God, Bad Government:
the Use of Religion Becomes the Abuse of Power
E. H. Bryant
Eight Annual Myron Kinberg Memorial Peace and Justice Lecture
Beth Israel, Eugene
is growing in our nation a deep sense of unease and discord on matters
of religion and public life. Battles
over the beginning and ending of life, the definition of marriage, the
teaching of evolution in public schools, stem cell research, display of
religious symbols on public property, etc. have become key issues around
which we are deeply divided as a people.
Though we speak often of the separation of church and state, we
have no common understanding of what that means nor even agreement that
such separation was intended by our nation’s founders.
The word “theocracy” appears often in the editorial pages.
It is within this context that I put forward these basic
principles which I consider essential to the survival of democracy and
the healthy growth of religion.
with this premise from Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng.
He states in the conclusion to his book on world religions,
“There will be no peace among the peoples of this world without peace
among the world religions.”[i]
I believe that to be profoundly true.
And I believe that peace among religions is best established
within the secular state.
thesis this evening is this: Religion
is at its best when it is the most free of government and at its worst
when most intertwined with government.
Religious liberty is central to the pathos of our nation.
When we confuse the role of the state with the role of the church
or vice versa, we threaten that liberty.
This leads me to this corollary: Those who care most about their
faith will not use government to promote the advancement of their faith,
rather will use their faith to promote the advancement of government.
By government, of course, I do not mean bureaucracies or even
public institutions, but simply the means by which we order society
through the rule of law for the common good.
second thesis is closely related to the first, namely that religion is
most authentic when it critiques government, it is most inauthentic when
it is used by government. The
two traditions with which I am most familiar, Judaism and Christianity,
have strong traditions both inside and outside government.
There is much we can learn from those traditions which will
strengthen not only our relationship to the One we call Lord, but also
our relationship to government. And
my corollary to this second thesis:
Public officials who listen to the many voices of faith are good
for government, those who use their office to promote one faith are good
neither for faith or government. To be clear, I am not saying public officials should not
share their faith while in office, but that they should not use the
power of that office to promote their faith over the faith of others.
disclaimer before I unpack these two theses, best illustrated with this
story. Being mostly a Jewish audience, I suppose few of you here
have heard of a little annual event sponsored by Christians known as the
“Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast”. Oh,
you have? More on that
later. I had fully intended
to stay out of debate, thinking I might be able to play some type of
reconciling role to bring the various parties together.
Then the Register Guard published their editorial indicating that
unless one believed that Jesus Christ was the only path to salvation,
one was not really a true Christian.
Really? I have a
good relationship with the editors of the paper, or thought I had.
Though I am sure it was unintentional, they had just told the
world that I and thousands like me who do not share such a view are not
true Christians. I could
not stay silent. So I sent
my response which was published last Sunday.
It said, in part, you…
…have unwittingly declared that the
so-called Christian right is now the sole interpreter of Christian
faith. All the rest of us who have been trying so hard to demonstrate to
society a different face to Christianity, I guess, should call it quits.
But we won't. Why? Because our more
inclusive belief in a God who is bigger than that is just as strong and
vital as our more conservative brothers and sisters. Our faith in the
love of God, as demonstrated in the life of Jesus, seeks to include all
people rather than exclude all those who do not share one narrow
understanding of the meaning of faith or salvation.
One of the editors
said, in good humor, that I was “a non-Christian wannabe”.
A few others have said similar things in not such good humor. One gentleman came to my office.
We had a nice, polite visit during which he asked my opinion on a
variety of scriptures which he quoted to prove his viewpoint as correct
and apparently mine as wrong. He
concluded by saying that if I disagreed, he wanted me to be sure I knew
that I was not disagreeing with him, I was disagreeing with God. It is always good to be clear about such things.
So my disclaimer:
the viewpoint you hear from me is totally and completely my own
and represents neither the church I serve (though I know many there do
share it), nor any organization to which I belong and apparently not
God. But of course in my
humble opinion, it is the truth nevertheless.
