience is more an “accident of history” than an intrinsic tendency within formal religion. The Mormons did not get much support for their attempt to reinstitute the practice of polygamy.

          I do believe that there are some Christian sects that would like to return to theocratic governments in the secular Western First World, but most Christian denominations are content to attempt to influence the governing policies through the collective voting power of their followers rather than a “take over” of the secular government.

          That poses an immediate threat, but if successful the secular majority can overturn their victory at the next election.

          A much greater threat to our democracy, IMO, is the power of the large international public corporations. Mussolini defined fascism as “corporatism” a partnership between business and government. Mussolini is credited with getting the trains to run on time in Italy. No small accomplishment, but at what cost to political freedom?

          “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was not said by Lord Acton about secular political power, but at Vatican Council I about the dogma of Papal Infallibility. It is equally true of State or ecclesial power and God help us when the two are combined and become formally institutionalized!

          Fortunately, there are very few Christian sects that want institutionalized theocratic governance, although the corporate media’s appetite for controversy to boost ratings provides them with more publicity than their numbers merit.

          The membership of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a coalition of religious and secular civic leaders and other citizens that share a common opposition to any theocratic form of government. They are sort of a single-issue version of the ACLU.

  • Not to nitpick, but “Congress shall make no law” is what it really says (this has been held applicable by the US Supreme Court to the states through incorporation of the Fourteenth Amendment, though). Otherwise, this is the common display of blind, naked religious privilege that expects it’s beliefs are to be trumped over all others, with attempts to remove them in favor of neutrality (not atheism or any other view, however much they may think it) as being attacks. This is the mind set of people who have never been in the minority, let alone persecuted (within the US anyway), but fondly imagine themselves as such.

    • good catch on the typo, thanks.

      • bdallmann

        Though he might have done well to proofread his own comment, as well…

        • I’ve corrected one error. Were there any more?

  • GCBill

    I’m shocked that this guy thinks Christians have done “precious little to evangelize the public.” Because actually, they do quite a bit of that.

    When your only tactic doesn’t work…do it some more?

  • Carol

    Cultural Christians experience the loss of a civil religion status by the Institutional Church (IC) as a personal loss.

    Many Christian people of faith, myself included, think that becoming a civil religion is the worst thing that can happen to an authentic religious Tradition.

    Although all of the Great Religions have much in common, the fundamental catechetical teachings that distinguish Christianity from other Religious Traditions are the Trinitarian and Christological Mysteries.

    Most conservative American *Christians* are theologically de facto Unitarians. The *Trinity* has become God, Church and Country rather than Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love have been replaced by the civic virtues of classical Greek and Roman philosophy, in particular the Protestant work ethic. Mainline or liberal American “Christians” are secular humanists who express their values in “church speak” but who trust more in a political process than in Grace to actualize them socially.

    The IC is hemorrhaging members looking for a more meaningful spirituality. There are three primary reasons why sincere believers are leaving the IC:

    1. Dogmatic absolutism

    2. Self-righteous judgmentalism

    3. Sectarian triumphalism

    All three attitudes are encouraged in the ecclesiastical subculture and all three encourage rather than challenge the egoistic narcissism that is at the root of the shameful history of the Church’s sins against charity/love.

    “The institutions of Churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; immediately an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating factor.” — Oswald Chambers

    The word “Christianity” is already a misunderstanding – in reality there has
    been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross. –Friedrich Nietzsche

    • Itarion

      He does have some good quotes.

      “All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

      “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

      • Carol

        Nietzsche and Kierkegaard have always fascinated me. Both were Lutherans who had little regard for the formal religion of the IC, but while Nietzsche lost his Christian faith, Kierkegaard kept his.

        Perhaps Nietzsche was not able to separate faith in Christ Jesus from the ecclesiastical institutionalization of it, as Kierkegaard did.

        Although St. Anselm defined theology [beliefs] as “faith seeking understanding”, there has always been a tendency in the Latin/Western Church–especially during and after the Reformation–to confuse *correct* theological beliefs with faith.

