Saturday, October 8, 2011

Freedom of Religion

To base your presidential vote entirely on the religion of the candidate is incontrovertibly un-american.

It happened four years ago, and it's happening again. Mitt Romney is running his presidential campaign, and the anti-mormon hate is on the rise. Not a complete surprise. There has been anti-mormon hate for 180 years. But now it's political.

So, why un-American?

Let's talk about the freedom of religion - one of the first things that was amended into the constitution.

After the American Revolution, the colonies realized "Oh, hey. We won the war. Now what?"

They needed to create a government. Preferably one that resolved all of the issues that had led them to revolution in the first place. And they needed it right away. So quickly they made up the Articles of Confederation. But even while they wrote them, they knew the articles weren't going to be good enough, and they really weren't.

So they followed those articles for a little while until they could structure something better. Something that would be really solid, last the test of time, and give the people the rights and protections that they deserved. That something was the Constitution.

The bill of rights is a list of specific rights and freedoms that the majority of the people wanted in the constitution before they would be happy with it. The first on this list reads thus:
Amendment I: Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition

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.

'Or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' In colloquial English: The government isn't allowed to force you to belong to a certain religion. And they're not allowed to force you to not belong to the religion of your choice.

While I have skimmed over many of the smaller details, this review of history shows that the first amendment is not just a law that the government made, but was created and ratified by those same men who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

It was these same men who put their lives on the line in fighting a hopeless war for freedom. They are the very founders of the United States of America. The reason this country still exists after all these years is because of the Constitution.

In other words, the constitution IS the essence of America. And any breach of it is profoundly un-American.

But sadly, the freedom of religion has transformed into more of an "I can do whatever I want, but you need to do what I say" mentality. Starkly opposite to the words written by our founding fathers.

As evidenced by the hate surrounding this election campaign.

This selection was taken from a ksl article about a pastor from Dallas, Robert Jeffress, talking about his past stances and how he's at it again.
"Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Even though he talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian," Jeffress said in a 2007 sermon. "Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult. And just because somebody talks about Jesus does not make them a believer."

In that sermon, Jeffress said he was frustrated that some religious leaders had backed Romney anyway. "What really distresses me is some of my ministerial friends, and even leaders in our convention, say, `Well, he talks about Jesus, we talk about Jesus, what's the big deal?' It is a big deal."

Let us break this down.

A) Mr. Jeffress is implying that Mitt Romney should not be voted for because he belongs to a "cult."

Does Mitt Romney belong to a cult? Answer: who cares? says:

cult [kuhlt] noun
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
3. the object of such devotion.
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

By these definitions, every religion in the world is a cult.

And didn't we just establish that it is a fundamental aspect of being American that we can worship how and what we choose?

B) Mr. Jeffress says that even though Mitt Romney says that he believes in Jesus Christ, he doesn't really.

Person 1: I really like chocolate ice cream.
Person 2: No you don't.
1: Um, yes, I do. I eat it all the time.
2: You think you like chocolate ice cream, but you really don't.
1: But I've had it many times. I like to eat it.
2: You don't like it like I do. So you must not really like it.

Ridiculous, yes? If I like chocolate ice cream, why are you sitting there trying to convince me that I don't? If I believe in Jesus Christ as the savior of the world, why are you spending all of your time and effort trying to tell me that I don't? What purpose does this serve?

C) Mr. Jeffress is mad that other pastors from his club are planning to vote for Mitt Romney, but not because he is disappointed in their political choices. He is disappointed because they belong to christian churches, and he thinks that they should only be allowed to vote for candidates who also belong to christian churches (which, to his mind, excludes Mitt Romney.)

If I thought the same way, I would only be allowed to vote for people who belong to my church. Jews would only be allowed to vote for Jewish candidates. Atheists would only be allowed to vote for atheists.

And why stop there? All black people are only allowed to vote for black candidates. All asian people can only vote for asian candidates. And people who immigrated here can't vote at all, because the president can't be a naturalized citizen.

Doesn't this defeat the entire purpose of the election process? A process which has been an integral part of our country since it was founded? A process that upholds, and allows us to participate in some of the rights and freedoms that are the essence of being American?

D) Mr. Jeffress believes that no one who is not a christian can be considered an acceptable presidential candidate.

In so saying, it is implied that no one in the world can be a good leader unless they are christian also.

What about Ghandi? Or Confucius? Or Galileo? Or Socrates?

And what about some who were 'christian'? like Hitler. Napoleon. Vlad the Impaler.

The point is that, yes, this country is predominantly christian. And yes, it was founded by christian men, on christian principles. But in so doing, they instituted one of the fundamentals of christianity itself. Namely, the freedom to choose. The right to believe what we decide to believe.

Even if Mitt Romney did belong to some cult, so what? He could pray to a funny shaped rock, or worship the old Greek gods like Zeus and Athena, and it would be totally irrelevant to his candidacy, because this is America.

None of this is to be confused with blind stupidity of course. If a man belongs to a religion that happens to practice the ritual sacrificing of children when they turn 6 years old, that could be a problem. Not because his religion is different than ours, but because someone who believes in something so extreme will probably have political stances that are also extreme.

I can easily understand that this is a concern for some people who don't know much about Mitt's church.

However, this will usually show itself in the political platform. So pay attention. Use your brains. (That's what they're there for. Surprising, I know.) Read the book instead of just looking at the cover.

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