On to my first thesis: Religion is at its best when it is the most free
of government and at its worst when most intertwined with government.
There is a considerable and very vigorous public debate today on
the existence of the so-called “wall of separation” between church
and state. As much as I’d
like to, I do not think I am going to settle the issue tonight.
I probably am not any
more qualified to know the mind of the authors of our constitution and
the Bill of Rights than I am to know the mind of God, but that is not
about to keep me from speaking my mind on either.
I have always said that “wall”, so named by Thomas Jefferson
in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802, has
never been a very good metaphor to describe the separation of church and
state. At best we have a
net between the two which catches a few big tuna while lots of little
minnows swim freely to and fro. Prayers
given to open legislative sessions, chaplains in the military paid with
tax dollars, homage to God given on coins and in every inaugural
address, the recognition of Christmas as a national holiday, tax exempt
status for religious organizations, etc., belie any notion of a true
wall that separates church and state.
Furthermore, while the first amendment forbids the government
from establishing religion, there is no prohibition in the constitution
against religion from seeking to influence government.
In that, those who seek to dismantle the wall are at least
partially correct. Whereas
religious liberty can be used to influence government, however, the
reverse is not true. This
is where those who would dismantle the wall get it precisely wrong.
Advocates of prayer
in public schools and Decalogues in courthouses like to point out that
all but a couple of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were
devote Christians who preached in churches, published Bibles and
otherwise were active leaders of their congregations.
All true. It is
quite interesting, therefore, that when many of these same men wrote the
Constitution, they only mentioned religion once and then in the
negative. Article VI,
Section 3 states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a
qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
If our founding fathers and mothers truly wanted to establish a
Christian nation, one would think that there would be some hint of such
in that document most sacred to our existence as a nation.
Religion, of course,
is very prominent in the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment has two clauses concerning religion. First, that “Congress shall make no law respecting the
establishment of religion” and second,
“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Many today, including as high up as Chief Justice William
Rehnquist, have argued that the intent of Congress was to prohibit the
establishment of a single, national church similar to that in Europe and
the preferential treatment of one religion over another. In this line of thinking, non-preferential support of
religion is consistent then with the free exercise clause. It would be foolish, of course, for me to refute the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court. Then
again, if you are going to disagree with God, what’s a Chief Justice?
The colossal error of
such reasoning is that it assumes the First Amendment was written to
protect U.S. citizens from the restrictions on religious freedom as
experienced in Europe. There was a letter to the editor in this
morning’s paper that made this very claim. That is a seriously
mistaken belief. The First
Amendment was written in response to the restriction of religious
freedoms within the original 13 states, not the restrictions in Europe.
Nine of those states had established churches supported by tax
funds and in all nine revolts against that practice were either underway
or had been successfully waged when the Bill of Rights was approved in
1791. Six of the nine
provided non-preferential treatment in the form of multiple established
churches. It was precisely
against this background of non-preferential support that the First
Amendment was written. Constitutional
historian C. Herman Pritchett concludes, “It was this non-preferential
assistance to organized churches that constituted “establishment of
religion” in 1791 and it was this practice that the Amendment forbade
Congress to adopt.”[ii]
John Swomley, who
taught social ethics at the St. Paul School of Theology, makes a
compelling case in the introduction to his little book, Religious
Liberty and the Secular State, for differentiating between religious
tolerance and religious liberty. Religious toleration merely puts up with different viewpoints
from a position of superiority. True
religious liberty, on the other hand, is more than freedom of choice, it
treats all equally. “Toleration
is a concession; religious liberty is a right.”[iii]
Without separation of
church and state we can only have at best religious toleration and at
worst, religious persecution. The
point of the First Amendment is to guarantee religious liberty, not
My thesis is that
religion thrives best in an environment of a secular state that
guarantees true religious liberty. Why? The coercion of the state, be it
as innocent as a moment of silence to start the school day, is
counter-productive to the interests of any religion which desires the
voluntary assent to the will of God. Inward conviction is not best
created by outward constriction. Faith in God is not something that can
be imposed by authority, it must be freely discovered in the experience
of each individual if it is to have any lasting meaning and value.