        “…for Paul faith is always faith in a person. Faith is not the intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine; faith is faith in a person.” –William Barclay

        “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” –Oswald Chambers

        “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.
        What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.” — Flannery O’Connor , The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor

        It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt. –Fyodor Dostoyevski

        “Belief is reassuring. People who live in the world of belief feel safe. On the contrary, faith is forever placing us on the razor’s edge.” –Jacques Ellul

        “Christians have always tended to transform the Christian Revelation into a Christian religion. Christianity is said to be a religion like any other or, conversely, some Christians try to
        show that it is a better religion than the others. People attempt to take possession of God. Theology claims to explain everything, including the being of God. People tend to transform Christianity into a religion because the Christian faith obviously places people in an extremely uncomfortable position that of freedom guided only by love and all in the context of God’s radical demand that we be holy”. –Jacques Ellul

        Although I’ve read books by many theologians known for their theological brilliance, my favorite *theologian* is Anne Lamott, a lay person who is unknown outside of a relatively small circle of Christian readers:

        “We all know we’re going to die; what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

        “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re
        doing it.” — Anne Lamott

        “I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.” — Anne Lamott in an interview. Source: The Washington Times)

        “Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” — Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

        “I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the
        mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” — Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

        “But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” — Anne Lamott

        “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue” — Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

        “I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.” — Anne Lamott (Grace [Eventually]: Thoughts on Faith)

        “We cheated, you and me, and someone noticed. I noticed you; someone else noticed me. It hurts us. That’s not so bad. So many people cheat. Everywhere on every level. Everyone’s cheated. I’m just saying that you don’t need to see yourself as a cheater.
        Because that’s not who you are. You’re someone who cheated. There’s a difference, and you should try to get that difference, or that’s who you’ll grow up to be.” — Anne Lamott (Crooked
        Little Heart)

        “I’m all over the place, up and down, scattered, withdrawing, trying to find some elusive sense of serenity.
        The world can’t give that serenity. The world can’t give us peace. We can only find it in our hearts.
        I hate that.
        I know. But the good news is that by the same token, the world can’t take it away.”— Anne Lamott

        • “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe.”

          Why do it then? Why not just stay in Reality World?

          “… I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened.”

          So reality tries to tell you something and we’re just going to double down on our presupposition? Maybe that’s the wrong choice.

          “People who live in the world of belief feel safe. On the contrary, faith is forever placing us on the razor’s edge.”

          What if we all just went where the evidence pointed. Wouldn’t that be the most practical and satisfying? Wouldn’t the problems of faith just vanish then?

          my favorite *theologian* is Anne Lamott

          A popularizer, like C.S. Lewis, perhaps.

          I think she’d be more helpful still if she’d drop the supernatural presuppositions.

          “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue”

          Oh … and if you don’t use that glue properly, you’ll have an eternity to regret it in hell. Just sayin’.

        • Carol

          As I have posted before, I am not a philosophical materialist. I believe, and have experienced, spiritual Realities.
          “Evidence” or material facts must be interpreted before they have any meaning. Of course, a person who has a presuppositional belief that spiritual Realities do not exist would have a different interpretation than a person who has a religious faith.

          Temperament has a lot to do with how open or closed we are to the existence of a non-physical Reality. Highly intuitive people with a strong “sixth sense” are much more likely to be aware of the spiritual Realities, which may or may not lead to theistic beliefs. Having a mother who often knew who was calling before she answer the phone, much more often than the odds would predict, probably contributed to my openness to belief in the Reality of a non-physical World.

          As far as “hell” in concerned, most theologically informed Christians do not believe that “hell” is a space/time Reality. Which has always been illogical since there is no space/time continuum in Eternity. Even the late Pope John Paul II–who was a phenomenologist, but not exactly a theological liberal, believed that “hell” was a spiritual state that resulted from alienation from God, self and others and reconciliation is the path to “heaven.” To a great extent we create and choose to remain or leave in our own heavens or hells. As one theologian put it, if there is a hell the door can only be opened or closed from the inside.

        • a person who has a presuppositional belief that spiritual Realities do not exist would have a different interpretation than a person who has a religious faith.

          I’m skeptical of supernatural claims like anyone would be, but I will happily consider the evidence for a supernatural claim.

