When Jefferson and Madison wrote into the law of Virginia (in 1777) freedom of as well as freedom from organized religion, they had a good many interesting and timely things to say. Not the least of them, included the admonitions (italics are mine)
that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time
that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own
And, when you boil down the somewhat archaic (yet wonderfully simple) language of those times, they were essentially saying that, while God himself may be infallible, religion is a construct of fallible men. Some of those men may be idiots, or simply wrong (or both). Nearly all have artfully contrived to explain God’s opinion being the same as their own. Jefferson and Madison tie the knot of separation between ‘civil government’ and ‘magisterial opinion’ rather neatly, insisting that one religion gaining a foothold would deny all others.
Nicely done indeed, but we have allowed ourselves to be taken from the spirit of those sentiments and ushered instead through the courts of law. It’s not an argument under law. It’s my right to believe or not believe in a God that suits you, with Jefferson’s disclaimer
“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Yet should we choose to display the ‘ten commandments’ in a public building or depict Jesus in the manger on our village green at Christmas, we have become contenders—each side of this non-issue inflamed to apoplexy. How came we here? By what route and who really cares in their heart of hearts? When I see a menorah during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, I am not offended, nor would I be if it were a matter of civic display. When did we all get so sensitive?
Or does our artificially inflamed sensitivity serve the purpose of those who would control and channel our access to God in their own interests? Righteous indignation is the lever that, when pulled, leads to mob hysteria. To mobilize is to organize people and resources for action. The mobilizers control the mobilized.
God has not taken a position on birth-control, abortion or stem-cell research and yet these have become hot-button issues from the pulpit of one religion after another. Individual instances of personal liberty argued from God’s point of view and, again, quoting Jefferson (again, my italics)
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
Rightful liberty of an individual to avail themselves of birth control, as long as they do not insist others do likewise. To decide to abort or not to abort, as long as they make no demands upon others. To enter the arena of scientific stem-cell study, if they so choose.
The right to live in harmony with personal religious conviction is an individual right, best practiced (and perhaps only possible) free of religious control. One right cannot hope to survive without the other. To believe otherwise is to accept the tyrant’s will.
It’s inconceivable to me that some believe and preach that members of all religions but Catholic are prevented from heaven. Equally inconceivable that a young woman who chooses to abort a pregnancy is somehow held liable before God. Impossible to hold in the mind the concept that all believers but Muslim are infidels in the eyes of an Islamic God.
These are the pretenses of men.
More believers have been killed in the service of misguided religions than all the despotic machinations of dictators and kings. No man has ever suffered death in the service of God, for God requires no such service. Mullahs and priests, ministers and Popes, TV evangelicals and radicals of all faiths are the ones who call believers to arms. This, in man’s everlasting shaping of a God in his own particular image. Religion is back again to haunt and maim and kill, its black shadow sweeping across the world to argue there are twenty gods or no God.
Back off a bit, give me some breathing and agreeing room before you condemn my position, you’re breaking my leg.