Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

The Governor of Arizona vetoed a bill yesterday that had a lot of people up in arms.  Did you hear what the bill was about?  I saw a lot of activity on social media with posts about discrimination and race and homosexuality.  It seemed to me the bill must be about letting people decide to discriminate against minorities if they wanted.  I assumed it must mention specific issues abridging a gay person’s rights.  Who would support that?  Stupid.  This morning I finally got around to reading the bill.  You know it is amazingly simple to get informed in our day and age.  The bill I found is only two pages long.  You can read it yourself in less than three minutes.  Even with the legalese it isn’t hard to get through it.  I was surprised at what I found.  This bill isn’t about discriminating against gay people, its about protecting people’s rights to act according to their religious beliefs.  That is what it says.  The government is not allowed to make anyone violate their conscience. It is basically nothing more than a repetition of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Personally I am very happy to have the First Amendment guaranteeing me that no one can make my wife wear a burqa or tell me I can’t read the Torah.  If you’ve looked around you know that religions ask people to believe and to do lots of things.  What to wear, what to read, what to say, when to say it, who to associate with, who you can marry…tons of stuff.  Most of it leaves somebody shaking their head one way or another.  There is no sensitive way to say this, so here it is:  freedom of religion means the freedom to act stupidly.

Now if it happens to be YOUR religion, it is the freedom to act piously or correctly or whatever, but if its someone else’s religion, that’s a different story.  We all know this or feel this, but few of us can be real enough to say it out loud.  And some religions take their particular set of beliefs and practices so seriously that venturing to criticize or laugh at state_oppression_1them will get your name on a religious hit list.  Religion is about pleasing God, improving the world and/or getting to heaven.  If you believe in God, there aren’t many things that could be more important than your religion.  Forcing someone to give up their religion’s belief structure is stealing their core identity.  It is intolerant.  It is evil.  No matter how stupid it may seem to you.

The dirty little secret, though, is that only religious people try to force their religion upon others.  The religious are both the oppressors and the oppressed.  It is the nature of religion to enslave, not to free.  If you really believe you have THE set of beliefs and behaviors that please God and that God can only be pleased by people believing and acting upon these things, you cannot help but look down upon those who don’t.  You have to relegate them to second class citizenship.  You have to oppress them either implicitly or explicitly.  You have to discriminate against them.  They are the people messing up the world by acting in ways that displease God.  They are the ones who bring judgment on all of us.

Great, you say – I was looking for someone to finally agree with me that religion is the problem so we can all agree to get rid of it.  But it isn’t so easy as that.  The absence of God or gods does not mean the absence of religion.  If you have what you think are THE set of beliefs and behaviors that will make the world a better place if everyone would just adopt them, you have the same issues as the religious people.  You don’t have a God you have a Good that you worship and serve.  You are in fact, a religious person without a religion.  And you look down upon those who don’t hold your beliefs.  You are intolerant of them and you oppress them in the name of your Good.  Your non-religious religion is just as enslaving as any other.  The fact is there is no such thing as religious freedom.

I will make a claim here that will make many of you scoff, but it is true.  The Christian gospel is not religion.  The Christian gospel is the opposite of religion.  I am not saying Christians are not guilty of religious abuses.  I am not saying Christians don’t do stupid things in the name of Christianity.  I am saying that the Bible does not teach religion.  The Bible is not the story of what we must do to please God or to get to heaven or to make the world into a great place.  The Bible tells the story of what God has done to help us, to fix what is broken, to get us to heaven and to make the world a better place.  The Christian gospel is not about bad people gradually becoming better people from the outside in by their beliefs and behaviors; it is the story of God changing people from the inside out when they start believing what he has done and that he is for them.  People who rightly believe the gospel have no business looking upon others as second class citizens because they are not keeping the right rules and holding the right beliefs.  Christians know that they are not making the world or themselves better because they keep the rules or believe the right things. They know it is a miracle of grace that they have come to believe the gospel.  They can’t give themselves any credit for it.  God is the one making everything better by what he does.  Christians don’t expect to be better people than their neighbors and have no glory in it if they are.  A Christian can only claim to be loved by God for no good reason, and because they know that the last thing love can be is coercive, they know better than to try forcing the gospel into anyone’s life.  It can’t be done.  There is no such thing as religious freedom, but there is freedom from religion.  The gospel is freedom from religion.  It is freedom to love people who really disagree with us.  It is freedom to know that God is the one who will make everything right in its time and in his way.