          Highly intuitive people with a strong “sixth sense” are much more likely to be aware of the spiritual Realities

          Alternative interpretation: certain people can easily delude themselves that the supernatural exists. Which interpretation best fits the facts?

          Having a mother who often knew who was calling before she answer the phone, much more often than the odds would predict

          These kinds of anecdotes are common. What’s missing is good evidence to back up this claim of ESP. We delude ourselves very easily; I imagine you agree with me on that.

          A hell locked from the inside? Does the New Testament give universal support to this kind of hell? Or are there verses that argue for the old-fashioned torment kind?

        • Carol

          There is good evidence for the existence of an intuitive sense–the mathematical impossibility of making correct predictions apart from empirical knowledge and far beyond what the odds for mere coincidence would allow. What we don’t have is a scientific method for analyzing the make-up or dynamic of this mysterious psychic energy.

          As to the theological evolution of our understanding of hell, like the Church’s understanding of the Trinitarian Mystery which took about 300 years and many polemical debates to become a dogma, it is not explicitly taught in the New Testament.

          Neither is the Patristic teaching on the Cosmic Christ an explicit NT teaching, although it is implicit in Colossians. The Christian Mysteries do not change, but our understanding of them does. As we read the NT Gospels, one thing that really comes through if we are attentive is how often the disciples simply did not “get” the message in Jesus’ teaching. Even after the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecoste the Apostles and their converts continued to wrestle with the cosmic implications of their experience of the historical Jesus. When the Protestant Reformers, confusing traditionalism with Tradition, radically opposed the Bible to Tradition they denied the validity of 1500 years of Christian Wisdom Tradition which may be why so many Western people of faith have turned to the Eastern Religious Traditions with their rich Perennial or Wisdom Traditions.

          “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation
          with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.
          Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be
          done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.” –Jaroslav Pelikan

          “The sacred history of redemption is still going on. It is now the history of the Church that is the Body of Christ.
          The Spirit-Comforter is already abiding in the Church. No complete system of Christian faith is yet possible, for the Church is still on her pilgrimage. And the Bible is kept by the Church as a book of history to remind believers of the dynamic nature of the divine revelation, “at sundry times and in divers manners.” ~Georges V. Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View

        • Researchers have been searching for signs of ESP for decades and have zilch to show for their efforts. You have a higher evaluation of this “mysterious psychic energy” than the science supports.

        • Carol

          I recognize epistemological limits to empirical scientific methodology and the human intellect that you do not, so naturally anything that cannot be validated by the “hard” empirical sciences are not “real” in your opinion.

          A lot of post-Enlightenment people in our Western European culture agree with you. No so many in the Second and Third Worlds.

          I offer for your consideration a quote from Peter Medawar’s classic book The Limits of Science:

          “That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer. I have in mind such questions as: How did everything begin? What are we all here for? What is the point of living?

          Doctrinaire positivism – now something of a period piece – dismissed all such questions as nonquestions or pseudoquestions such as only simpletons ask and only charlatans profess to be able to answer.”

          Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM CBE FRS (1915 – 1987), British zoologist & Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology or Medicine 1960. Quoted in P.B. Medawar, The Limits of Science, (Oxford University Press, Oxford (1987).

        • BobSeidensticker

          I recognize epistemological limits to empirical scientific methodology and the human intellect

          … and yet you’re still certain that “mysterious psychic energy” exists. You can’t have it both ways—either it exists so that we humans can perceive it or it doesn’t. Or are you saying that it’s a will-o-the-wisp kind of thing where it has intelligence and will run away from scientists but seek out good souls like yourself?

          What are we all here for? What is the point of living?

          Yes, good questions. Are you saying that you are having a hard time answering them? That you must have someone else impose answers on you?

          I doubt that.

        • Carol

          I definitely am not open to having metaphysical or “meaning to life” answers *imposed* on me; but, yes, I do struggle with such questions especially when confronted with the sufferings, both small and great, that we humans habitually inflict on one another, often in the name of some transcendent/absolute human value.

          The tragedies in Syria should evoke questions in all but the most shallow thinkers or people with pathologically small psychological comfort zones. What explanation does “science” give for such senseless aberrant behavior?

