This is a response to the post Orthodoxy — A Way of Life? at the fascinating blog Khanya. The author’s had a run in on an Orthodox forum with some US citizens:
But in that forum about four or five people responded by referring to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, about separation of church and state.
It seemed (to me at any rate) a strange repsonse. At first sight it was a complete non-sequitur. Why should anyone take the US constitution as an authoritative statement of the Christian faith?
It implied (to me) that, in the USA at any rate, it was unconstitutional for anyone to aim to be 100% Christian. At least 50% should belong to the state.
This is the comment I wrote, but it got wordy and I think it’s important, so it’s up here instead.
I spent three years of my life studying the US Constitution and its application both theoretical and practical, and how it has been applied specifically over the last 75 years.
What those folks who trumpet the ‘seperation of church and state’ are getting at is a fallacy I believe bolstered by the rise of the Religious Right in the US. The Religious Right was focused on power but usurped Christian language and distorted Christian imagery to gain that power.
The backlash has been building and I feel like the dam will break in this current election cycle. However, the backlash is basing itself on “Well, they said they were religious, and the Constitution says that there is a seperation between church and state, so therefore if you are discussing politics, you must 100% not mention any of your religion.”
The US Constitution, however, does not state in it the words “seperation of church and state”. Many US Citizens last read the Constitution in a high school civics course, though, and unless they have an interest in Constitutional Law like I did, they never touch it again. Instead, they form semicoherent thoughts about what they think it says, which are often what they wish it said.
When dealing with law, and the Constitution is the source code of all US law, language is the key. The First Amendment to the Constitution, something that the Founding Folks almost didn’t include with the document and they had to fight to get it amended, states: “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.”
As a Christian, my goal is a 100% Christian life. So I’m not perfect at it all the time (lately I think I’m running about 15%). As a citizen of the United States of America, the First Amendment states I am free from having the Congress dictate what version of God I worship, as my Muslim neighbor is free from Congress dictating what version of God she worships, as my Pagan neighbor is free… even my rabid atheistic neighbor is free to not believe.
As a Christian, I am not able to seperate my political views from my religious belief, and I argue vehemently that my political views flow from my religious belief. For example, I believe God created all humankind in God’s blessed image, and that any government agency, from Gitmo on down to the local police, who does not treat my brothers and sisters with dignity and respect is going to hear about it from me, you betcha!