What to Do When Your Kids Start to Sound Like Liberals (or Conservatives)

Is reading your kid’s Facebook or Twitter feed making you wonder if you went seriously wrong somewhere along the way?  Are they spouting Fox news talking points?  Do they sound like they work for the DNC?  I remember being home on leave from the Navy and telling my mom and dad about a book I was reading which had a very particular political slant.  As I explained it and how I thought it made sense I saw them making eye contact with each other.  It was a very subtle thing; gone in an instant.  Their expressions toward me never changed from interested listeners, but they offered no opinions about the politics liberal-conservativeI was trying out on them.  I remember that look.  It made me curious but not to find out what they thought about my new ideas.  It made me curious about them.  For some reason that look said that I was missing something and it wasn’t in a book; it was in my parents.  They were people!  Do you know what I mean??  Do you remember when you finally figured out that teachers were people, not just a set of lectures and homework assignments?  It takes longer to see parents as people.  Don’t ask me why, but something in that shared look cracked open the parent suit a little.  I knew my politics didn’t agree with theirs right then, but it didn’t seem like they were going to pursue me over that.  They were willing to let me go, but they were not going there.  Interesting.  Ever see the toddler trick where they run away from you while they look over their shoulder to see if you’re going to chase them?  Best way to handle it?  Don’t chase.  Don’t get your panties in a wad.  It takes a certain kind of parent to do that.  It takes confidence that the kid isn’t going to get hurt for one, but it also takes confidence that they know your voice and you’ve got enough influence to keep them from going too far.  Parents who don’t know who they are lack the confidence to let their children run.  What I saw in my parents was the opposite.  They were not scared to let me run.  They never were.  Where did it come from, this assuredness?  I think they built it together.  They were a unit.  They believed in each other.  I also think they were confident their views of morality and politics weren’t just right because they were theirs, they were right because they were right, and sooner or later, right would assert itself.

So I had and still have a great mom and dad.  Now its my turn.  My kids have given me plenty to think about.  I hear more of their ideas because of social media.  I’m also friends with their friends so I get a taste of a lot of political opinions from younger people.  How do I (actually Tina and I) handle it when our kid’s opinions seem out of line with our values? First, and this is more important than anything else at all, if you are in your kids social network it isn’t your right to be there after a certain age.  It is a privilege.  You get to participate in their life.  Be glad.  Not everyone is invited in, and you can be invited out. Once I get that firmly in place I ask myself why a comment or post or whatever bothers me.  I think about motive.  Is my child expressing a desire for righteousness and justice?  Or is it just trolling?  Do you know what trolling is?  You may not know what it is currently, but you’ve seen it before.  A troll is that kid in your school that always went fishing to get someone stirred up.  Put a little bait in the water and see who would bite. Once they get one on the line just keep cranking it up until they’ve made someone so mad they want to fight and then walk away.  Some of our kids are trolls.  They spout liberal or conservative talking points to see if they can start a fight with anyone.  If that is your kid, well, you’ve got problems besides trying to help their politics.  Maybe just go back to basic human decency.  Trust me on this; I’ve read lots of your kid’s posts and quite a few of them are pure trolls.  Maybe engage them on the level of taking them to dinner and giving them some of the attention they so obviously crave.  If I sort through this and believe my kid is earnestly putting out their ideas because they want to share them with others and have others speak into them, I look at what they say and ask myself again; is this the pursuit of righteousness?  It may sound very different than the way I would express it, but that isn’t the reason it works in the world.

Righteousness works in the world because it is a created world.  I have a lot of confidence in this.   Maybe more than my own mom and dad.  I’m not afraid of letting my kids run because I know Righteousness not only prevails in the end, it prevails in them.  They have their own relationship with Righteousness and so instead of exchanging political ideas with my kids or trying to correct their politics, I cut my eyes at my wife and say ‘I know our kids know Jesus so why get worked up over this thing that appears to contradict him?’ Most of you Christian parents are actually pretty crazy.  You want your kids to know Jesus and to know him well, you just don’t want to let any of the things that came into your life and broke you to the point you sought Jesus and grasped him to come into your kid’s lives.  Let them run with bad ideas and/or great ideals that seem so full of hope to them.  They won’t run too far.  Jesus is the hope of the world.  He really is.  The only hope of the world.  Ultimately thats how I handle it when my child starts sounding like a liberal or a conservative; I remind myself that neither of those will save the world, only the gospel will.  That gives me urgency and peace.  Urgency to ground my kids beliefs in the gospel and to point them back to that in all their thinking.  Peace that Jesus is who I need to help my kids see, not my flawed politics.  I need to help them see God is a person.  That is more profound, interesting and life giving than anything else we could discuss.

Why Would the President Leave God Out?

