Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A call for theist solidarity

There was a time when people of faith could afford to engage in bickering among ourselves.

Back in the 1980’s, the only significant opposition my church faced was from Evangelicals. In the comparative religions section of their bookstores, the number of books and pamphlets challenging Mormonism typically was greater than those against all other religions, combined, including Islam. Walter Martin, Ed Decker, Dick Baer, Jim McKeever, James R. Spencer, and others toured the country, lecturing in churches on our supposed errors. Decker’s film, The God Makers, received extensive play in these churches, though you’ve probably never heard of The God Makers II. By the time it came out, many had become concerned over some of the claims Decker and his associate Bill Schnoebelen were making, and began distancing themselves.

As a brash young return missionary with a 80286 based DOS computer, with a whopping 40 MB hard drive and a 2400 baud modem, I took to the fidonet-linked dial up BBS’s with vigor, eager to take on any and all who would accept my challenge.

With several decades of life experience, you’ll find my online persona to be significantly more tactful these days, though I retain much of that earlier passion for online intellectual sparring. I no longer seek to engage those from rival factions of Christianity, however, since a more pressing cause has emerged.

It was once said that organizing atheists is like herding cats, but the advent of the internet has proven that old adage false. The Secular Left, though there is much they don't see eye-to-eye on, have united to change western society, and they have made their influence felt.

If you doubt the impact they are having, just look at how the general public now reacts to the buzz phrase "The Religious Right". Many, who are not among the ranks of those adamantly opposed to religion, have been persuaded that a movement to maintain or regain the historic Christian influence in American society is actually some kind of a subversive plot, covertly seeking to replace our form of government with a despotic theocracy. People who would like to take this country back to the United States of the 1950’s, minus the cold war and Jim Crow laws, are suspiciously viewed as scheming to take us back to the inquisition.

We can spend our time nitpicking each other's theology. We can argue that the next guy’s approach to evangelism is offending the majority of his target audience, and hurting the cause. We can trade accusations that unless you change your beliefs, or change your ways, God is not going to let you into heaven. Though the fact is, that matter is up to God. My opinion of your salvation, and yours of mine, have no bearing on who will actually be saved, and a point can be made that placing yourself into the judgment seat of Christ is the sin of idolatry.

Meanwhile, anti-religions sentiments are growing. The Secular Left makes no distinction between Mormons, Evangelicals, Catholics, or any other community of believers who do not keep their faith, and their faith influenced values, confined within the walls of the home and the church building. They say that by expressing our values in the public square, we are violating their right to be peacefully left alone, that if we cannot compartmentalize our beliefs and enter the doors of the statehouse with a strictly secular mindset, we are unfit to hold office. Thus we find ourselves faced with a very real and expanding threat to our rights as citizens.

We can engage in endless debate about what might happen in the eternities, or we stand together in social and political activism on matters where we agree, and which affect the here and now. We can be divided (and conquered), or we can unite out voices so that the message get's out as loudly as we can get it out, we don't want to subvert democracy, we want to participate in it.

Today we find ourselves in a society bitterly divided between two conflicting values systems, fighting over which will emerge as the American system of values. Ironically, we who are trying to maintain the way things have been historically are commonly perceived as the aggressors.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

One of the great things about the United States is that not all parts of it are the same.

If only we could all just agree to let the Baptists have Bible Belt, let Utah be Mormon, and let New England be secular, we could have a cease fire in the culture wars…if only we could all just accept, and indeed celebrate, the fact that American communities have varying levels of religious influence, and we are all free to choose someplace that suits us better if we are not comfortable where we currently live.

The Secular Left will never agree.

They consider predominant religious influence in a community to be tantamount to theocracy, and as long as it exists anywhere within the jurisdiction of what they consider to be their secular nation, they will fight.

When they can’t muster the numbers to prevail, they turn to the judiciary. Thus we find ourselves in the position where we must reach across state lines, and oppose liberal trends in other parts of the country, in order to avoid federal action that will be binding where we live.

We don’t even need to get into Soviet or Red Chinese models.

Recently there were massive protests in London against the Pope. Religious literature being handed out in that country is being scrutinized, and arrests are being made if they can infer anything derogatory in the contents. In France, the government has officially declared itself to be secular. Laws are presently being enacted against the wearing of religious garb. Legal hurdles have long stood in the way of French Mormons seeking to have a temple of their own.

In the United States, standing on public property, declaring your message to all who pass by, has historically been the most fundamental example of the expression of free speech. Today, American police regard any activity that causes another person to call in a complaint as creating an unlawful disturbance. Youtube is filled with footage of street preachers being confronted. Those who try to argue about their rights very often find themselves being taken away to jail.

Judges are ordering Nativity scenes, plaques containing the Ten Commandments, and crosses intended simply as memorials, be removed from public property, under the guise that unless there is room for everyone's point of view, than no one's point of view shall be expressed.  An absurd premise, given that examples where government only allows some people to be heard are endless:

-It is common for city council meetings run their allotted time, and adjourn, before everyone who wanted to speak has had a chance.

-If one group learns that those they oppose on a controversial issue has been granted a permit to use the State Capitol grounds for a rally, their application to counter-demonstrate will always be denied, on the basis that clashes might break out.

-Fringe candidates with no reasonable chance of winning an election are usually not granted a place in political debates.

The environment in which we live is becoming increasingly hostile to all people who are open and public about their theistic belief. I say it’s time to put off our arguments about who believes in the wrong God, until the more immediate crisis has been resolved.

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