If you went to church with me when I was a kid, you would have heard that God was properly defined by the Roman Catholics, and everyone else had an incorrect version. And that was even after Vatican II. While Catholics certainly have moderated their world view of their religion, it still reeks of “we got it right.”
In today’s world we hear a lot about the Moslem version of God. I think it fair to say that their view is an extremely unpopular one here in the United States. That probably includes most Moslems who live here as well, but that is just a guess. I say that because it is my firm belief that most Moslems who live here have adopted a very moderate, or mainstream, view of God. They certainly are not the ones yelling, “death to infidels!” And they certainly are not advocating a jihad against America.
These most basic of feelings that all humans seem to hold, that of a person deity, are the very reason I speak up strongly for the separation of church and state. We are the only country in the world, that I know of, that has this admonition. Those Americans who want God worked into portions of our government would do well to ask themselves, which God. That is, which particular religious slant on God are you in favor of? You have to choose simply because there is no generic God that I have ever heard of. That is because as soon as you evoke the name God, in each person’s mind this takes on a very particular point of view. Hence, our forefathers understood that extremely well and they did not want a Church of England God, or even one of their homegrown versions to have any place in our government.
Since monotheism has existed there has always been a mix of God and religion. For most of history men have been incapable of separating the two. Mostly, they have had no desire to separate the two. I believe that is because they have the notion that there has to be a mixed for a society to be successful. For a long time that actually worked. Prior to the 20th Century most societies lived almost entirely within themselves. Tribalism, as sociologists call it, defined a religious belief and that tribe in turned formed a government for itself. The people were monolithic, that is, all of one kind. Until the 20th Century it was not at all unusual for a person to never travel more than 20 miles from where he was born. That meant these societies were so homogenous that singular beliefs usually worked.
Still, certain groups of people decided even before the 20th Century that their take was the proper one and anyone not so defined was a “heathen.” For Americans, a great example of this was the European view of the Native American cultures. Even those Native Americans were mono-theistic, since the did not refer to “God,” and did not understand the European concept, it was clear to those European that the Native Americans were obviously heathens. Many organized religion set out to bring Christianity to a group that neither wanted nor needed Christianity. They were mono-theistic and it was Christian ignorance that brought on the problems. Christians had a long history of such foolishness. The Inquisitions of the 15th Century and before that the crusades to the middle east to ostensibly recover the Holy Grail. I say ostensibly because the true reason was the European belief that old Christian churches were somehow being desecrated by the Moslems. Just a little bit of education by the Christians about the Moslem religion would have shown them that nothing could have been further from the truth. Even so, I doubt that would have stopped them. Ignorance and passion have a way of getting together in mankind to bring death and destruction to anyone who has the temerity to believe something different.
I have serious problems with the way the Moslem religion is practiced in the Middle East. Even in today’s world they are still little more than second class citizens in their own societies. In Saudi Arabia they cannot drive a car. Why? I have not a clue. In many countries in the Middle East, a woman found guilty, or even suspected, of infidelity to her husband is subject to stoning and death. Most such countries also require her to wear a burka, to one extent or another. Men, on the other hand, are not hindered by any such restrictions. Even the adulterous husband does not fear for his life.
But I can allow for that a whole lot more than some of the practices that are going on right here in America. These days in America there is more religious intolerance than I think we have had at any time in our history. And I am a US historian by degree so I can say that with some conviction. The native Americans of Massachusetts had a word for religious tolerance that bears remembering, “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg,” which means, you fish on your side, I fish on my side, and no one fishes in the middle. They were all about peaceful co-existence.
Conservative politicians in America have taken God hostage and are holding him over the heads of Americans. They tell us how our morals need to be shaped. They do this via their own religious background. They are openly contemptuous of anyone who dares believe anything different as well. They are smart enough to live the name God out of their discussions, but if you could nail one of them down on the origins of their belief, which I doubt you could, they would have to admit that it is directly tied to their God. One of the great debates in America today is over gay marriage. Those against it say it is somehow ruining the institution of marriage. Really? How is that a country that has literally hundreds of definitions for religion can only have one with regard to marriage? I find that rather peculiar, and rather disingenuous of anyone to make such a claim. For centuries in this country the acceptance of marriage free from all religious entanglements has been understood as an absolute right. If two people desire only a judge or justice of the peace to declare them legally married does that not separate marriage from all religious views? The corruption comes when people insist that when the marriage is between same-sex individuals somehow God has to be magically introduced into the equation. That is some of the worst logic I have ever heard and yet, it is the conservative Christians of this country who had taken God and force-fed it upon our entire society. They tell us that their version of God and marriage are the correct one and God help anyone who differs with that version.
I have many friends who have very conservative Christian views of the world. I am happy for them. Some I even admire in the way they practice their religion. I think they know better than to tell me what is moral and what is not. They simply are not interested in hearing my lash out at them, and they know they will. But Americans have become extremely lazy about the separation of church and state. Instead of finding abhorrent anyone trying to force via legislation morality upon them, they allow politicians, PACs, and religious groups to get away with exactly that. They are allowing those groups ownership of God, and in doing so, allowing for a particular take on God to be foisted upon all Americans. It is time for that to stop! In fact, it is long overdue. The death of this country is very likely to come from religious zealots who have little tolerance for opposing views. They are still living in 16th societies that no long exist.
Americans gasp when they hear about the religious intolerance and excesses of the Middle East. But Americans need to take a second look at themselves. Are we not doing the same sorts of things?