          The Judeo/Christian religion points to *sin.” But what is “sin” and is it intrinsic to our humanity?

          Most Latin/Western Christian Traditions, , unlike Scripture which begins with Original Blessing of creation in the image, with the potential to acquire, through an intimate relationship with God, godlikeness, define our humanity from the perspective of Original Sin. Of course, if Jesus is fully human and also sinless, as is also taught, then “sin” cannot be intrinsic to our humanity but must be an aberration, a disorder.

          The Western scholastics taught that “sin” was man focused on physical realities rather than spiritual or realities creating a radical opposition between nature and grace. The Eastern Church teaches that the dichotomy is between God and creation, not spirit and matter.

          That is one belief that Western atheists and theists seem to share, the assumption that matter and spirit are radically opposed. I can understand why atheists would believe that, but, for Christians, it is a denial of the Revelation of the Mystery of the Incarnation, a very pernicious heresy that causes many well-meaning believers to become so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good!

          Luther, who had some rather serious heresies, was brilliant, preceding modern psychology by hundreds of years, when he realized that “sin” was not “man curved down toward earth instead of up toward heaven” as the Scholastics taught, but rather “man curved in upon himself” or as Freud would later define it, egoistic narcissism.

          I have not had the Christian Mysteries “imposed” on me–“pray, pay and obey” has never been my chosen spiritual path. I have found in the Trinitarian and Christian Mysteries an adequate, although not always exhaustively satisfying, answer to most of my existential questions and a very high view of our humanity as indelibly stamped with the Divine Image and intimately connected with the Divine Life through the indwelling Spirit.

          Belief in the Indwelling Spirit has been consistent in most Eastern societies. The traditional greeting in the Eastern cultures is a bow, which can be as slight as a nod of the head or as profound as a complete prostration. The meaning of the gesture is the “Sacred Spirit” in me greets the “Sacred Spirit” in you.

          In the West, our traditional greeting is a handshake, which evolved as proof that the person you were greeting did not have a dagger up his sleeve. That speaks volumes to me in cultural perspective, not that people from the East always act in the spirit of their cultural heritage or that Westerners are always violent predatory bastards; but the underlying cultural presuppositions are always at least sub-consciously present.

          Pre-Enlightenment apologetics, whether religious or secular, were almost exclusively metaphysical. Informed twenty-first century apologetics, are epistemological. Neither the majority of atheists, nor the majority of theists have made that transition on the popular level. For an example of contemporary *informed*, not knee-jerk, Christian apologetics see this website:

        • Ron

          What explanation does “science” give for such senseless aberrant behavior?

          Isn’t that the equivalent of asking what explanation does “auto mechanics” give for such behavior?

          Neurological studies indicate that our actions are attributable to our brain chemistry, which is highly reactive to outside environmental stressors — all of which precludes the need to seek out metaphysical causes for an explanation.

        • Carol

          Since I have a daughter with chronic clinical depression, I would agree with that; but, since such excessively destructive behavior threatens rather than increases our chance of survival, both individually and as a species, I think there is something more that sometimes drives human behavior than mere biology and environmental triggers.

          We seem to have, on occasion, an inexplicable “death wish” that is not in common with other species. I know that members of other species “surrender” to death when it is inevitable much more gracefully than many humans; but they don’t engage in hopeless acts of aggression or self-destruction on the basis of some transcendent principle. Why are we the only species where individuals will consciously choose to make the ultimate sacrifice simply to preserve their personal integrity or make a political point that has no hope of any potential for having any foreseeable effect?

          Some evolutionary social scientists have labeled us the “moral animal.” Where does this moral impulse, that is often consciously exercised even when it works against the chance personal and collective survival as well as when it works for it, come from? Where is the scientific theory that explains this phenomenon of human behavior? How does science explain the human conscience that much less frequently, but certainly often enough to be more than an anomaly, makes self-sacrificial rather than self-interested moral choices?

          There is more to the mystery of the person than biological determinism even though biological determinism cannot be denied.

