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A Pagan looks at “Christian America”

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

Once again, news stories about meeting prayers and the Ten Commandments are making the rounds. Here's what a real Pagan thinks.

I don't care.*

Yep, that's right. You heard me. I don't care.

Where I'm concerned, you could worship anything you choose. Or you could choose not to worship anything at all. As long as it doesn't affect me or mine, it's really none of my concern what your beliefs are.

Yes, I've heard the "Good News." Yes, I know that some of you believe that a man you call Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that he lived, died, and was resurrected to save the world.

If your beliefs don't affect anyone except you and and as long as you don't insist that I have to abide by them, then your beliefs don't matter to me. If it gives you fulfillment and makes you a better person, then by all means more power to you.

So how do I feel about public displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings? Just fine, as long as the display also shows other sources of law. Law is not descended only from the Judeo-Christian tradition. It's amazing that I even have to mention that in a nation where one house of the national legislature is called the Senate.

What about prayer before public meetings? Personal prayers, fine, publicly led prayers are a bad idea and not just because my religion may not be included. Why should a government seek to sanctify it's decisions? If a town council has a prayer to open it's meeting and then passes a property tax increase, does that mean that protesting the tax is blasphemy? What if the tax increase was to pay for a youth center operated by the local Catholic diocese?

Celebrate your beliefs and cherish your faith. All I ask is the same. Just don't demand that my beliefs and actions are bound by yours. Live and let live.

What you believe isn't important to me. Your freedom to choose what to believe, that is vital. That is what I will defend.

Even if you think it is the wrong choice, we're obligated to let people choose for themselves. How else will they know which choices work and which do not? If we deny them the freedom to choose, we create the very tool that others will use to deny us that very same freedom. When we make the choice for them, we're telling them that we don't consider them responsible to make their own choices. Take away their choice, and we are treating them as something less than a real human.

That is the problem you see. Some people want their beliefs given the force of law. Maybe they are unsure of their own faith, I don't know. What I do know is that they want their particular belief set to have absolute moral precedence over all other possibilities, and legal power just in case the True Believers™ need to knock some "sense" into the rest of us.

Usually the justification is that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." It wasn't. It was first and last a nation founded by people, some of whom happened to be Christian.

The Constitution of the United States is a remarkable and unprecedented document. At the time, other documents establishing and defining governmental authority always used a god as the final and "Supreme Authority." But except for the date, there is no mention of Deity anywhere. In fact, the Constitution reserves the final and absolute power for the people. Despite the desperate wishes of some historical revisionists, the Declaration of Independence does not supersede the Constitution.

Why did they do it? Why did the Framers of the Constitution go out of the way NOT to acknowledge the Christian god, or indeed any god? They did it because they were among the best educated men of their time. The Framers knew their history. They knew about the English Civil War. They knew how some of the American Colonies required citizens to belong to a specific church, or at least to pay taxes to it. They knew that assumed moral certainty and governmental authority made a dangerous combination.

That doesn't mean that the Founders weren't men of faith. Most of them were, even the Deists. But they knew that faith had to be personal if it was to have any meaning at all. Otherwise religion becomes just another tyranny, forcing people to go through the motions without any reason of their own.

Matters of faith are a personal choice, they should never be public policy. Would you like me to tell you how to worship your god? Why should government have the power to dictate an individual's faith and practices?

So where does that leave us? Without an absolute moral standard revealed in a holy book or proclaimed by someone touched by the Divine, how should we decide which laws are good and which laws are bad?

We're left with a simple idea that has worked so far. If I don't want someone forcing me what to believe, it's in my best interests to make sure that no one forces you what to believe either. People can try to persuade you, but force is a big no-no.

Christians know the idea as the Golden Rule, but various Ethics of Reciprocity predate Christianity by quite a bit. Don't do it if you don't want it done to you.

Faith imposed is no faith at all. If a belief system can't compete without the threat of force, then it doesn't deserve to exist.

Update: Just in case you think I am too hard on Christians and Christianity, well it depends on the circumstance. I’ve been known to criticize pagans pretty heavily too.
*For this entry, I will leave aside the public schools, marriage, the War on Drugs, and the Faith Based Initiative, even though they all have direct bearing on this post. Those topics deserve entries of their own.

Posted: Tue - May 17, 2005 at 11:06 PM

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