I embrace secularism
in government for three reasons: first,
I have a problem with the idea that those who are elected on the basis
of their philosophy on taxation, national security or gun control are
also well suited to make decisions for the entire nation on religious
doctrine. Heck, I can’t
even trust the editors of the Register Guard to get the last one right,
even when I probably agree with them on the first three!
The teaching about
religion in public schools often can be a good thing, but the teaching of
religion in public schools can never be.
and the religious liberty it protects will make us a stronger nation as
we learn about the other religious traditions of the world not from
travel, books or news, but from our neighbors, co-workers and often even
family members of different religious traditions.
There are not too many places in the world that have the kind of
religious diversity we have in this country and even right here in
Eugene. It is not tolerance
of diversity but embracing diversity that is the path to peace and a
source of great strength for our nation.
Third, I value that
secularism because it requires people of faith to take responsibility
for our own spiritual traditions. We
cannot and should not rely on government to teach our children our
favorite songs of faith, how to pray or what scriptures to read.
Those are the tasks of parents and churches, synagogues, mosques
Having said that, I
also have to say that our efforts to maintain this wall of separation
can be at times extreme. In
France we have seen the recent example of children in public schools who
are forbidden from wearing any religious clothing, an action widely seen
as directed at Muslims. Yesterday
we saw two stories in the Register Guard of public schools in our
country where students were forbidden from reading from the Bible or
singing a religious song. As one who has gone to a number of our schools in this
community to talk about religion, I obviously do not support the banning
of all religious expression within public schools.
It is rather a matter of treating all religions and no religion
equally. That is the meaning of religious liberty.
Since so many here seem to be aware of the local prayer
breakfast, I suppose a few of you recall a little cross that used to sit
on Skinner’s Butte. It
only weighed what, 20 or 30 tons? You may recall a small battle over its
placement on public property. The story of that cross and all the
ill-will created around it is a classic example of when the use of
religion becomes the abuse of power.
Even though it may have been erected with the best of intentions
and was a source of inspiration and comfort to many, it was hard not to
see it as government endorsement of the Christian faith at best, or
worse, as an in-your-face proclamation of the superiority of one faith
over all others. The vote
in the midst of the Vietnam War to declare it a “war memorial” as if
it would no longer be a symbol of Christian faith illustrates the
tyranny of the majority. As the Ninth Circuit Court eventually ruled
(thank you Charlie Porter), this was precisely the kind of abuse the
First Amendment was designed to protect us against.
the cross finally came down, I said this to our congregation:
the cross becomes a symbol of the power of the majority over against the
minority, when it is used to declare our superiority over other peoples
and faiths, when it is used to take life rather than to give it, it
ceases to be the cross of Jesus and becomes instead the cross of Pilate.
And Pilate, … do not forget this, Pilate is the one who erected his
crosses on the hillside overlooking the city so they could be seen from
far and wide to remind everyone what domination in the Kingdom of Caesar
meant. That is what crosses on hills originally meant, and for some,
they still do. … The real cross of Jesus is not about asserting our
will over the minority, it is about laying our life down in service to
God for others. The real cross of Jesus does not dominate like Caesar,
it empowers and gives life like Jesus.
understand, of course, that I was speaking to a Christian community,
including many who were grieving the loss of that familiar sight from our
very church. It has been a hard lesson for many of us to learn that in a
democracy, that freedom of religion does not give the majority the right
to use their power to give preferential treatment to their religion.
That lesson, however, is critical for all of us to learn.
If we do not have religious liberty for the minority, then liberty
for the majority is meaningless.
