Saturday, April 11, 2009

Not just because…

…it'll make Blue Gal happy (though that's reason enough), or because it'll make "Thomas Jefferson, Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus his own self" proud of me. Nope, I'm joining this year's Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm because every little blow for freedom helps and freedom, as always, needs all the help it can get.

Make no mistake, my opposition to theocracy has nothing to do with hostility toward religion. I am a religious person, observant in my way of the Reform Judaism to which I converted some 36 years ago, and part of the genuinely ecumenical fellowship that is Freemasonry.

No, my opposition to theocracy has everything to do with my love for Constitution of the United States of America. Opposition to theocracy is, in fact, a fundamental responsibility of American citizenship. That's why religious fundamentalism of any stripe is a disqualifying characteristic for those who would claim the mantle of patriotism. That's right, not matter how high you wave the flag or how aggressively you emphasize the words "under God" during the pledge, you can't be a fundie and a patriot.

Like the "In God We Trust" god, the "under God" god is specifically and deliberately undefined. That's because the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment prohibits the government of the United States from providing a definition. This country was founded by people with many definitions of god, people and descendents of people who had fled nations with an official definition different than their own. It wasn't by accident that the prohibition against a state religion was the first among the guarantees of individual liberty the framers appended to the Constitution, but even before that they had enacted a prohibition against a religious test for public office. Religious liberty wasn't an afterthought for our founders. They wove it into the body of the Constitution from the beginning, and emphasized it by amendment before submitting it for ratification.

I mentioned Freemasonry, and I take some pride in pointing to the influence of Masons among the founders as the basis for this emphasis on religious liberty. While Masons, upon initiation, are required to make a profession of faith in "God," it is a landmark of the craft that the attributes of "God" are never discussed, other than reference to the existence of a Grand Architect, let alone defined. A "volume of sacred law" is a required feature of a Masonic altar, but I have sat in lodges where the volume in question has variously been the Christian Bible, the Tanakh, the Bagavad Ghita, the Koran and the Diamond Sutra, alone and in various combinations. Any one will do for everyone in lodge. The framers took this a step further, barring the requirement of a profession of faith as a qualification for office. A citizen could be fully a citizen, able to hold any, even the highest, office while practicing any religion or no religion at all.

The "Christian nation" crowd doesn't get that, but neither do the proponents of Sharia law, or the rabbinic enforcers of the Jewish state who make Israel the only country in the world in which I am not a Jew. Of course, there's no serious effort to impose Sharia law on the U.S., or to give a panel of rabbis the power to decide on an individuals fitness for citizenship. There has been, though, a concerted effort, extending over decades, by Christian fundamentalists to present theirs as, if not the official then at least the preferred American faith. They have campaigned to put their theology in our classrooms, courtrooms and bedrooms. Nothing could be more un-, no, anti-American.

When most Americans think of theocracy, they may have trouble coming up with examples beyond the Vatican, but the fact is that many - most, perhaps - countries have state religions that hold various levels of influence in the conduct of government. Regardless of the degree of that influence, though, as soon as a government gives one faith the distinction of being, in the eyes of the state, the "true faith," that government is, to some degree, a theocracy.

The United States is, by design, a theocracy in no way whatsoever. That design, though, that Constitution, our liberties, have been under constant attack from the beginning, and our Constitution and liberties can only be preserved by constant vigilance and ongoing education. Blog Against Theocracy is a part of the process and I'm proud to be a part of it.

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