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Freedom for the birds?

“I am for freedom of religion,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to another Founding Father, “and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”

The insistence on the separation of church and state on the part of our founders might have sprung, in part, from their leanings toward deism, which rejects the notion that God is involved with our day-to-day doings. Jefferson, while being in Christianity’s camp (he regarded it as the best of all moral systems), was a staunch deist, and even produced a Bible that excised all references to Jesus as supernatural or divine. Maybe his—and his fellow founders’—concerns about state-approved religious favoritism grew out of the conviction that all religious creeds are created equal – that is, they are all equally dubious. (A charitable opinion, as some are patently more dubious than others.)

This week the Supreme Court ruled, in Town of Greece v. Galloway, that allowing chaplains to open legislative meetings with prayers does not violate the Establishment (of religion) Clause of the First Amendment, thereby giving its tacit endorsement to the Christian belief-system. It was a victory for every half-wit who not only cherishes his own half-baked but unshakeable theology but demands that other half-wits embrace it. (The religious skeptic, the rational non-believer is outside such a devotee’s immediate scope of interest, perhaps not irredeemable but certainly unintelligible.)

On the home front, our daily fish wrapper’s religion columnist wrote a piece last week about why people are leaving the church in droves. He chalks it up to an aversion to what he calls “imperial religion,” which he compares to what nations do in the secular realm: “(they) display strength, claim divine favor, intimidate enemies, promote self-interest. They never admit fault or doubt.” He says that when churches act this way, it’s “a turnoff for millions.”

This doesn’t sound right. The turnoff, I suspect, is that the Church, in the eyes of many apostates, has lost its way – become wishy-washy. People crave certitude, and admire power, and the old-time imperial religion was good enough for them. Who needs doubt, and who needs a church that’s unsure of itself? For that matter, who wants freedom of religion? Freedom means having to think, which is why so many people fear it.

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