Separating Real Truth From Implied Fantasy

I have been a Christian for over fifty years. During that time, I have attended two Bible Colleges, listened to thousands of sermons, listened to many hours of Christian radio, and watched hundreds of Broadcast on Christian TV. I have talked to thousands of “born-again” Christians and been personally involved with many of them as family members and close friends. The one thing they all had in common was that they justified their religious beliefs based on what they thought the Bible teaches. Often times, however, I noticed that a lot of their beliefs conflicted with many of my own, which I also assumed I had derived from the teachings of Scripture. At times, this became a source of confusion and discouragement for me. I sometimes doubted if I could ever understand the teachings of the Bible.

I did not begin to understand this troubling phenomenon until the deteriorating state of affairs in America forced me into a study of American history, politics, and our Founding Documents. I soon noticed the same thing happening in the world of politics that I had experienced in the world of Christianity; Every politician, lawyer, and court, when debating issues of public policy and law, appeal to the Constitution as the authority for their opinions and decisions. Yet, when I listened to the politician or read a court decision, I often had to wonder, “Whose Constitution are you reading”? It gradually dawned on me that I was observing two entirely different methods of reasoning used to come to the “truth”. Some base their final understanding of doctrine or law on what they believe to be the implied meaning of passages in the Bible or in the Constitution, others, on the clear meaning of the words used as defined by the dictionary and the context in which they are used.

For example, in “Roe vs. Wade”, the Supreme Court found the “implied” doctrine of a “right to privacy” in the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection” clause. That decision, based on an implied meaning, not only overturned a Texas state law outlawing abortion, it opened the door to a plethora of other laws and court decisions establishing the “right to an abortion” as “the law of the land”. The laws stemming from this newfound legal wisdom protect a woman’s right to “freedom of choice” all the way up to and including, the criminalizing of certain types of protests against abortion, or attempts to persuade a woman not to go through with a planned abortion, within a specified number of feet from the entrance to an abortion clinic.

The ongoing attacks on Christianity in America is justified by the implied doctrine of “separation of Church and State” found in the religious clause of the First Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Clearly, this is not a demand for separation, but a declaration of independence on behalf of religion from the authority of the federal government. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing any law that would make any form of religion, the official, established religion of the nation. At the same time, it prohibits Congress from making any law that would interfere with the free expression of the religious beliefs of any individual, church, place of worship, state or community. Since the first sentence of Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the sole authority for making all laws for the federal government, the same prohibitions would apply to the Courts and the Executive Branch as well.

It is natural that we form our worldview based heavily on the things taught to us by our parents, teachers, professors, mentors and other respected authority figures in our educational and professional lives. They, of course, formed their views the same way we formed ours, from those who came before them. Consequently, the lawyers, judges, preachers, and theologians of today, following the same course, often approach the Constitution and the Bible looking for implied meanings that will support their own preconceived point of view, rather than accepting the clear meaning of the passages read. As generations go by it behooves us to reexamine what we believe and discard the false doctrines we have adopted from others in the past. Considering the condition of our institutions of government, our economy and our culture, now is probably a good time to begin our quest.

The reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries rejected the false doctrines of the then current religious establishment and the ecclesiastical authority of the established state church. Returning to the source document of their religion, the Bible, as their only basis of truth, they brought about the great protestant reformation to the incalculable benefit of later generations. The Founding Fathers went through the same process in forming our government between approximately 1772 and 1787. They rejected the established theories of government and the concept of monarchs and subjects, turning instead to new concepts of liberty and citizen sovereignty. In forming their own views of government, they relied heavily on the Bible and the writings of legal and political philosophers such as John Lock, Baron de Montesquieu, and Sir William Blackstone, all of whom formed their own philosophy largely from the Bible, as had the Reformers.

America today is sorely in need of both a political reformation and a spiritual revival. In fact, without both there is little chance of preserving an America with the prosperity and liberty we have enjoyed in the past. Both reformation and revival means getting back to basics. The only hope for a worthwhile political reformation is a return to the authority of the Constitution as the final rule or law for the operation of our government. Likewise, the spiritual revival of our culture requires a return to Bible principles as our primary source for the moral values John Adams, George Washington and others among our Founders believed to be necessary for the establishment and preservation of real liberty and prosperity in the nation they were forming.

