The debates of whether faith groups and institutions should/should not be allowed to actively participate in the ongoing construction of the America’s public sphere continue to have a strong effect on the realities of a contemporary living in this country.
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One of the main aspects of these debates is that, while striving to promote their point of view on the concerned subject matter, the proponents of both diametrically opposite approaches often make references to what used to be the opinions of the Founding Fathers, in this respect.
As a result, Founding Fathers are being often regarded as both: the opponents of the idea that religion should be incorporated into the country’s public life, as its integral component, and this idea’s advocates. This, of course, contributes substantially to the fact that, as of today, American citizens remain rather divided in their opinions as to what kind of a role should religion play in the society.
However, while indulging in the earlier mentioned debates, the proponents of both approaches seem to remain unaware that, during the course of the last century, the American society has undergone a dramatic transformation.
This is why, as of today, the validity of the Founding Fathers’ insights, in regards to the issue of religion, cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for the qualitative aspects of the era of post-modernity.
In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-suggestion at length, while arguing that the constitutional principle of the separation between Church and State remains thoroughly valid and that the so-called ‘people of faith’ will be much better off not meddling in the country’s public affairs.
The main argument, to which religious Americans refer, while trying to prove the legitimacy of their claim that they should be allowed to exert a strong influence on the process of a political/social decision-making in America, is that the First Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution clearly entitles Americans with the right to practice their religious beliefs freely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (First Amendment, 2013, para. 1). The same Amendment also guarantees that, regardless of what happened to be the specifics of people’s religious affiliation, they will not be discriminated against.
Another common argument, brought forward by religious citizens, in defense of their claim that they have the right to influence the government’s functioning, is that initially, the overwhelming majority of early American settlers consisted of bible-thumping Protestants. Even the majority of liberally minded Founding Fathers and most prominent American intellectuals, affiliated with them, were formally religious.
For example, as Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur pointed out, “As Christians… our thoughts are left to God” (1781, para. 7). Nevertheless, it often skips the religious people’s attention that back in the early days of America, the measure of one’s religious faithfulness used to be considered reflective of the extent of his or her existential industriousness.
The reason for this is simple – Protestants do not really need God as their ultimate benefactor, but rather as some distant authority that does not intervene in their lives actively. This is the reason why Protestants believe that it is when they are being fully self-reliant that makes God to love them – hence, allowing believers to enjoy a financial prosperity.
This explains why, as opposed to what it is being the case with Catholics, who tend to rely on ‘God’s graces’, while dealing with life-challenges, many Protestants find it intellectually repulsive to even annoy God with excessive prayers.
According to Emerson, “Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous” (1841, para. 42).
Thus, it appears that even the America’s early intellectuals, whose writings contributed immensely towards setting this country on the path of a rapid socio-cultural and technological development, did not have any illusions as to the counter-beneficiary essence of the religious believers’ primary activity – a prayer.
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In the previously quoted article, de Crevecoeur suggested that, “The rewards of his (American citizen’s) industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, SELF-INTEREST… Religion demands but little of him; a small voluntary salary to the minister…” (para. 4).
Therefore, there can be only a few doubts that, even as early as during the course of the 18th century, the American society had been already de facto secularized.
This simply could not be otherwise, because as sociologists are being well aware of, the actual strength of people’s sense of religiosity negatively relates to the quality of their living standards. In plain words – the more enjoyable happened to be one’s life, the less likely he or she would be willing to contemplate on the issue of divinity, and vice versa.
Because, upon having arrived to the New World, European settlers realized that the whole unexplored and resource-rich continent was at their disposal, there is nothing too odd about the fact that, as compared to the living standards in Europe, the living standards in America were much higher – even as far back as a few centuries ago.
Therefore, contrary to what the country’s religious citizens believe, the America’s greatness has been predetermined by the objective laws of history, which have nothing to do with the notion of a religious faith.
The same laws presupposed the eventual emergence of the theory of a ‘social contract’ (initially articulated by John Locke), which even today remains a discursive foundation, upon which the America’s continual prosperity firmly rests.
According to the theory’s foremost provision, all the citizens are absolutely equal, in the social sense of this word, “Creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection” (Locke, 1689, papa. 2).
Apparently, as they were becoming ever more intellectually enlightened, it was only natural for Americans to come to the eventual realization of the fact that there can be no rationale in providing some of the society’s members with special rights and privileges while denying the same opportunity to others.
Yet, it is specifically the religious people’s belief in their ‘specialness’, which constitutes their main psychological trait, as individuals – this is especially being the case with the affiliates of monotheistic religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
For example, even today it represents a commonplace among religious Jews and fundamentalist Christians to think of themselves as ‘chosen people’, who can justify even the most despicable behavior, on the part, by saying ‘God wills it’. What it means is that people’s right to enjoy the freedom of religious expression and their right to take an active part in the society’s functioning are mutually incompatible.
The reason for this is simple – the society’s continual stability is ensured by people’s willingness to enter into ‘social contracts’ with each other, which in turn presupposes a certain degree of an intellectual flexibility, on their part.
