The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com.
Why All the Fuss?
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
My wife was born and reared in China. She and I have pretty much the same views on political, social, moral and economic issues – that’s one reason why we’re together. On the other hand, considering our very different rearings, we have a few minor divergences. As Winston Churchill is supposed to have said, “if two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”
It will come as no surprise that one thing my wife and I disagree on is religion. What may surprise you is how we disagree: my wife, after coming to America over a dozen years ago, has observed on a number of occasions that Americans appear to take religion way more seriously than the Chinese. She has commented as much on this very show.
For her, religion was pretty much nonexistent in her first 35 years of life in China. She grew up under Mao. And, like Mao, the Chinese have for centuries pretty much ignored skygods and their insatiable demands for religious persecution. And, lest we forget, the Vatican took the side of Japan in World War II!
Sure, there is that recognition of the spirits of ancestors, such as burning money during Qingming, that is, the Clear Bright Festival (清明节): my wife commemorated Qingming today, in memory of her dead father. But Qingming is more traditional than doctrinal, more cultural than religious. Most Chinese are only passively Buddhist, but few are active devotees – and Buddhism isn’t a religion, anyway. Chinese Christians, by the most generous estimate – and I say generous because even children are counted – comprise only slightly more than 4% of the population, even after 1,300 years of missionary work!
But here in America, my wife observes, there seems to be a church on every street corner, politicians have to wear their religion on their sleeve, and to be suspected of irreligion – or, as in the case of President Obama, to be suspected of the wrong religion – is to be suspected of evil. In short, she wonders about Americans, “Why all the fuss about religion?”
Oh, where do I begin?
First, my wife is really asking two questions: “Why do Americans make such a fuss about religion?” and “Why do we at ‘American Heathen’ make such a fuss about religion?”
We nonbelievers would get along fine in society if believers would simply leave us alone – and keep their creeds out of our laws. However, that simply isn’t happening. Want proof?
Despite the overwhelming number of believers in the general population and in powerful legislative positions, when they don't get their own way, believers whine that this is an anti-religion country.
Believers do everything possible to get laws passed that will prevent the rest of us from making our own choices in matters of sex, procreation, life-styles, family units, drug use, and so on.
While believer couples who marry, rarely have any difficulty finding a place to do so, it is nearly impossible for nonbeliever couples to find a place where they can marry, or a secular official to perform the ceremony, or a secular ceremony to follow.
Believers, including Muslims, tend to call homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals “criminals against nature,” strictly condemn such behavior and have used their massive political influence to criminalize same-sex marriages.
Believers have passed laws (known as Blue Laws) that require most businesses to close on Sundays, preventing nonbelievers from working or buying what they want or need.
All of our money has the motto “In God We Trust” printed on it, thereby officially excluding nonbelievers from membership in the American community; efforts to reinstate the more inclusive "E Pluribus Unum," however, are met with derision.
In school, our children are made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, including, “One nation, under God, indivisible,” thereby excluding nonbelieving students and indoctrinating in religion children too young to make their own choices. Legislators require many schools to have a “moment of silence,” during which children are encouraged to pray.
High school and college commencement ceremonies include brief speeches at the beginning and end of the ceremony in which God is praised. Nonbelievers who object to the practice, or who ask for more inclusive words, are regarded as cranks. Not only do commencement ceremonies feature pro-religion speeches, there’s usually an entire two-hour ceremony the day before graduation dedicated to upholding the supposed religious foundation of our educational system.
Churches are excused from paying most taxes, even though they consume public services like the rest of us, provide nothing to the general society in return (except, perhaps, lessons in irrationality), and make the rest of us pay more tax in their place.
Private colleges and universities in the US that were founded by religious groups, often use hiring practices that exclude nonbelievers from their faculty and staff. And this discrimination against nonbelievers is permitted and even protected by law!
Prisoners have become wise to the fact that they may receive early paroles if they claim to have found religion and been saved by Jesus.
Politicians often refer to America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” when trying to get elected.
Each house of Congress also has its own chaplain, paid with tax dollars, who leads the body in prayer at the beginning of each session and who has never been other than a Christian. This, even though James Madison specifically said appointment of a Congressional chaplain would be unconstitutional.*
Every year in November, the President issues a proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving, calling on Americans to spend the day thanking God for creating Americans, helping them achieve happiness, and keeping the country secure. Each year, the President lights the National Christmas Tree. Similarly, after a major disaster the President usually calls for nationwide prayer and ends every speech with the words, "God bless you and God bless America."
Judges often rule in favor of the religious in child custody hearings because belief in God is considered virtuous. It is much easier to adopt a child if the prospective parents assert they are believers. In many courthouses, crosses and other religious symbols appear in the courtroom, sending a message of intimidation to nonbelievers.
Seven states in the US – Massachusetts, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island – have blasphemy laws which make criminal those who revile the one true god and his son or prophet.
Finally, we number our calendar years according to the number of years that have passed since the mythical first Christian was born. But take heart: Christians have been unable to rename the pagan days of the week or months of the year!
Although the extreme right is right behind most of the religious mischief, the extreme left, having lost their voice along with their good sense, are facilitating the theocratizing of America. It’s up to us, the “extreme middle” at “American Heathen,” to bring balance back.
And honey, I hope that answers your question.
* Here is a quote from James Madison’s "detached memoranda"—
"Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation?"
Furthermore, Madison was opposed to the appointment of a Congressional chaplain. Years later (July 10, 1822), in a letter to Edward Livingston, he wrote:
"I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principal with me; and it was not with my approbation that the deviation from it took place in congress, when they appointed chaplains, to be paid from the national treasury."
Newcomb rejected the idea of immortality and made no secret of his Freethinking views. President William Howard Taft attended his funeral.