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Freedom from Religion?

January 26, 2007

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
-US Constitution – 1st Amendment

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., is an educational group working for the separation of state and church. Its purposes . . . are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church . . .”
-Freedom From Religion Foundation – What is the Foundation’s Purpose?

Religion:
1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. The body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.

“Everyone has faith.”
-Bill Jack

It’s quite simple really – everyone has faith. According to Webster, faith is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.” Atheism has a belief for all three of the requirements: cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. The Atheist believes that the universe came about through a series of chaotic random events with no plan or meaning – man is just random chance. The Atheist also believes that man is basically good – we all have our own idea of what is “right” and “wrong” so no one is inherently “bad.” Finally, the Atheist also believes that there is no purpose in life – man is just chance and he has nothing to accomplish. Atheism possesses all three requirements for a “religion” – so why are Atheists and Agnostics rallying the nation to fight for “freedom from religion” when Atheism is a religion?

The answer is quite simple. Atheists don’t like Christians. Atheists don’t believe in God – nor do the want to believe in God. When Polytheistic faiths or other Theistic faiths challenge the Atheistic faith in no god, Atheists don’t seem to be very challenged. It is only when Christians stand for what they believe in that Atheists feel threatened. Why is that? We may never know. But we do know that there are many Atheistic organizations fighting for the so-called constitutional right of “freedom from religion.”

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., is an educational group working for the separation of state and church. Its purposes … are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism.”
-Freedom From Religion Foundation – What is the Foundation’s Purpose?

What is “the constitutional principle of separation of state and church?” Where is that in the constitution? It isn’t. The phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the constitution. Nor is religion directly mentioned anywhere in the Constitution other than the First Amendment. The First Amendment tells us “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The first amendment does not separate church and state – rather, it tells us that the United States Government will not establish an official religion nor prohibit the citizens of the United States from practicing religion. So how can there be any campaign for “freedom from religion?”

Not a single organization nor individual is capable of identifying the constitutional right of “separation of church and state” because it isn’t there. Atheists blind themselves to any other point of view, and only allow their view to be used. They believe themselves to be right in absolutely everything. They will not consider that there could be any other possible truth – they are right, absolutely. (Even though there are no absolutes according to Atheism) Since they are absolutely right, only their view is right. Thus all other beliefs are wrong and cannot be taught because it infringes on their belief system.

The only “good” argument for “separation of church and state” comes from the man who coined the phrase – Thomas Jefferson. Interestingly enough, Jefferson was in France during the drafting of the US Constitution. Jefferson used the phrase “separation of church and state” in response to a letter from the Danbury Baptist’s Association. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen S. Nelson sent a letter to Jefferson stating:

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty–that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals–that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions–that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men–should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.

The Danbury Baptist’s Association was asking President Jefferson if the US Government would regulate a church denomination as the national denomination. Jefferson replied stating:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Jefferson replied saying, “No.” Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptist Association that the US Government would not regulate a church nor prohibit a church of practicing religion how they choose to.

Now groups like the ACLU and FFRF have twisted Jefferson’s words into “freedom from religion.” Many people now believe that no religion (or, religion other than Atheism) can be public. Thus they have “a wall of separation of church and state.” They believe that Jefferson fought to keep the church out of the government. However, it was the exact opposite. Jefferson kept the government out of the church. While Thomas Jefferson was President, he actually attended the largest church in the US, which met in the House of Representatives. Also, while Jefferson was President of the United States, he became the first President of the Washington D.C. Public School Board. While the School Board President, Jefferson insisted that the schools use two textbooks – the Bible and Wyatt’s Hymnal. Jefferson even said:

I have always said, always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens.

Now the question is, “Who could think that Jefferson wanted ‘separation of church and state’ as we think of it today?”

The US Constitution states (with reference to religion), “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As US Citizens, we have the “freedom of religion” – not “freedom from religion.” For in fact, there is no such thing as “no religion.” We all believe something – hence, we all have a religion. The question is, “What do you believe?” and “What will you do with that belief?”