That leads me to my first corollary, that those who care most about
their faith will not use government to promote the advancement of their
faith, rather will use their faith to promote the advancement of
government. I suppose
that this is partly the idea behind the prayer breakfast of which we
have heard so much of late. The
concept, as I understand it, is to come together that we might lift up
our elected leaders in prayer. The
website for the National Day of Prayer, which is on the first Thursday
of May, so established by Congress, calls upon participants “to
petition God on behalf of our leaders and those who are in authority
over us”. It states that,
“The National Day of Prayer
belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences,
bringing together citizens from all backgrounds.”
So far, so good.
But then it adds,
“However, our expression of that involvement is specifically
limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that
conviction as expressed in the Lausanne
Convenant.” (sic) The Lausanne Covenant is a
doctrinal statement adopted in 1974 at a world convention of evangelical
Christians. In other words,
though the site claims Judeo-Christian heritage, in reality it includes
neither Jews nor non-evangelical Christians who do not adhere to the
Lausanne Covenant. The statement continues, “National Day of Prayer is
not a function of the government and, therefore, a particular expression
of it can be defined by those who choose to organize it. This is not a
Never mind the fact that the website is
full of American flags, images of the Capitol and is adorned in red,
white and blue, this is a private enterprise that is fully protected by
the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The same is true of the
local Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast. As
a private religious function, the organizers are perfectly entitled to
conduct the event as they see fit.
To the extent that it is an attempt to use faith to promote the
advancement of government and to support our elected officials in
prayer, I even welcome it. My
objection, like that of Rabbi Yitzhak, is that it is called the Mayors’
Prayer Breakfast, giving the impression as Matt Dennis wrote in his
excellent piece on the subject, “that this particular religion has
special governmental access and authority.”[v]
I have a second and even deeper objection,
however, that is less about religious liberty and more about religious
responsibility. When Judy
and I were in seminary, our professor of Hebrew scriptures was Rolf
Knierim, a delightful old German who had emigrated to the U.S. shortly
after WWII. I remember less
today of what he taught about the Bible than I remember of what he
taught about the relationship of church to state.
Dr. Knierim grew up under the Nazis.
He often spoke passionately and powerfully about his experience
of worshiping under the flag of Nazi Germany, of German Christians who
welcomed the rule of Adolph Hitler as the hand of God, of churches that
proudly displayed the Nazi flag as a symbol of their faith in God and
God’s chosen ruler. And
then, pointing his finger directly into the forehead of the nearest
student as it to drill the point home permanently in our impressionable
brains, he said (in his heavy German accent), “and that is why we do
not worship the flag.” Right
then and there we all took a silent oath that we would never, ever allow
the flag to be worshipped in any church we served.
Today, 20 years later, that dent in my
forehead still remains and my conviction to not wrap my faith in the
American flag has only grown deeper with the events of these last few
years. For the integrity of
our faith as well as the good of our country it is imperative that faith
remain separate from patriotism. Mixing
the two is good for neither.
My second thesis is closely related to the first, namely that religion
is most authentic when it critiques government, it is most inauthentic
when it is used by government.
As an example, I give you this quote.
I challenge anyone here to tell me the source:
withdrew its protection and our people fell, fell as scarcely any other
people heretofore. In this deep misery we again learn to pray. . . . The
mercy of the Lord slowly returns to us again. And in this hour we sink
to our knees and beseech our almighty God that he may bless us, that He
may give us the strength to carry on the struggle for the freedom, the
future, the honor, and the peace of our people. So help us God.
comes from Adolph Hitler in March of 1936.[vi]
There has been a lot of debate on whether
or not Hitler was a Christian. That
debate totally misses the point. The
issue is not what his beliefs were, the issue is the extent to which he
was able to manipulate the beliefs of the nation to bring destruction
upon Europe and much of the world.
Without question Hitler successfully co-opted the church to at
least not resist his program and at worst to bless it.
Hitler was able to do this because the church was financially
dependent upon the German government.
He proclaimed, “With a tenth of our budget for religion, we
would thus have a Church devoted to the State and of unshakable loyalty.
