“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” by spoken-word artist Jefferson Bethke has received more than 10.2 million YouTube views as of Saturday night since it was posted just four days ago, eliciting more than 100,000 YouTube comments and plenty of debate elsewhere on the Internet.
From his YouTube page we read: “In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it‘s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!”
The conservatives and neoconservatives are rushing to establish a connection between “God and Country”. While there have always been some who tried to do this, there is a more intense desire, it seems, to “prove” that this country was based on Christian principles, in spite of the statement of John Adams that: “As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion–as it has itself no character of enmity against the law, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen…”
There is yet the argument that somehow this government is directly founded on Christian principles. Madison, however, saw that in Christianity or in any religion, trying to govern by the “truth of God” was near impossible. As he wrote in “The Federalist”:
“When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated”.
The problem lay in translation and interpretation, as Jefferson commented in a letter to a friend:
“Differences in opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of censor morum over each other”.
It is not that the founders especially believed in Christianity, or in any other religion, as a direct authority for government, but that they saw religion as an agent by which power could be equally divided in the name of conscience. This need to maintain a “balance of power” among factions in government became recognized as the “Madisonian problem” as Madison agonized over in “Federalist #10”:
“The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states: a religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it, must secure the national councils against any danger from that source: a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project”.
We can conclude that Madison certainly never intended for any religion to represent the elimination of property rights. In fact, we can see from both Madison and Jefferson that both men intended that no “national council” could ever seek to overturn the property rights of people in the several states.
The “separation of church and state” which many claim is represented in the First Amendment, designed, according to Madison’s statement, to maintain property rights and discourage national power to override those rights. Both Madison and Jefferson were less involved with the ‘truth” of religion that with its ability to confound and separate people to the point they could not create “conflagrations” of power by using “paper money, abolition of debts, and for an equal division of property”, all of which we seem to have developed a taste for in recent times, not to mention the outright use of “paper money” with no Constitutional authorization.
The founders understood quite well that no person, especially themselves, had the knowledge or authority to speak for God, but they also intended that the government could, in no fashion, interfere with the free exercise of religion, not because they wished the government to be subject to God, but because they knew that no man could ever prove himself to be a representative of God.
As Madison wrote in the famous “Memorial And Remonstrance”:
“The religion then, of every man, must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate”.
While men may be subject to God, the state could never, in any sense, speak for God. None of the statements above show that the founders, in any way, intended for the state to claim power over any person’s conscience. They understood quite clearly that no belief in God could ever be reduced to state-endorsed rules.
While the right to worship God was permitted, it was intended as a counter-measure to the power of the state, but never to be subject to controls other than those chosen by the people themselves as individuals. More than the state, and less than the God in which they believed. Mankind, in the eyes of the founders, consisted of more than rules and laws. Mankind was made in the image of something which he could not define, but had the right to seek and desire.
I don’t think about my childhood much. It’s not that it was particularly awful or that I suffered irreparable damage it’s just that it feels unimportant. Almost as if it happened to another person or it was a movie I saw once but can’t quite remember the details. It somehow does not connect to me anymore, does not inhabit my soul the way childhood does in others.
But I do reflect now and then, dredging up distant memories like faded photographs blurred and distorted with time and age but still recognizable if you look closely enough. If you squint just right, adjust the light the image will begin to make sense and you will find yourself saying, “Ah, yes, I remember now. I had forgotten.”
Upon recent reflection into the question of spirituality and what that means to me I found myself looking at some of those distant memories. I can see myself as a young girl, hair brushed and held securely with a barrette, my nicest dress ironed and immaculate, my white socks and patent leather shoes, everything in its proper place nothing allowed to be out of order. I was sitting in a hard metal folding chair with my notebook and bible waiting for our weekly pilgrimage to “God’s House” to get underway. Two hours of religious instruction in “the way” about to begin. The ritual of prayer, hymns, and dutiful note taking that was a part of my weekly duties as a good daughter. This weekly preparation to save my soul from the sinful and dangerous environment in which I lived known to me as “the world” as if it was a separate state or distant and foreign land was somehow going to keep me safe from the devil “having his way with me” as my mother said making it sound so salacious and almost sexually exciting to a newly hormonal young lady.
I was a good student. I accepted this teaching because it was expected and it was all there was. One way~one God. However it never moved me, never swept me up into a feeling of grace, never inspired or delivered me from heartache. I was told the answers before I was ever allowed to ask the questions. In fact even the questions were picked for me and those that didn’t fit into the churches dogma were quickly discarded forbidden to further discussion. I did what I did, believed what I believed out of fear. Fear of punishment, fear of abandonment, and fear of not pleasing this God that was a jealous and demanding God somehow displeased with the human nature he supposedly created in his infinite and infallible wisdom. Forever paying the price for the sin of the first man and woman, a debt that Jesus paid but somehow I still carried on my account. The sin of individual choice, thought, and desire. It didn’t add up (perhaps why I have always hated mathematics) but I went with it all out of fear.