//Bring it World
-Brian Purkiss

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13 comments

  1. Great post…very thoughtful. I have often lamented these groups actions, wondering how they could want to limit something that does such good for so many people.

    Nicely done.


  2. Thank you.
    Christians (in general) need to get out of the church and into culture. We often talk about spreading the gospel, but never do anything. If we actually do what we say we should do, we can make a difference.

    If God is for us, who can be against us?
    -Romans 8:31

    We have no reason to be afraid of getting out into the culture. It’s all in God’s hands – He’ll give us the words to say, and He’ll show us what to do. We just need to trust Him.


  3. So true – by not allowing Christians to speak their faith, they are interfearing with our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech.

    Everytime someone talkes about our “constitutional right of separation of church and state” it makes me so mad. Next time someone talks about that, I’ll refer them here.
    Thanks!


  4. Hey guys;

    I thought I’d read another of your articles and comment. I should confess, though, I’m an atheist. Perhaps that allows me to correct a few misperceptions in the target article.

    Sure. In a certain context you might choose to say that everyone has faith. It’s just a question of what you mean by ‘faith’. I go to sleep on a bed every night with a certain degree of ‘faith’ that bed will still be there in the morning. However, saying ‘The Atheist believes that the universe came about through a series of chaotic random events with no plan or meaning’ seems a little strong. I would submit to you that the average garden-variety atheist believes in purpose and plan, its just that the purpose and plan tends to be framed in Darwinian terms. Consequently, when you say he/she has NO purpose and plan you are merely saying he/she has no purpose and plan that you find worthwhile.

    From my personal point of view, I have many purposes and things I need to accomplish. You are inclined to discount this claim because you are measuring its worth by a different yardstick.

    I’m also not sure I subscribe to your phrase ‘atheistic faith in no god’. It seems to me that if we are talking about the existence of anything; carrots, Santa Claus, or God, inexistence is the default. After all, if I come up to you and say unicorns exist, how will you respond?
    1. You agree unicorns exist until you definatively prove otherwise
    2. You say ‘I will choose not to believe in unicorns unless someone can offer me proof of their existence’

    In my experience, most people choose #2. So, as an atheist, it sounds a little odd to say I have faith in no god. It sound like a distortion, as it would be clearer to say I have no faith in god in the same way I have no belief in unicorns. The default in non-existence, and the onus is upon those who are theistic/pro-unicorn.

    -DD


  5. I don’t understand how an Athiest can believe in purpose and plan. According to an Athiest, the Universe came about through a series of random chaotic events with no order. Man is just a series of ‘random cosmic events.’ There was no plan in the creation of the universe – according to an Athiest.

    For an Athiest, there is no higher power than the government. There is no “right and wrong.” The only right and wrong is set by what ever you want. If Joe Smith felt that he “needed” to kill Bob Jones, what’s to keep him from that? The only standard to live up to is yourself.
    Now I’m genuinely curious DD: “What gives you that standard? If your thoughts are just random sparks in your brain, how do you know what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong?'”

    In your example, you used unicorns. So will I then.
    We all have a faith that there is no Unicorns in the world. Call it ‘Non-Unicornism.’ We believe that there are no unicorns. That takes faith. But if one person found just one true genuine Unicorn, the entire faith is demolished. But for Non-Unicornists to know absolutely that there are absolutly no unicorns in the world – someone would have to examine every single speck of the universe at the same instant (so the unicorn doesn’t move to a place that was already searched). But if one unicorn was found (like I said), then Non-Unicornism is abolished.
    It’s that same thing with belief in God.
    Wow – that was a tangent. Sorry.

    Athiesm is faith? Sure!
    It has a set list of beliefs concerning the beginnings of the world, the supernatural, what happens when you die, and right and wrong. That fills all the requirements for a “religion.” It’s just believing in the absense of God instead of the existance of God.


  6. DD, based upon your definition you would not consider yourself an atheist.
    An atheist according to the dictionary is someone who does not believe in God period.
    Now, it seems you are defining the definition that I found, “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known about the existence of God or about things outside of human experience.”