. . . the little sects, which receive only a few hundred thousand marks,
are devoted to us body and soul.”[vii]
1998 I attended the Annual Assembly of the Church of Scotland as part of
an international observer delegation.
One of the issues hotly debated in the assembly was an offer by
the Scottish Lottery Commission to give the Church of Scotland somewhere
in the neighborhood of $500 million dollars for the repair of their
cathedrals. The rationale
for accepting the money was hard to refute. Many of the cathedrals were in desperate need of repair for
which the church did not have adequate funds.
These are national treasures and major tourist attractions.
It would be money well spent.
problem, however, was that the Church of Scotland had consistently
opposed the lottery as the promotion of gambling, a source of addiction
and major social problems and as serious financial detriment to the poor
who historically spend larger portions of their meager resources on
lottery tickets in desperate attempts to get out of poverty.
Would it not be, therefore, ultimate hypocrisy for the church to
accept such funds and further, would it not also stifle their voice in
opposition to the growth of the gambling industry?
In the end, the argument of an elderly Scottish gentleman carried
the day when he stood up to quote William Booth, the founder of
Salvation Army, who said that he would gladly “take money from the
devil and wash it in the blood of the Lamb!” The resolution to accept the money passed by 10 votes out of
nearly 1000 cast.
see the problem, whether talking prayer breakfasts of faith-based
initiatives, the more intertwined religion becomes with government, the
more compromised its voice becomes.
Today the only German Christians from the Nazi period who are
remembered and quoted with reverence and admiration are those, like
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, who were a part of the
Confessing Church that opposed Hitler’s largely successful efforts to
gain the support of most churches for the Nazi state. Let me be clear, I am not one of those who suggest that we
have the equivalent of a Nazi state today or that President Bush is
comparable to Adolph Hitler. I
believe that the President’s faith is very sincere where Hitler’s
was very cynical. The
problem comes when faith is used as a tool by government to achieve
political ends. Hitler
skillfully used the church and German piety to build the German empire
that resulted in the Holocaust and global war.
is no accident that when President Bush announced on September 14, 2001
that “our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these
attacks and rid the world of evil”, that he did so from the pulpit of
the National Cathedral in Washington.
It is clear from his repeated statements on the call he has felt
from God, that he sees the war on terrorism as not only a political
mandate, but a religious one.
fully understand that. Evil,
after all, is a spiritual reality.
But how does one fight a
spiritual matter with military means? By characterizing the war on
Iraq and Afghanistan as a war on evil itself, the President provided the
theological basis for the abuse of Muslim prisoners.
We have been down this road before.
Once you demonize your enemy, all actions become permissible.
Thus what made 9/11 possible in the minds of terrorists is also
what made the abuses in Abu Ghraib possible in the minds of otherwise
good, patriotic soldiers.
is for this reason that church, synagogue, mosque and temple must remain
apart from government. The
prophetic voice, which by necessity must come from outside government,
is central especially in the Jewish and Christian traditions.
I have always found it fascinating that King David, the model of
a good and righteous king in the Jewish tradition, is portrayed with all
of his faults and foibles. When
he desires to have Bathsheba as part of his concubine, he conspires to
have her husband killed. That’s
what kings do. They use the
power of the state to fulfill their wishes.
Whether invading Poland or Iraq, rulers of nations have that
authority to take life when they deem it is in the interest of the
nation to do so. It takes a
prophet like Nathan apart from the power of the throne to point out to
the king his abuse of that power. That’s
what prophets do. They use
the power of truth to counter the power of the throne.
Religion at its best thus functions as a balance of power to the
Someone told me when I last spoke in this place that I was perhaps the
only person who could use the name of Jesus here and get a way with it.