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the most famous speech in American history, the Gettysburg Address, originally given by president Lincoln on November 19, 1863.  One of the ways it is being commemorated is a film project by Ken Burns.  He secured readings of the address by hundreds of people, both unknown and famous, including all five living U.S. presidents, and he is preparing a mashup (actually several mashups) of their readings.Abraham Lincoln Giving Gettysburg Address

It is a good thing to preserve and remind the country about such formative words.  Lincoln gave the speech on blood stained and battle torn ground.  In a sense, Gettysburg was the nation at that moment.  As he rose to speak the evidence of war surrounded the platform.  War.  One of the most famous quotes about war says “war is the continuation of politics by other means” (Carl von Clausewitz).  And what is politics?  The Greek word for “city” is “polis.”  It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how that leads to our word “politics” does it?  If you live in the countryside and you farm for a living, getting along with your neighbors doesn’t take up a huge amount of time or need its own vocabulary, its just called getting along with your neighbors.  But if you begin living in a city you have to have both a vocabulary and a system to get along with your neighbors because you spend a lot more time interacting with them.  Politics is how we try to get along with people we have to get along with because we inhabit the same space or share common interest or resources.  When von Clausewitz talks about war he is saying that ultimately we either have to learn how to live with our neighbors, or we have to kill them.  And killing our neighbor is a way of getting along with them.  A very permanent way.

Gettysburg-Address 2In essence, politics (and war) are forms of mediation.  We need something between us to help us get along.  What we’ve come up with are forms of government and/or forms of weaponry; Congress and cutlasses, Kings and AK-47’s.  What Lincoln looked upon at Gettysburg was not the failure of our politics, but merely one of the means by which mankind has always conducted its politics when left to our own designs.

I know this week there’s been an uproar about our current president’s reading of the Gettysburg address for the Burns project.  During his reading he left out “under God” in this phrase: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”  This is the wording chiseled in the Lincoln memorial and generally accepted as the way the 16th U.S. president delivered his speech.  I did not know it, but there is some question as to the exact wording of Lincoln’s speech as written.  What he said on the battlefield is not in doubt, but in some early drafts he moved phrases and words in and out like all writers do. He may even have stood up to make the speech that day with a draft that did not mention God.  But what is absolutely sure is that Lincoln, looking upon the result of man-mediation, invoked the presence and help of something beyond men.  He called upon God to mediate the differences between us.  gettysburg-sniper

No doubt we are in as dire need as ever for God mediation in our country.  Our politics are not working.  We are not being healed, rather we are being forced further apart day by day.  Why did Lincoln leave God out at first?  Who knows?  Why did our current president leave God out, choosing to use another rendition of the speech?  Who knows?  What will help us now is what helped the nation then, whether it happened spontaneously on the battlefield or in the revision of drafts:  we need to see clearly that man mediation is not working and it is not enough.  Don’t think so?  Think I’m “dragging religion into this” where it doesn’t belong??  Look, please.  Please look.  I’m not a culture warrior.  I’m not trying to bash someone or impugn other’s motives.  Nor am I wearing religious colored glasses (much worse than rose).  Let me lay out three points for your consideration:

1. No God = no right and wrong other than a man/society created right and wrong.  Implication = Might does equal right if I can get enough people to agree with me or if I can get mighty enough that it doesn’t matter how many people disagree with me.  This means that we have no legitimate complaint to make about anyone in power.  It is survival of the fittest and if we don’t like it we can do whatever we like to depose anyone in our way.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live next to a neighbor like that.

2. Religion is not the answer, but the problem.  Religion is essentially the politics of man applied to our relationship with God.  When mankind is in charge of mediation between heaven and earth, we end up with systems that alienate us from both.  Religion is about control.  If I perform the religious duties God must bless me, therefore if I am currently blessed it is because I am doing enough/doing it right = pride BUT if I am currently not blessed it is because I am not doing enough/doing it right = fear.  Proud people and fearful people are necessarily self-centered people and are not good neighbors.

3.  The Gospel is the only way we can ever have a “new birth of freedom” Lincoln mentioned.  The Christian gospel is the politics of heaven applied to earth.  It is God mediating between him and us.  It is God demonstrating he will go to any length to  get along with us, up to and including shedding his own blood.  Applying the gospel to ourselves first takes away both fear and pride.  How can I be fearful of a God who has the greatest weaponry imaginable yet chooses to die rather than use it on me??  But it also takes away pride because God does have to die for me because I am unable to be a good neighbor to him on my own – he has to give up all his rights in order to make me right.  If we take the gospel into our lives we really do have the new birth of freedom.  Freedom from self interest.  Freedom from putting anyone else down so that I can rise.  Even the freedom to lay my own life down for others.  Freedom to be good neighbors…the best good neighbors.

How free are you?  How much does the politics of man control you by making you afraid or proud?  We are a deeply divided people right now.  Our divisions will not be healed by looking to man-mediation in the city of the Lincoln Memorial.  There is no freedom to be had there that the next occupant of the seat of man power cannot take away.  If we look out upon the devastation as Lincoln did and see the utter fruitlessness of self mediation, could we stop asking why the president left God out, and begin to invite God into our own lives through seeing and accepting the gospel of Jesus?