However, as we well know, strongly religious people can be referred to as anything but intellectually flexible. Therefore, after having been allowed to form political parties, as the part of taking a practical advantage of their constitutionally guaranteed rights, religious individuals will inevitably concern themselves with trying to limit the rights of others.
The suggestion that faith groups should be in the position of influencing the government/society will also appear discursively inconsistent, once we take into consideration the qualitative dynamics within the American society.
After all, it does not account for any secret that, as of today, this society is becoming increasingly multicultural – the process that has direct implications, in regards to how the society’s members go about practicing their religions, because one’s sense of religiosity cannot be discussed outside for what accounts for the concerned individual’s ethno-cultural affiliation.
For example, the majority of practicing Christians in the U.S. are Whites. This partially explains why, despite the fact many American Christians remain thoroughly convinced that they act in exact accordance with how Jesus would like them to, this is far from being the actual case – the genetically predetermined workings of the White people’s mentality cause their religious longings to be artificial to an extent.
This is exactly the reason why American Christians consist of predominantly older people, who attend Church once per week, while trying not to asleep there during the sermon. Therefore, there is nothing odd about the claims that, as of today, the religion of Christianity in America is effectively ‘dying’.
However, the same cannot be said about the religion of Islam, for example – the bulk of American Muslims accounts for comparatively young people, who bend down on their knees and pray Allah five times per day, regardless of where the ‘prayer time’ finds them.
What it means is that in the future, it is specifically the representatives of the world’s ‘alive’ monotheistic religions (such as Islam), the population of which in America grows rather rapidly due to the institutialization of the ‘celebration of diversity’ policy, that will strive to influence the society more than the representatives of any other religions.
Therefore, the government’s hypothetical decision to allow faith groups to take an active part in influencing the process of the country’s domestic policies being designed will create objective preconditions for America to be set on the path of Islamization – just as it happened in Britain a few decades ago.
Then, it will be only the matter of time, before Muslim believers would begin demanding the incorporation of the Sharia Laws, as the integral part of the America’s legal system – hence, causing this country to put away with the ideals of democracy, once and for all.
Given the fact that America currently remains in the state of a ‘cold war’ with the Muslim world, the faith groups’ claims that they should be allowed to have their voices heard in the public sphere can be well-referred to, as such that correlate well with the agenda of the agents of foreign influence in the country.
Therefore, there is nothing ‘unconstitutional’ about the government’s strive to limit the scope of socio-political influence, on the part of faith groups – by acting in such a manner, the government is being driven by the considerations of national security.
This once again points out to the fact that under no circumstances may the principle of the separation between Church and State be claimed counterproductive by religious citizens, whose primary agenda is being concerned with nothing less than reversing the course of the historical progress backward.
The final argument against ‘sacralization’, which can be brought forward by those citizens that understand the whole scope of threats, associated with allowing faith groups to influence the society’s functioning, rests on the assumption that responsible policy-makers must be capable of coming up with discursively justified/wise decisions, which will prove beneficial to the society’s functioning in the long run.
The fact that, as practice shows, the government’s wise decisions rarely enjoy popularity among ordinary citizens, should not be affecting the policy-makers’ ability to act wisely. The reason for this is that, as Socrates pointed out in the famous dialogue ‘Crito’, “By acting under the advice of those who have no understanding, we destroy that which is improved by health and is deteriorated by disease” (Plato, 46b-49a).
In light of the recent discoveries in the fields of physics, biology and psychology, and also in light of what we know about the bloody history of monotheistic religions, one’s strong affiliation with a particular religious faith cannot be referred to as anything, but the indication that the concerned individual never ‘grew up’, while continuing to remain cognitively infantile.
In fact, this would be the best-case scenario, as one’s serious belief in the religious fables about talking donkeys, women’s impregnation by ‘holy ghosts’ and the sun standing still in the sky can be well regarded as the proof of the individual’s mental inadequacy. We certainly do not allow violently minded lunatics, endowed with the Messianic complex, to roam free out on the street, as it would endanger the society’s healthy members.
Why should be religious fanatics treated differently – not to mention allowing them to form political parties? Whatever the politically incorrect it may sound, but religion does deserve to be deemed in terms of a ‘mind disease’ – one should only attend the gathering of Christian ‘snake-handlers’ or Pentecostals, for example, in order to confirm the full legitimacy of this statement.
Therefore, it will only be natural limiting the scope of religious citizens’ rights – just as it is being the case with people who undergo a psychiatric treatment. This would benefit religious individuals in more ways than just one, even though that, while remaining in the state of a religious arrogance, they may not like it.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, in defense of the idea that faith groups should not be allowed to gain influence in the society, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
By not attempting to gain such an influence, the members of these groups would be acting in full accordance with the religion’s main theological postulate that the secular world is not worthy for believers to focus their attention upon and that they should be concerned with trying to come to the ‘kingdom of heaven’, as their foremost priority in life.
de Crevecoeur, H. (1781). Letter III. What is an American. Web.
Emerson, R. (1841). Self-reliance. Web.
First Amendment. (2013). Web.
Locke, J. (1689). Second treatise of civil government: Chapter 2. Web.
Plato. Crito. Web.