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6 responses to “Separating Real Truth From Implied Fantasy

  1. dougindeap

    Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. During his presidency, Madison vetoed two bills, neither of which would form a national religion or compel observance of any religion, on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

    The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    It is important to distinguish the constitutional principle of separation of church and state from the widely supported political doctrine going by the same name that generally calls for political dialogue to be conducted on grounds other than religion. The underlying reasons for that doctrine are many, but two primary ones are that it facilitates discussion amongst people of all beliefs by predicating discussion on grounds accessible to all and, further, it avoids, in some measure at least, putting our respective religious beliefs directly “in play” in the political arena, so we’re not put in the position of directly disputing or criticizing each other’s religious beliefs in order to address a political issue. This political doctrine, of course, is not “law” (unlike the constitutional separation of church and state, which is), but rather is a societal norm concerning how we can best conduct political dialogue in a religiously diverse society. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the doctrine is a good idea or not and whether or how it should influence us in particular circumstances.

  2. @dugindeap, Thank you for illustrating the type of reasoning I was attempting to caution against in my article. Language is the method used for transmitting thoughts or ideas. By nature it is an imperfect method, therefore it is important that its use be as precise as possible in expressing those thoughts and ideas. The slogan “separation of church and state” is an imprecise expression of the principle expressed in the First Amendment. Since most people base their understanding of the Amendment on the slogan rather than the actual words used, it is easy to extrapolate all sorts of petty and sometimes ridiculous public policy when attempting to apply the principle.

    The refusal to allow girls to wear any jewelry in public schools that has a Christian symbol attached, withholding a diploma because a boy bowed his head during the graduation ceremony in thanks to God for his education success or the Governor of Rhode Island changing the name of the Christmas Tree displayed in the Capital to “Holiday Tree” are just three examples that come to mind. There are thousands more, but space and time forbids their use. Relying on the slogan in forming our opinions rather that the words used in the Amendment itself also make it convenient to ignore the second phrase used, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

    As far as the Constitution containing no reference to God in its text, there is possibly another reason for the omission you might consider. The Constitution was written for the federal government as the fundamental rules for its operations Specifically, it prescribes the powers granted to the government and how those powers may be used. Religion is not the business of the federal government, as later emphasized by the First Amendment, therefore there is no mention of religion or God in the original text, other than the “religious test” phrase you mentioned from Article VI. Here again, the Framers seem to have inserted this clause because they did not believe that a person’s religion should be the business of the federal government.

    In the document by James Madison you refer to, two things seem obvious. First, that politicians in his day were the same as politicians today. Sometimes, they tend to ignore the restraints of the Constitution for their own political purposes. I agree with Madison’s position that paying Congressional Chaplains with taxpayer money is a violation of the First Amendment. Second, Madison seems to agree with my contention that the Amendment and the Constitution was directed at the federal government, not to individuals or local communities. While he disagrees with many of the religious policies of the states he mentions, he does not question their authority to adopt those policies as a violation of the Constitution or the First Amendment.

  3. I agree with you that the Constitution in large part, and particularly in the Bill of Rights, describes and limits the scope of the federal government’s powers–and the founders’ omission of any reference to god(s) in Constitution reflected their intent to separate only that government, and not state governments, from religion.

    The law with respect to states changed with adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and rulings by the courts that it effectively guarantees that states too must respect the rights established in the First Amendment. In deciding what rights are encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees individual rights against infringement by states, including equal protection and due process of law and the rights and privileges of citizenship, the courts have looked to the Bill of Rights, reasoning that there are found the rights we hold most fundamental, and have ruled that at least some of those, including freedom of religion and freedom from government established religion, are protected from state infringement. See, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporation_%28Bill_of_Rights%29 While the founders drafted the First Amendment to constrain the federal government, they certainly understood that later amendments, e.g., the Fourteenth, could extend that Amendment’s constraints to state governments.

    • My argument is not with the Fourteenth Amendment which says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;” My argument is that the slogan “separation of church and state” is an imprecise and misleading meaning of the First Amendment. I believe that the true meaning of the First Amendment is that religion and government are two separate and independent components of society; neither having any authority over the other. That government has no authority over religion is evidenced by the phrase, “shall make no law”. That religion has no authority over government is assumed in the fact that religion has no means of enforcing its doctrines on governments. It has no police force, no military, and no mechanism for making law that must be followed by the state. Its only means of affecting law is by moral persuasion, working through the culture which is the birthplace of all civil law. It is to the moral influence of religion that we owe the laws against murder, assault, pedophilia, domestic violence, robbery, fraud, bribery and the list goes on.