Now I am really going to push my luck and use the example of
Paul. My favorite Biblical
John Dominic Crossan
, asserts that Paul “like
Jesus before him, had a divinely mandated program that secondarily and
negatively resisted imperial Rome, but that primarily and positively
incarnated global justice on the local, ordinary, and everyday level.”[viii]
Paul’s means of doing that was first, to use the language and
terms normally only used for Caesar, i.e. to call Jesus Lord was a way
of saying, Caesar ain’t, and second, to bring the pagan world to the
God of the Jewish Covenant without requiring them to become Jewish.
But that is another topic. Christians
should never forget that Jesus and Paul were victims of state-sponsored
terrorism. They were executed as threats to the established order.
It would behoove those of us who are Christian, therefore, of all
people, to be extremely cautious in our relationship with the state.
Finally then, my second corollary:
Public officials who listen to the many voices of faith are good
for government, those who use their office to promote one faith are good
neither for faith or government. One
of the most blatant examples of the abuse of power for religious
purposes this last year had to be the sad case of Terry Schiavo.
There are many religious perspectives on when life begins and
ends and what is an acceptable level of intervention to preserve a life
when all meaningful expression of human consciousness and relationship
is lost. The elected
leaders in Florida and in Washington, DC however, chose to listen only
to one in direct opposition to the one person who had legal authority in
the matter, her husband.
Republican leader Tom DeLay claimed that “God has brought to us Terri
Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what’s going on in America…
This is a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we
believe in.”[ix] Fellow Republican Rep.
Christopher Shays, evidently one of those trying to destroy everything
his party leader believes in, said after the House voted to move the
Schiavo case to federal court, “This Republican Party of Lincoln has
become a party of theocracy.”[x]
That is indeed the fear of many.
the many tragedies of this case is the example of Judge George Greer,
the county judge who order Ms. Schiavo’s tube removed on three
separate occasions and whose decision was ultimately upheld by the
Supreme Court. Judge Greer
was an active member of a Southern Baptist Church and has a reputation
as a conservative Republican. Nevertheless,
the pastor of his congregation, which had taken a stand in favor of the
continued tube feeding, wrote a letter suggesting that the Judge should
leave the congregation. Pastor
William Rice’s letter stated, “I hope you can find a way to side
with the angels.”[xi]
Judge Greer concluded that he could no longer side with that
pastor or congregation, angels or no angels, and resigned his
the family of Ms. Schiavo’s parents chose Randall Terry as the man to
be the spokesperson who would advocate for the protection of her life.
This is the man who said in 2000 about doctors who perform
abortions, “When I or people like me are running the country, you’d
better flee because we will find you, we will try you and we’ll
execute you. I mean every
word of it. I will make it
part of my mission to see to it that you are tried and executed.”[xii]
Rep. DeLay made his own threat, though not quite as violent, when
he said of judges like Judge Greer, “The time will come for the men
responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”[xiii]
Christian leaders like James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, are
calling for just that. Said
Dobson on his radio show this past April, “The troublesome Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco could be abolished and then
staffed by different judges immediately.”[xiv]
Is it any surprise that federal judges across the country are clamoring
for better protection? In short, the independence of the judiciary, at
the heart of our democracy, is under threat like never before. Those who use religion to attack the judicial system of this
country are perhaps the greatest threat to religious liberty itself.
The single greatest protection we have against theocracy is an
independent judiciary. Without
it, crosses on hillsides may indeed become common again, as common as
the days of the Roman empire.
began with a disclaimer, I do not speak for God.
That will come as a relief to some in this community, I am sure.
I received two letters this week from folk who are part of what
we call independent Christian Churches, that is, like our congregation
they go by the name of XYZ Christian Church only without (Disciples of
Christ) at the end of their name. Both
letter writers wanted me to be sure that whenever I speak publicly that
everyone understands that I am associated with the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) and not just the plain Christian Church.
Heaven forbid that I should get grouped with the wrong group of
Christians. I am not sure
if it helps or hurts if I am now associated with all of you.
Heaven forbid that you should be grouped with the wrong group of
Christians! Wouldn’t that
be an interesting twist in the ironies of history?
to my final point. There
are those who are not shy of claiming that God speaks to them.
