November 15, 2012 by bellabettina79
“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”
-James Madison, 1787
Before I proceed with today’s topic, I must offer the following disclaimer: I am a Christian. Protestant, to be exact. Nothing pleases me more than sharing how I came to know Jesus and the relief I feel in His unconditional love. In a world filled with much pain, suffering, and disappointment, I hold belief in my heart that there is an afterlife waiting for me that will make all of these scars worth the battle.
That, however, is just my belief. While I enjoy sharing my story, I do not hold expectations that everyone I talk to will automatically buy into what I believe. Nor can I quite explain exactly why it is I believe in Jesus, but I have peace in my heart with what I have come to accept.
Despite my faith, I do not agree with all things practiced in, or declared by, mainstream churches. I take issue with many things that happen when religion is practiced in a strictly calculated fashion – I have seen families destroyed, marriages broken, children abused, and entire groups of people shunned, due to the inability for some to understand that their personal beliefs (and the moral judgments therein) should not be forced upon non-believers as absolute truth. The most telling example of this was when I dated a man whose mother would not even speak one word to me because I wasn’t Catholic. If I tried to talk to her, she turned away and pretended I didn’t exist. Heck, I have made some serious blunders in my past, but that doesn’t make me a heathen, does it?
When religion takes precedence over common courtesy, I feel the human race has a big problem.
Not to mention the historic corruption connected with organized religions when grandiose power is achieved. In the 16th Century, Martin Luther declared after years of self-torture, fervent prayer, and immense feelings of guilt that the Church, as an establishment, had severely corrupted the message of Christ and had used religion as a means of psychological anguish upon generations of followers. Thus began the Enlightenment and the formation of the Protestant faith. Please do not misunderstand, this is not a bashing on Catholicism alone. Many denominations of Protestants have seen some very disturbing times as well. (Just ask my parents about their experiences and you may discover why it is we never went to church when I was young.)
There seems to be a cyclical nature of the displeasure with organized religion, and in my opinion we have another kind of Enlightenment taking place in my generation. Grassroots efforts to steer the school of thought away from “religion” and toward “a relationship with God” have taken a strong hold in many pockets of America. This line of thinking opens the door to a new wave of Christianity, where one focuses more on one’s own life journey and decisionmaking, and less on judgment toward all in society whose decisions fall outside the strict teachings in Scripture. I can understand how this could be difficult for older generations to be comfortable with, but here is why this has happened: I truly believe that my journey with God is something in which I play a very active part, and I am not comfortable with a clergyman offering anything other than guidance to me when I have questions. Another human being trying to dictate every moment of my life (what I pray about, how often I pray, what decisions I make with my money or time, what I read or watch, how I feel about homosexuality, or whether I have tattoos on my body) directly conflicts with what I feel is the most important part of Scripture – God does not put boundaries on His love; let us leave the judgment to Him, not Man.
Notwithstanding Religion vs. Relationship, the necessity for a “Separation of Church and State” some of the Founding Fathers warned about is still a divisive issue which remains in the forefront of disagreements on government policy. My opening quote from James Madison is still very relevant today. From abortion to taxes, many are asking for policymakers to adhere to a strict moral code, biblical in nature, because they say that is the “best” way to govern. But if we are already complaining about how much power government has, how in the hell do we trust that a government dictated by religion would suddenly become the answer to our problems?
Furthermore…which religion would we choose? If anyone wants a quick way to start another civil war, just declare us a Mormon nation and watch the blood bath ensue.
What I find troubling is the failure of some to recognize that not all citizens of this country are religious, nor will they ever be. While I would really love to see everyone subscribe to the same moral code of doing well toward one another and loving the sinful as much as the not-so-sinful, the expectation that this moral code in our laws be based on Scripture is quite dangerous. How is it not equal to the very behavior this country revolted against in 1776? While our forefathers noted it is best when our country is comprised of moral people, they seemed to understand that morals are not held solely by the religious.
I came to realize long ago that bringing people to understand and agree with the faith I believe in (no matter what denomination I feel is true) takes time, thought, prayer, and understanding. Most of all, however, the process involves my acceptance that there is only so much I can do to bring someone to Christ…the rest is up to them. Forcing someone to accept faith in God will make someone a believer about as much as blowing up abortion clinics will turn someone pro-life. Should they choose not to believe, then I accept that their journey is different from mine. In no way would that mean we cannot live harmoniously and respectful of one another.
Lead by example, love with an open heart, and maybe curiosity will be what opens the door to another conversation.
I think Ron Paul said it best in his farewell speech to Congress when he said “The number one responsibility for each of us is to change ourselves with hope that others will follow.”