I grew up in a non-religious household never really paying attention to what Christ was supposed to be. I occasionally went to church only because a neighborhood family invited me. Always a social animal, any way to join a get together was right up my alley. It wasn’t until later when I went to a Presbyterian college –simply because I was offered a basketball scholarship -- that I paid any attention whatsoever to the meaning of Christianity. Basketball was all I really cared about at the time, and a college education was a good perk, so I took it. The Christian part was simply a required part of the offered package.
Some of my fondest childhood memories were those of Christmas. The Christmas tree, decorating it, people saying Merry Christmas for a month before hand and the general feeling of good spirit made the coming Chicago winter months something to look forward to. My mother wasn’t religious in the slightest, but from Thanksgiving through the holidays she filled the house with Christmas songs as she went about her daily work. Her singing was always a joy to my ears. We actually used to go caroling, to the delight of everyone – even in my Jewish neighborhood. It was magical. Christmas music is still one of my favorite things.
Looking back, I realize that when I was growing up there was a common moral code. I can’t begin to theorize what it was like to be anything other than Christian or Jewish back then, but I don’t recall any protests to speak of. We all got along fine. And that’s because we all shared the same – essentially Christian -- moral code, even people from other religions. The Christian moral code was accepted as a base for our society.
I seldom asked, but through the years I presume most of my friends were Christians and Jews. I recall having disagreements with some about Christ – my view being he was an historical figure, but not a prophet as claimed. My best friend in College was a die-hard Christian who did his very best to convert me. I kept saying, “Wes, if you don’t believe, you just don’t believe.” I wanted to believe. I tried to believe. But I didn’t. I believe all religions are mankind’s way of attempting to explain the world. To me, Christianity is just that – a way to explain everything that’s unexplainable.
Oh, yes. And a really good code and foundation for a society to live by.
If I could actually choose a religion and then talk myself into being a believer, I would probably choose to be Christian because it was mostly Christianity that shaped my views of morality and social order. And I’m glad it did. But Judaism would be just fine, as it seems like a religion of life and living and is completely compatible with and has a shared foundation with our society’s (still) Christian-based moral code.
For any society, a common moral code is necessary. Western civilization has adopted most of its moral code and civilization standards from Christianity. And while the particular religion of a country may not be necessary to have a moral commonality, it is my view that Christian and Jewish States are more functional in this day and age. All religions have had periods of relative peace and violence, and the Christian faith is no exception. Today, however, it is fair to say the Christian faith has evolved to be most tolerant: co-existing easily with other faiths. Our Christian country has done an admirable job allowing other religions to exist and prosper without fear.
For example, I would argue that Muslims (especially women) are safer in America than they are in most Muslim countries, and are certainly more free to speak their minds. Muslims in America are free to practice their faith as they choose and do so while living in a predominantly Christian culture. They can speak out against the government without the consequences they would face in most Muslim countries.
Today, however, we are showing strong signs of losing the common social and moral codes that bind us. Right and wrong are no longer black and white issues. Everything is gray. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that moral deterioration is following on the heels of increased – even forced -- secularization.
Let’s be clear. Regardless of what some may claim, Christianity is under attack by the ACLU and other militant secular groups who want religious influence completely removed from public life. If militant atheists are successful in their attempts to remove Christianity from all references in governmental function, Christianity will lose its basic dominant impact as a legal and societal influence. (Religious influence is even under attack in many private institutions. Witness the lawsuit brought against a Catholic University for failing to provide a Cross-free place for Muslim students to worship). If this assault on Christianity by secularists continues, we risk losing the moral commonality guiding this country since its inception and is, I believe, necessary for cohesiveness going forward.
And, consequently, when we stop getting moral influence from religion, it will be forced upon us by the State. Without religious influence, the government controls morality. Instead of law and justice following a moral code, law dictates the moral code. (Think of the possibilities for political corruption there!) Mere mention of religious things by public officials is enough to draw the wrath of militant secularists. Unfortunately, the courts frequently enforce the secularist viewpoint, with the result that whatever is legal becomes morally correct.
That scares an agnostic like me far more than Christian values dominating the culture. It’s hard to believe people of any society can adopt moral values dictated by their government. At least, not really adopt them. They might give lip service, but that’s all. The Soviet Union is case in point. The denial of religious practice was instrumental in the corruption and collapse of the Socialist-Communist regime. Soviet citizens gave the appropriate lip service, but didn’t believe.
I want to live in a country where people have a common morality and shared social mores. I wish it could be done rationally, through a triumph of human goodness over human evil, both of which exist in human hearts. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that’s possible. Without religion, the control of social conscientiousness becomes a power grab with the government winning the fight.
There are those who claim they feel intimidated by a Christmas tree in a public place, or left out when a Christian event takes place in a public or school forum. As mentioned, I grew up in the fifties, fully agnostic in relatively religious Christian and Jewish environments, and never once felt intimidated. I felt annoyed at the conversion attempts from time to time, but that was certainly tolerable in exchange for what I received in return. People like Michael Newdow (filed a lawsuit to have “In God We Trust removed from the currency) attempting to have all reference of religion removed from public life must be so afraid of their own mental weakness that they need the state to “protect” them. Is Mr. Newdow afraid he will fall under the spell of Christianity? The irony is that if he ultimately does he will be glad. And if he doesn’t, then why would he care? Mr. Newdow would be enlightened if he woke up tomorrow in a fully secularist society. I don’t think he’d like it. Hopefully he’ll never find out.
I believe secularism is, in effect, a religion of its own and feels the need to dominate other competing “religions.” It has all the signs of being such. In that regard, secularists are trying to force their brand of religion on everyone, and they increasingly have the support of the government behind them.
I’m as skeptical about religion as anyone. But I take great personal offense to someone attempting to rob me of the great American traditions I grew up with, like Christmas. America is a young country with few solid traditions. Christmas may be our best one. Don’t mess with it.
I gladly accept citizenship in a United States that acknowledges Christianity at its core and accepts Christian influence in public matters. It’s the country I grew up in. It’s the country that became the envy of the world and the world’s most dynamic economy and culture. It’s the country that became the world leader in individual freedom, human rights and economic prosperity -- while we still recognized ourselves as “One Nation Under God.” It’s a shame others cannot recognize the blessings Christianity has bestowed upon them and our country, regardless of their faith, race, creed, or color.
Note: This was written prior to the current controversy concerning the Federal Government essentially forcing Catholic medical facilities to provide contraception without a copay – something they don’t believe in for religious reasons. Ask yourself – would the government insist an individual or entity engage in amoral behavior? Presumably not. Here they are, essentially, insisting the Catholic moral code is wrong and needs to be changed to coincide with Federal law. Here it comes -- government-dictated morality trumps religion and religious morality. Scary.