Nel's New Day

April 8, 2012

Freedom from Religion on Easter

Since the Republican conservatives have taken over the word “Christian,” even accusing President Obama of not being the “right kind” of Christian, the word has become increasingly loaded. Today is Easter, one of the two days that many Christians show up in their place of worship. The question is how they define themselves.

I live in the area of the Northwest near the city made famous by Portlandia. There are many things to appreciate about my adopted state, but last week a sign on a Portland church added one reason. “God Prefers Kind Atheists over Hateful Christians” claims the sign outside the Rose City United Methodist Church affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, dedicated to including people of all sexual identities.

Pastor Tom Tate reports that positive comments about the sign have outnumbered the negative ones about 30-40 to one in an amazing reaction from people across the country. Even Glenn Beck’s poll on his conservative website, The Blaze,  shows a positive attitude toward the message with more than 69 percent of the respondents agreeing with Tate’s statement compared to the 22 percent who disagree.

This response is encouraging when we consider how many people want to deny that the Constitution ensures separation of church of state. The most frightening of the populace are those who believe that the First Amendment states that the U.S. government cannot control religion but religion can control government. This belief has resulted in a growing loss of rights because elected officials follow the pieces of the Bible that appeal to them, and they have done this since the Puritans came to the country wanting the opportunity to practice their religion. The first thing they did upon arrival was to block anyone else’s beliefs.

A classic example of religious bigotry is when Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, was banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. His greatest sin was the belief in separation of church and state, a sin so severe that he was forced to flee his home alone and on foot in the middle of a winter’s blizzard. After help from the Native Americans, Williams settled Providence (RI). Because the town’s compact said nothing about God, Massachusetts claimed jurisdiction over Rhode Island and seized the town of Warwick by force of arms after its soldiers marched through Providence.

In his negotiations with England to save Rhode Island, Williams pointed out the hypocrisy of the people in Massachusetts, that they had left England to escape having to conform and then fought to suppress anyone who disagreed. According to Williams, mixing church and state corrupts the church, that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics. After years of negotiation, the English Parliament granted Williams a charter to Rhode Island that authorized a democracy, a civil government unhampered by religion.

After the Revolutionary War, our country continued its religious bigotry. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, was killed by a mob who considered him to be the devil. People in many parts of the country today still think of the Mormon Church as a cult. New York Gov. Even Rick Santorum insinuated that Mormonism was a cult in a 2007 speech.

Al Smith was accused of taking orders from the Pope instead of following his oath of office if he were elected to president in 1928 and lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover.

Another Catholic, Rick Santorum, plays the evangelical card in pushing his religious beliefs whenever he speaks. Yet over one-third of evangelicals don’t know that he is Catholic. Even 42 percent of Catholics don’t know Santorum’s religion. Perhaps that’s why he keeps losing in the polls—plus only 10 percent of likely voters are evangelicals. They just make a lot more noise than the rest of us, trying to create a theocracy—a return to Puritan New England.

Despite the attempts to force religious belief on the people of the United States, the number of non-religious people has doubled during the past quarter century while the people with a strong belief in religion has dropped by 25 percent. In her surveys of young adults, Monica R. Miller, a post-graduate fellow at Lewis & Clark, has found a pushback against traditional language. “’Religion’ is bound by institutional context. For youth, religion is only done in institutions of faith, and for them, that’s a problem.”

The young people may be on the right track. Atheists have lower divorce rates than those who claim a religion. The least religious countries (such as the Scandinavian countries) often have the lowest levels of crime and corruption, the best educational systems, the strongest economies, free healthcare for all, and other indicators of concern for the common good.

Today, on Easter, may we find a resurgence in the hope that people in this country will be freed of religious tyranny, the dogma that is creating laws across the country. And may the evangelicals do some research on how this country was founded, both freedom of and freedom from religion for all.

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