    That definition is for an agnostic. So, are you an agnostic or an atheist?


  7. DD, one thing about the whole purpose/ plan argument. The reason that we don’t see how atheists can have purpose is because of the atheist view of how we came into existance.
    If you believe in Darwinism, then you’re basically saying that we came into existance by chance. Not by a design, since there was no designer. According to that concept of chance, everything we do stems from chance and ‘fate’ (however you want to put that) and nothing is working towards an ultimate goal.
    If we are creatures of chance, then how can an athiest say that we are responsible for our own actions? You could just defend yourself by saying that we are all creatures of chance, and I had no choice in completing that action.
    I hope that made sense, and I think its great that you are putting a lot of thought into this and challenging everybody.


  8. Well, let’s distinguish a couple of threads here. BP, you suggest that an atheist does not have a useful ethical system. Keep in mind that this is a dubious argument for God to begin with, it kind of translates into ‘I believe in God because the alternatives are distasteful’. You say that you see no purpose or plan in an atheistic world-view. Well, purpose/plan/goal are context-related labels. I would suggest that you find no plan in my world-view because there is no ‘end’ for that plan to work towards. Or, at least, no end that a theist would allow. Becauses you believe in God, you imply that purpose and plan can only be understood relative to that standard. Without God, by your lights, everything is merely ‘random chaotic events.’ Theists often put their ideas into terms such as these but I think they are faced with certain contradictions. Primarily, it puts the ethical cart before the horse. Moms and Dads tend you love their kids the world over – regardless of their belief system. What those Mom’s and Dad’s DON’T have to do is consult their belief system first. If a car is headed for junior, it seems ridiculous to suggest that Mom has to first investigate her belief system to determine whether or not she believes in jahweh/allah/Santa Claus. She grabs the kid. Belief in God(s) is not the source of ethical behavior.

    Everyone believes in physics to some degree, right? When we learn about the conservation of energy in school, no-one puts up their hand and says ‘no, I think Galileo and Newton might have been wrong..’ People generally live in a way consistent with such beliefs. If a ball falls in front of you, you turn and look for the person who threw it. If TV won’t go on, you check to see if its unplugged. I suggest that beliefs such as these – that the physical world is causally closed – constitute the vast bulk of our beliefs about the world. Curiously, it’s often only when the idea of God comes up that anyone backs away from complete and unambiguous acceptance.
    Anyway, my point is that yes: I see a ‘plan’ in evolution and you do not. I see a ‘purpose’ when one billiard ball hits another and transfers energy. I see a ‘higher power’ than myself in the sun. I just don’t have to stop believing in physical phenomena when the description hits a certain level – like I believe theists often do.

    As far as the unicorn example, it sounds very much like you’re suggesting the evidence for both God and unicorns is slight. I, of course, would completely agree. However, I would also suggest this is an example of a dual-standard. You suggest that if I can’t find unicorns (or God) under a rock on Proxima Centauri, I should remain agnostic about their existence. ‘Unanimous’ also suggests I should remain agnostic. Belief doesn’t seem to work this way, though. No one ever has ALL the information, but they continue to form beliefs all the time. If I ask someone if Saddam was bad, they’ll say yes. Although they may allow the (slight to non-existent) possibility that he was framed for his bad deeds (I don’t think so) and his hitherto undiscovered good deeds may come to light. Look at your own life. Do you need ALL the information that EVER might be possible to make up your mind? I doubt it. If so, you’d never do anything. Nobody would. This is the standard by which I say I do not believe in God. It’s the same standard by which I say I don’t believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy, and the same standard by which I say I like pizza. Do you need to look under a rock on Proxima Centauri to deny the existence of the tooth fairy?

    Look, I understand you do not find my idea of purpose/plan/ethics congenial. I would submit that it because most people learn their ideas of right and wrong on their parents’ knee. If you are told the origin of the universe in terms of a designer and a creation story, you will evaluate every other story you hear in terms of its designing personality. If it doesn’t have a designing personality, you are liable to discount the story as one without a ‘goal’ or ‘purpose’.

