Imposing our faith on others

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Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments (painting circa 1675 by Aron de Chavez). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments (painting circa 1675 by Aron de Chavez). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tyranny in religious garb

Many people claim God speaks to them personally. Instead of calling that presumptuous, I wish to observe that God showed disapproval of Louisiana's bill mandating display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms when a girl standing behind Gov. Jeff Landry fainted as he was about to sign it.

Someone online tartly paraphrased Matthew 25:42, "When I was hungry you put up posters of the Ten Commandments while making sure I didn't receive a school lunch."

America is a land of many faiths. June 17 this year was the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Isaac (Ishaq) in obedience to a command by God. Many of us offered the greeting "Eid Mubarak" to our Muslim friends on that day.

Personally, I think Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son is one of the most revolting passages in Scripture. I am horrified that any faith requires assent to such barbarity.

That, of course, is my opinion. Unlike the governor of Louisiana, I merely submit my views for the consideration of an editor, and have no state troopers or regulators to impose my will. Still, if you hear a voice in your head and automatically attribute it to the Almighty, you might want to seek mental healthcare.

I count myself blessed to live in a land where I am free to express my religious opinions. For example, I consider any deity who is so jealous as to require intercession by the Blessed Virgin in order not to smite us in a fit of rage to be something no decent person should condone.

As it happens, however, many people believe in a loving God. The belief in a wrathful God, which relies largely on ransacking the Old Testament for its harshest passages, inspires Christian nationalists.

The holy war advocates like to quote Jesus saying, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34-36), referring to those not at peace with God. But Jesus says in Gethsemane, "All who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). The militaristic view requires ignoring most of the Gospel. But let them keep their warrior Jesus, as long as they do not use government to impose it on the rest of us.

Many people of faith believe the evidence of creation is just as valid as that of Scripture. As it happens—and with all due respect to the Psalmist—you and I have human brains, not the brains of sheep. What sense does it make for God to have created us as we are and then punish us for using our brains to think for ourselves?

It is not God who wants us to be sheep, but bossy clergy and politicians who think they can reinterpret inconvenient parts of our secular Constitution into something that fits their dogma.

During the heyday of the effort to win civil marriage equality in Washington, DC, I was mindful of my target audience, and often talked like a minister myself. Had our messaging been hostile toward religion, it would not only have been counterproductive; it would have underestimated the diversity of religious perspectives in our city.

The phrase "wall of separation between Church and State" is from an 1802 letter by President Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut. He assured them that their right to pursue their particular faith was protected by the Establishment Clause from bullying by adherents of other denominations.

Members of the right wing insist there is no constitutional separation of church and state, simply because that specific phrasing is not present in the First Amendment. They have a point; it is merely the plain meaning of the text. They pretend that religious freedom belongs only to them and those who agree with them. They don't even regard most self-professed Christians as true Christians, much less believe the Free Exercise clause applies to anybody else.

Thus we face the ongoing challenge, as these issues affect public policy, of discussing them in ways that respect America's vibrant religious diversity rather than surrendering to medievalist theocrats.

Why are we even listening to these obscurantists? The GOP presidential candidate is an adjudicated rapist who cheated on his wife with a porn actress. Now we learn of Michigan state representative Neil Friske being arrested by Lansing police early on June 20 as he was chasing a stripper down the street and firing a weapon.

Instead of shoving commandments in people's faces, Republicans should try living by them.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected].

Copyright © 2024 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.