Until in my seventeenth year of life having been freed from the church going experience since the age of thirteen when I left my mother and moved in with my father I stumbled on a book in the library about the history of witches and paganism. Being the bad ex-Christian I was at the time I stole this book, which later I lost never to be recovered–my first lesson in karma. For the first time in my life the words I read caused a physical and emotional response that had no trace of fear. There was only a feeling of peace as if lost in a foreign land I had suddenly stumbled on a map I could read and understand. There was in fact a spiritual world that seemed to fit me. Although I liked the idea of this particular spiritual path I didn’t start to seek any real training or learning until my mid twenties. I found myself surrounded by other young people who were drawn to Wicca and paganism as I was, but I felt out of place. These young people dressed in costume flirted with witchcraft but didn’t take it seriously. They were like children playing dress up, reveling in shocking and disturbing the status quo with their outlandish and heathen behavior. They were emotionally unstable, personally unreliable, and some even dangerously intrigued by the idea of wielding magic to gain power over others, involved in practices I found to be morally questionable. I walked away from these people and their playacting disillusioned and disgusted. If this was Wicca I wanted no part of it.
Don’t get me wrong I still considered myself a Pagan. I wouldn’t be running back into the arms of Christianity any time soon, but finding no community in which to grow, learn, and practice with that I could trust or even consider real I simply stuck to the central guidelines and forgot about pursuing any deeper commitment to the craft. I rarely performed any type of ritual, I did not continue my studies, and I avoided most so called witches like the plague being completely disinterested in any drama or Hollywood type practices. Most of the people I came into contact with became interested in magic because of a movie they’d seen expecting to find a magical outlet that would gift them with some sort of power they could wield over others. Hogwash. There is no power to be had over another only the power to enrich and expand oneself. Those who seek to control, influence, or even “help” others without their consent are in my mind very dangerous and misguided individuals.
For the next ten plus years I existed in spiritual limbo. I battled (mostly unsuccessfully) my chronic depression, wore my anger and cynicism like a suit of armor, used my humor and indifference as my weapons of choice, and generally just drifted through my life without really ever showing up to the event. I was deeply sad as if in a state of constant mourning. I felt completely disconnected from others and myself. In the distance beyond the fog and shadows in my brain I heard a faint call. So faint I decided it must surely be my imagination.
Imagine my surprise when the call began to get stronger, louder, and more insistent. It was the same voice that spoke to me all those years ago at the tender age of seventeen. The same invitation to leave my state of spiritual limbo and show up to life alive, in color, and present. An invitation to come home only this time my Goddess sent me true guides in the shape of friends. And so now approaching my fortieth year on this earth I resume a journey long ago abandoned, I exchange my armor of anger and cynicism for a warm cloak big enough to share with fellow travelers. I keep my humor but turn in my indifference and select instead an open heart in which to house my many souvenirs, and set out to join the dance of life with childlike abandon and wonder, trusting that this time faith will sustain and inspire me instead of chain and punish me. And I know I am truly blessed to have this time to continue my journey.
The ten commandments are supposedly the foundation of Christianity and the other Abrahamic faiths. The reality — not so much. Especially when it comes to manufacturing support from famous people of the past who are no longer around to defend themselves.
The anti-religious writings and comments of our esteemed founding fathers and subsequent presidents, etc. have always been a thorn in the side of religionists. So, if actual history wasn’t on their side, some of them have gone so far as to create fictions out of whole cloth. As in many other moral issue matters, some seem to think that breaking those venerable commandments is perfectly alright if they conclude that the cause is “just.” “Just” meaning the promotion of Christianity or whatever other Abrahamic approach happens to be involved.
I have been angrily denounced many times when I have pointed out that this country wasn’t founded by staunch Christians. Christians desperately search for anything to back up their assertion that this is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles and doctrine. Or, as one former associate who has turned to Judaism likes to put it, “judeo-christian,” with emphasis on “judeo.”
My wife had a university professor who was Jewish. He constantly tried to tie anything consequential that happened in history to Jews and Israel. We had a similar mindset in the old WCG. Isn’t chauvinism amazing? More of the “mine doesn’t stink” syndrome.
The most vocal, outstanding and readily available of these founding fathers is Thomas Paine. His great book, Age of Reason, is available on this site. The comments of Jefferson, Washington, etc. are more scattered and harder to ferret out. Don’t expect your pastor to point them out. Nor anyone else with a religious ax to grind.
I wish someone younger with the research time and capability would take up the cause of gathering up what our departed founding fathers really did write and say on the subject and get it out in an organized, documented volume, or volumes. If some of that work has been done and is readily available, please comment on the sources you know about. I am aware of many and have referred to them in other posts, but the blogosphere is loaded with sites I’m constantly discovering.
I especially value online sources. Books are expensive and take up a lot of space. Still, I’ll be happy to pay for documented facts. I’m not giving one cent for Barton’s scam.