    -DD


  9. You have made some very good points, DD, and I would agree with you that parents usually love their children. But one question: Hitler thought that what he did was right, would you consider it right?


  10. You’re avoiding the question DDD (“What gives you that standard?). I did not imply that the “opposite is distasteful.” I’m implying that if there is no God, then there is no higher power other than mankind. Thus man can do what ever he wants since he is the highest power in the universe. He can set the standards. Who’d oppose him? He’s the greatest thing! Unless, there is a God.

    Plan
    1: a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance.

    How can there be a plan in evolution if no one/thing, well… planned it? Evolution is chance. The universe came about by a series of random un-order events. A plan requires that someone/thing pre-meditates a series of events with a purpose and a result(s) at the end.

    Purpose
    1: the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
    2: an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.

    I see the purpose in the billiard balls, but is there purpose in the universe if it came about by chance? IF no one/thing put everything into motion, then there could be no “intention for a desired result.” Then how could there be any purpose in anything we do if there was no one/thing that put everything into motion?
    In order for there to be purpose, there has to be a plan. In order for there to be a plan, there has to be a planner.

    Agreed. In order for there to be an absolute total “fact,” we need to know all the information there is to know. For all I know, there really could be a tooth fairy out on Mars for all I know. But every shred of evidence we have points to the non-existence of the tooth fairy. All the evidence I have points to the existence of a God/Creator/Supernatural.
    If you have any evidence that proves otherwise, please tell me.


  11. Just to clarify the whole thing about there not being any purpose now because we came into existence by chance…
    The cause cannot be greater than the effect. If there was no plan in the cause, the effect cannot have purpose either.

    I hope that made sense… 🙂


  12. It did make sense.
    Very nice point Allison.


  13. In order:

    Allison, Hitler, my standard, etc: No, I don’t think what Hitler did was right. Could you make your question/idea a little clearer for me? Is the idea that without God there is no standard at all and standards become meaningless? I would disagree. My moral outlook is grounded in empathy. I think most of our reactions to the world are grounded by the degree of empathy we feel for other living things. I think this idea becomes plain when we examine our own reactions. Most of those reactions come instantaneously, and need not be mediated by God. When a friend breaks his leg on the football field, do have instant feelings of revulsion or are you completely apathetic until God gives you the appropriate reaction? Consider alternative explanations:

    1.) Hitler was bad because he kept people in concentration camps. I sure wouldn’t want to be in a concentration camp.
    2.) At first I wasn’t sure about Hitler. He might have been good, he might have been bad. Whatever. But then God told me it was bad to keep people in concentration camps. After that, I knew Hitler was bad.

    BP said: “I did not imply that the “opposite is distasteful.” I’m implying that if there is no God, then there is no higher power other than mankind.”
    Just to be clear, do you find that conclusion (..there is no higher power than mankind..) distasteful or not? I really am trying to understand. I have been taking you thus far to be opposed to it.

    Plan/Purpose/Order: As I mentioned before, the idea of a plan or purpose is entirely dependant upon the context within which you choose to consider events. Example: The cancer society wishes to cure cancer, so they decide to support useful research. An eminent scientist gets a grant from the cancer society to run a series of experiments. One experiment involves a mouse in a maze seeking a piece of cheese. What is the purpose of this experiment:

    1. for the mouse to get the cheese
    2. for the experiments to be successful
    3. supporting useful research
    4. curing cancer

    The point is, which alternative counts as the real ‘purpose’ of the experiment is context-relative. Plan/purpose/Aim/Goal/Order are all similar. The ‘plan’ of evolution could be to perpetuate humans to the year 2500, to eradicate the dodo bird, or none of these. It depends on the context of the question. Look, you might turn the corner one day and find an ant-hill that looks kind of like the pentagon. This does not mean that the ants had a ‘plan’ to build something that looked like the pentagon.

    I, of course, would submit that evolution fills the role of planner. If you reject this proposal, it may be because you are looking for an individual designing personality. As with the ants designing the pentagon, it seems obvious to me that mass collective action can have certain specific results.

    – DD



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