          That is my epistemological objection to doctrinaire positivism. Not that it is “wrong”, but that it is reductionistic. A partial truth, not the whole truth. It leads to dogmatic absolutism, the end of creative thinking, whether it is “theological” or “scientific.”

        • BobSeidensticker

          Really? You find the idea of the Trinity satisfying?
          Do you demand any sort of evidence or logic behind the Trinity? ‘Cause it doesn’t seem to have any. That’s what I get hung up on.

        • Carol

          Although the Christian Tradition is the first to become EXPLICITLY Trinitarian, there are many triadic beliefs in other religious Traditions. Wicca has its “Law of Three.” The early Christians were more “triadic” than Trinitarian. It took three hundred years for the Church to formulate the Nicene Creed which is the “official” Trinitarian doctrine. I personally prefer the Apostles Creed because it is simpler without becoming simplistic and more relational than ontological.

          Philosophically, the Trinitarian Mystery solves the perennial problem of the one and the many:

          Multiplicity which is not reduced to unity is confusion. Unity which does not depend on multiplicity is tyranny. –Blaise Pascal

          Theologically it provides a basis for an authentic spiritual community rather than a religious collective.

          There is a Buddhist sect [I forget which one] that has predicted that the next Revelation will be in the form of a community. My first thought was,”If that is so, then it won’t come from the Christian Tradition.”

          Then I realized that it had already come from the Christian Tradition when the Trinitarian Mystery is interpreted from a relational rather than from an ontological perspective.

          The Trinity, or Tri-Unity, is a communion of Persons united by their mutual unconditional, kenotic Love.

          Participation in the Divine Live by Grace is the Source and perfection of transformational human community. The Trinitarian Mystery reveals three distinct Persons defined by their loving relationships, not three solitary Individuals as we so often define ourselves in contemporary First World Western societies.

          That is my personal “logic” behind my Trinitarian faith.

          In practice, most Latin/Western Christians are Unitarian, not Trinitarian:
          “Unfortunately, many Christians do not appreciate the gift of the revelation of the Trinity. Christian laymen often seem to engage in the many ritual gestures devoted to the Trinity with little understanding of the centrality of the Trinity to the faith. Clergy in the West are famous for being befuddled when it comes to preaching the sermon on Trinity Sunday. Indeed, the prominent twentieth-century Catholic theologian Karl Rahner could lament the absence of the Trinity in the intellectual and devotional life of the modern Church. Although recent history demonstrates a new found interest in the Trinity, it still seem that most Christians do not recognize or have somehow forgotten that the doctrine of the Trinity contains* the ‘pearl of great price’ the ne plus ultra of metaphysical wisdom.”
          *I say “contains” rather than “is” because I wish to distinguish between mere notional knowledge and genuine sapiential knowledge of the Trinity. Sapiential comes from sapience, “taste” as in “Taste and see the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Sapiential knowledge is transformative. –Timothy A Mahoney

          The “evidence” will not be conclusive until the “end of time.” Until then it will remain an eschatological “certain hope” that can only be sustained by faith in the midst of much evidence that a perfect human community can only be a utopian romantic ideal, never a reality.

          For me, the fact that our species continues to strive to realize the utopian ideal even though attempts have always resulted in failure often with horrifically tragic results, supports my faith that such a vision is not only possible; but that there is something in the human spirit that will not let the hope die in spite of it being illogical in light of the testimony of all previous human history.

        • BobSeidensticker

          It’s like you’re arguing which fictional world you like the best. I need evidence. The Christian notion of Trinity that is 3 and 1 at the same time is nonsense. My advice to Christianity: just embrace the polytheism.

          the Trinitarian Mystery solves the perennial problem of the one and the many

          Problem? What problem? Embrace reality and your made-up problems go away.

        • Carol

          “Embracing reality” (whose reality?) may have made your problems go away, but it increased mine.
          The more globally inclusive the world becomes the more our problems will increase as there will be more special interests and diverse cultures and ways to cope with our individual and common social ills to reconcile.
          Narrowing our “reality” to those nearest and dearest to us may reduce the incidences of conflict, but lots of luck trying to do that in the 21st century.

        • whose reality?

          “Reality” is that fluid that we must wonder which reality we’ve embraced?

          may have made your problems go away, but it increased mine.

