I believe we are a Christian nation, most of the people who would read this blog would likely agree to that. We know the founding fathers were Christians, our legal system is based off Christian morals, and the largest religion in America is Christianity. And yet, the founders decided to include the separation of Church and State, why?
Naturally, a big part of it is to protect the rights of religious minorities, but given the careful planning of the founders, I’m certain that it goes even further than that. Our founders were extremely careful in everything they did when setting up our nation, every aspect of the constitution they ratified was carefully planned so that they would limit the powers of the government, and protect the freedom of the people. The separation of Church and State is part of that.
I believe people will always believe in something higher than themselves, whether it is religion, science, or government. Autocratic governments, such as the USSR, realize this, and use it to their advantage. If faith in God, or some religious deity, is removed, then the need of humans for some sort of belief in something greater than themselves is not fulfilled. Government then can step into that vacuum, and it will, much as we will pray to God for help in our life, the people will turn to the government to seek comfort and assistance in their life. Elevating government to the position of God gives an unparalleled power to the government, much like people wouldn’t dare question the Catholic Church in the middle ages, if government is viewed as the highest power involved in one’s life, one would not dare question their actions either. Everything the government does is then assumed to be for the greater good, and ultimately beneficial to the people, the same way we view God’s plan for us.
Here’s the main thing, as a Catholic, I’ve had to defend my faith due to the actions of some evil people within the church. The point I try to make is this, the evil actions are not of God, and the fault is not with faith or religion, the problem lies with humans. We are fallible. We sin, and some of us are just plain bad. Religion is of God, but is run by man on Earth, and wherever humans are present, we will sully things with the sin we are prone to, but that does not discredit the lessons religion can offer us, or nullify the good actions and charity of the faithful across the world. We must accept that temptation will always be present, and that even things done with the best of intentions can, and likely will, be exploited.
The founders were smart enough to see this, in reality, the separation of church and state is not designed to shield the Government from Religion, but rather to protect Religion from Government. If the government can exercise control over religion, the people have no choice but to walk lock-step with the desires of the government. Look at Iran, the government has extreme control of their people because any action the government wishes can simply be justified by claiming it’s the will of God. If government controls faith, they will have an unbeatable justification for any policies they wish to enact, no matter how oppressive, or how contrary they run to the actual doctrine of a particular faith.
In fact, not only is this amount of power tempting for any government that wishes to exercise greater control over its populace, but it also silences the only potential threat to governmental authority in the country. Though most priests do not expound political ideology, during the healthcare mandate, that would force Catholic institutions to offer services they are morally opposed to, priests took to the pulpit to challenge the government on this issue. Religion offers an excellent challenge to governmental power, as it reaches people in a more personal level, and is backed by the only being of greater authority than any politician–God.
Though many of us have religious beliefs, and it certainly shapes our political viewpoints, we must be wary of mixing the two. Christians believe we have free-will and that our actions are up to us to decide. We can choose to follow the examples of Christ, or we can choose to give in to our temptations. What we choose does not matter, God has granted us freedom, the same freedom the founders recognized, and sought to protect. Naturally, every choice has a consequence, and we must recognize that, but the point is that we can choose for ourselves what we do. Any true conservative would agree that this is the core belief in America-That we are born free, and have the right to self-determination. For that reason, we should give pause before supporting any legislation that would restrict people’s freedoms, even if we believe they may be contrary to our religious beliefs. Christ said that “He who is without sin shall cast the first stone”, we know that we are all sinners, it’s part of our humanity, but there is an even greater aspect to this teaching. We are not fit to judge man for his actions. The stone throwers did not simply drop their stones because they had all sinned, and thus no one could initiate the act, but rather, they realized they were all sinners, and thus, they were not fit to judge another person, only God is able to do that.
We must also remember just how easy it is to twist the teachings of faith in order to accomplish political agendas. An example which should ring true with Conservatives is wealth redistribution. While most conservatives would agree that charity is something voluntarily given, and not forcfully taken, those who might advocate such a policy could easily twist Christ’s teachings to justify such policies. Teachings of Christ, such as “Render unto Caesar”, and “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven”**could easily be taken to justify socialist policies if spun the right way. The fact is, we cannot force religious policies in American politics, to do so, we risk cheapening what it is to be American, and what it means to be faithful.
Much like the charity example before, when you’re forced to do something, it doesn’t mean as much as when you do it voluntarily. The same principle applies to Christian morality. Part of life for Christians, is to test ourselves. It is easy for us to do right when there is no choice to do wrong. If we are truly good Christians, then we should be able to abstain from sin and temptation through our own virtue and faith in Christ’s teachings. Likewise, America is about choice, and freedom, we Americans cannot, and should not, try to tell anyone how and what they can do. We are the masters of our destiny, and the government has no authority to tell us how to live, if, given such freedom, people choose to sin, then that is between them and God.
Now, if anyone thinks this was a condemnation of Christian Americans, I assure you, it is not. In fact, in many ways, we need the values of Christianity now more than ever. We must not seek to see our beliefs acted out via our politicians, lest they use our faith against us, but rather, we need the help in the private sector. NJ was hit hard by hurricane Sandy, and though many have stepped forward to help out, many forget that major storms are not the only time that we need to help those who are less fortunate. Christian Conservatives should get out there, go into low-income areas, and help out in soup kitchens, or help the homeless, or do something to help those people. I hate the idea of wealth redistribution, it is not right to take (steal) from others and give it away, it should be a personal choice. But, if we want to protect ourselves from such radical policies, it would be wise for us to do as we Christians are told, and to give back to our communities, and to help others. America is the most charitable nation in the world, and I believe this is largely due to our Christian beliefs.
Overall, we must embrace our Christian heritage, and specifically to act as Christians should, we should be tolerant, charitable, and forgiving. But, to mix politics in faith is playing with fire. We run the risk of having that which belongs to God, sullied by politicians. We also risk granting to government even more authority over us, thus sacrificing both the sanctity of faith, and the independence of America.
**For those who don’t know, the eye of the needle was a common term at the time for the gates going into Jerusalem. They were similar in shape to a needle head, tall and narrow. For traders to get through the gate, they had to be willing to unload their pack-animals, and carry their goods through the gate. Naturally, they had to be careful since it would be easy for someone to steal from them while they were doing this, and they had to take care. For the rich, it is easier to be tempted to sin, and to forget to do your Christian duty. Likewise, the rich must be mindful that their fortune is a blessing, not a right, and that like the merchant who must unpack his wares, leaving some outside to enter Jerusalem, we must realize we can easily lose our material wealth, and that we cannot take it with us when we die, but that we have the greater wealth awaiting us, wealth not commiserate with Earthly wealth.