      When religion and government is mixed we invariably have oppression of religion by the government. This effect is one-sided since religion has no means for oppressing government. An example of this selective religious oppression by government is found in the case of the school girl I mentioned in my previous comment. A Christian girl cannot wear a symbol of her Christian faith at school, (a cross necklace) yet if she were Muslim instead she would be allowed to wear a headscarf or hijab as a symbol of her Muslim faith. Furthermore, the right to do so would be vigorously defended by the Courts and the ACLU under the argument of both religious freedom and freedom of speech.

      In America the de facto “established religion” is Secular Humanism, and entire government bureaucracies are set up to enforce its tenets. The EPA and HHS being the most obvious. Among secular humanists their most cherished doctrinal source is the slogan “separation of church and state” which they use to suppress the public expression of any contrary views. Perhaps you could explain to me how voluntary prayer in school, public displays of religious holiday symbols, the monument to the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court and the inscription of the official slogan of the United States, “In God we trust” on the wall behind the Chair of Speaker of the House of Representatives, etc., violates the First Amendment.

      • As the constitutional principle of separation of government and religion corresponds, in large measure, with your description of religion and government as two separate and independent components of society with no authority over each other, I’m not sure why you object to the label some use to describe that principle.

        It should not be supposed, though, that keeping government and religion separate somehow means the government endorses atheism or secular humanism over theism. There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, secular humanism, or whatever) to the detriment of others. It is one thing for the government to endorse the idea that god(s) exist or, alternatively, endorse the idea that god(s) do not exist; it is quite another for the government to take no position on the matter and respect the right of each individual to freely decide for himself.

        As for explaining how separation of church and state applies in the various contexts you listed, that is quite an undertaking in a brief blog comment. I’ll offer two thoughts. First, it is important to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

        Second, Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere–and it discusses the very questions you pose. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

  4. Thank you for a reasoned and intelligent discussion of a very important subject. Such a discussion is rare in the blogosphere. I object to the expression “separation of church and state” because it is an imprecise and misleading characterization of the meaning of the First Amendment. As such it is used by the left to suppress public expressions of Christianity. As a matter of fact, Christianity is about the only religious expression that is suppressed in the public square. It seems to me that your basic premise that the expression “separation of church and state” forces the state to be neutral on matters of religion is an impossibility.

    You say in your comment “There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, secular humanism, or whatever) to the detriment of others.” As attractive as that idea may be, neutrality is not a position that government is able to take in matters of religion. The religious impulse is an integral part of human nature. Whenever a particular expression of that impulse is suppressed or prohibited another one springs up to take its place.

    Throughout recorded history, every nation or culture on the face of the earth has acknowledged the existence of God and promoted His worship, even though His identity and attributes may remain unknown. In the old European Monarchies, rulers attempted to channel this impulse to their own advantage through the doctrine of , “Divine right of Kings”. Rulers in other nations attempted to capitalize on this impulse by the Deification of the Emperor— Japan, China and some of the Roman Emperors, for example. Under godless communism, the state is substituted as the object of worship. When Christianity was effectively banished from the public arena by the Supreme Court in a series of 1960s decisions, secular humanism rushed in to fill the vacuum.

    In the latter part of your comment you get a little confusing, at least to me. You say, “the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately”. The reality is that in modern America, there are only three places where a Christian is allowed to “exercise and express his or her religious views” publicly— in the privacy of his own home, among friends, or in a place of worship. Doing so any place else is likely to bring down official sanctions on his or her head. You also say that when school teachers and others in positions of authority are acting in their official capacity, “they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government.” Now, that is an idea I can go along with, since it is at the core of my argument. Let’s review again the exact wording of the First Amendment. “Congress [government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” The dictionary definition of “law” is, “a rule of conduct or procedure recognized by a community as binding or enforceable by authority”. Ooops!

    A government official cannot legally enforce any rule or prohibit any behavior other than in accordance with some law. When local officials, school teachers or their superiors, or state and federal officials establish rules prohibiting praying in school or at school events, placing religious symbols in public places to commemorate religious holidays, removing references to Christianity from songbooks, etc.,etc., they are in effect making law prohibiting the free exercise of religion in defiance of the First Amendment.