          “Embrace reality” sounds like good advice for all of us. Not so for you?

        • Itarion

          Quotations, fascinating though they might be, do little for me. From any side, and religion or the lack thereof, quotables merely obscure the discussion by blurring the topic. I want to speak to the person I am speaking to, and not some far distant, often dead, student of philosophical “truths” who draws exclusively upon their own experience to decide what is.

          So, let’s talk. Without quoting anyone (explained paraphrases are okay), what is your view of the world and why?

    • The foundational question at the bottom of Christianity as a religion is whether the supernatural claims are correct or not. I thought you were pretty progressive on that point? Or is are these supernatural claims fundamental for you, too?

      in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.

      Are we talking about Jesus here? I’m pretty sure that he was a Jew.

      • Carol

        I am actually very orthodox [and Orthodox] theologically, but progressive when it comes to putting my faith into practice.
        You are quite correct, Jesus is Jewish–on his Mother’s side.

        • Jesus was Jewish ethnically but also in practice–“not a jot or tittle” and all that.

    • smrnda

      ” Mainline or liberal American “Christians” are secular humanists who
      express their values in “church speak” but who trust more in a political
      process than in Grace to actualize them socially.”

      Well, social metrics from more secular countries seems to indicate that a political process works better than grace at delivering positive outcomes for a society, so I can’t really fault them there. I also don’t understand why ‘grace’ and ‘political process’ are necessarily at odds – can’t god lead believers to having more sensible political opinions?

      • Carol

        Grace and political process are not at odds, neither is nature and Grace. The error is in choosing one and rejecting the other, either/or dualism instead of a both/and complementary synergy. Dualistic thinking always leaves us with a “half-truth”,the worst kind of lie, and unbalanced thinking.

  • Pofarmer
    • Ron

      Christian persecution:

      65 CE – serving as a human torch to light up Nero’s garden parties.

      2013 – seeing an atheist billboard along the freeway.

      • Itarion

        I’m telling you though, Nero threw some great parties. Like that one where his excellent violin skills drove everyone into a destructive, pyromaniacal tizzy.

    • Those poor, poor Christians! I won’t be able to sleep tonight knowing that people are mean to them.

      • Pofarmer

        Hey Bob. Can you help me out with something? Catholics go on and on about how we are created in the image of God, but then we have sinned and gotten away from God’s perfection because of our fallen nature. Now, if “we” are created in the image of God, which of “‘Us” is it. Is it the Asians, Africans, Europeans, South Americans, Australian aboriginals? Also, what about the problem that our organs, brains, DNA, etc, etc, are identical to that of pretty much every other mammal on the planet? Are Gophers in the image of God too? And then, if we’re somehow fallen, what are we fallen from? Is there some evidence of a prior perfect existence?

        • The Christian readers here could do a better job.

          My question: if we’re created in the image of God, how come God has such a different view of morality? How are his terrible actions justifiable when, if any of us did them, we’d be a terrible person?

    • Justin

      They are afraid of the future. Like Europe, they see that America is becoming increasingly secular. In their minds, attempting to uphold the Separation of Church and State is a step toward seeing their church close down due to lack of attendance and then watching it be turned into a brothel. They are afraid of irrelevance, and so anything that isolates their ideology is seen as persecution.

      • Daniel Dennett suggests that they become society’s backup system (in response to the fragility of the internet). They could still do whatever supernatural stuff they wanted, but they’d be called upon to help out when some part of the infrastructure failed.

        Interesting idea, though I’m not sure it would inspire many people.

        • Pofarmer

          I would just as soon not see anything happens that further empowers the belief in the superstitious for any reason.

      • Pofarmer

        Well, they certainly intend to go down kicking and screaming.

  • Ambaa

    This kind of thing makes me so mad. No way should the ten commandments be displayed on public property. Christians have a huge influence in America and yet it’s never enough for them. They cry persecution while not noticing that they have an enormous amount of privilege. They have no clue what it’s like to be a minority religion.

    • And then when Christian excesses are corrected (removing “under God” from the Pledge or “In God We Trust” as the motto, say), they complain about persecution.