Here is one little piece of news from two years ago reported in
Ha’aretz, which of course you know as one of the most respected papers
in Israel. In June of 2003,
President Bush met with various heads of state on his trip to the
middle-east, including Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
The Prime Minister, who does not speak English, reported his
conversation with the President to his cabinet.
The minutes of that meeting were acquired by a reporter form
Ha’aretz and translated into English, so what follows may not be
told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed
me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined
to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will
as I might, I could not find any denial of this quote from the White
House, only one reference to “inaccurate translations”.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that the President would make
such a claim to Muslim leaders. What we can say for certain is that the
President told author Bob Woodward, “We
will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in
defense of our great nation.”[xvi]
He has told others that “I
trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.”[xvii]
cite this example not to question the President’s communication with
God, but to emphasize the importance of getting religion right when it
comes to the power of government. For
there is no place in the world where getting it wrong has greater
implications for global disaster than the middle-east.
clearest example of anyone getting it wrong and the implications that
has for our world is Timothy Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left
Behind series that describe the so-called end of the world. The
entire storyline of the series, the return of Jesus as the Messiah which
sets off this cataclysmic battle between the forces of good and evil, is
based on a lie. But it is not that I have any strong opinion on their
books. So let me set the
record straight. The notion
of rapture, sometimes called “beam me up” theology, with which the
first book begins, was a concept created in the 19th century
on the basis of a mistranslation of two passages in Christian scriptures
and is nothing but pure religious fantasy.
The book of Revelation, on which must of the series claims to be
based, concerns not the future end of the world, but the past conflict
between early Christianity and the Roman empire.
is vitally important to understand these things because “left
behind” theology could very easily lead us into WWIII. In such a
belief system, John Dominic Crossan says,
we await a divine slaughter of those who are not Jews or those who are
not Christians, then we are the killer children of a Killer God… A
thirst for justice without an instinct for compassion produces killers.
Sometimes they are simply believers in a Killer God.
Sometimes they are assistant killers of a Killer God.[xviii]
Those words were written three years
before September 11, 2001. They
explain much that has happened since.
If we have any hope of stopping the killing in the name of God,
then it is not just about getting our religion or our politics right,
but we must get the relationship between the two right.
Failure to do so will only increase the number who are assistant
killers to a Killer God. Then
the only question will be this: is the greatest threat we face from
those who would attack us, or from those who are part of us?
my last question to you is, can we as a people and a nation learn how to
use religion without abusing our power?
For the sake of God, and government, I hope so.
[i] Hans Küng, Christianity
& World Religions: Paths to Dialogue.
(New York: Orbis, 1993) p. 443.
[ii] C. Herman Pritchett, The
American Constitution, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw
Hill, 1977), p. 401. Quoted
here from John M. Swomley,
Religious Liberty and the Secular State. (New York: Prometheus
Books, 1987) pp 26f.
[iii] Swomley, op cit., p 9.
[v] Matthew Dennis, “Prayer
breakfasts have a history of excluding faiths,” The
Register Guard, May 1, 2005.
John Dominic Crossan
, In Search of Paul: How
Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom.
(HarperSanFransisco, 2004), p. 412.
[ix] Molly Ivins, “What a
sweetie, that quotable Tom DeLay”, The Register Guard, April 2005.
[x] Maureen Dowd, “GOP
violating many principles in Schiavo case,” The Register Guard, March 25, 2005, p. A13.
[xi] “Judge in Schiavo case
asked to leave church,” The
Christian Century, April 19, 2005, p. 15.
[xii] “Randall Terry and the
Schiavo Case”, April 1, 2005 Press Release from the Institute for
[xiv] “Full Court Press,” The
Christian Century, May 17, 2005, p. 5.
[xv] Al Kamen, “Road Map in
the Back Seat,” The
Washington Post, June 27, 2003, p. A27.
John Dominic Crossan
, The Birth of Christianity, (HarperSanFrancisco,
1998) p. 586.
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