Secular-humanist I might be, but I agree with Christians on this one thing…

May 29, 2006 at 10:59 am 1 comment

By JOHN POWERS 

Kenyananalyst, a.k.a Jesse Masai, was kind enough to to drop by my blog and leave a message.

I wrote him an e-mail to thank him; an e-mail rather than a comment at the blog because I tend to ramble rather terribly.

Mr. Masai wrote back and asked whether he could publish the e-mail, and kindly gave me the opportunity to make changes.

He also alerted me to his post "The death of Satan:  How Kenyans have lost a sense of evil( and why they must get it b4 2007)" and subsequent discussions to provide a context as to why my e-mail was relevant at all.

I've decided to make changes to my e-mail in an attempt at greater clarity.

Mr. Masai attended school for a while in Pennsylvania and that's the state in the USA where I live, near Pittsburgh.

I'm fifty and in my formative teen years my family lived in the American South.

In the United States right now all three branches of the Federal Government are controlled by the Republican Party.

A great deal of the success of Republicans in attaining national office has been credited to the efforts of the religious right.

In opinion polls, President Bush's approval ratings are very low right now.  

As we enter into elections in November of this year, where all members of the US House of Representatives and one-third of the of the members of the US Senate, along with many state and local officials, will stand, there is increased discussion of politics.

In political discussions, "Southern evangelical Christians" are often mentioned as a powerful voting block in favor of very right wing Republican politicians.

I should make it clear  that my politics tend towards the left and that I'm a secular-humanist.

I still very much appreciate the well-reasoned and consistently compassionate writings of Mr. Masai.

It interested me reading the Lausanne Covenant, which Mr. Masai links to at this blog as "My Statement of Faith."

I was very interested in this from that document:

13. FREEDOM AND PERSECUTION

It is the God-appointed duty of every government to secure conditions of peace, justice and liberty in which the Church may obey God, serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and preach the Gospel without interference.

We therefore pray for the leaders of nations and call upon them to guarantee the freedom of thought and conscience, and freedom to practise and propagate religion in accordance with the will of God and as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

While "Southern evangelical Christians" are often discussed in political conversations, lumping everyone together causes confusion.

I'm of the opinion that some right-wing Christians here are Christian Fascist.

That's an incendiary name-calling, but my intention isn't to drop a bomb, simply as briefly as possible to say where I'm from.

Clearly religious views are complicated and I'm hardly an expert.

However my thesis – lol opinion – is that lumping together the religious right in the USA as "Southern evangelical Christians" underplays a very important and quite fundamental value of evangelical Christianity in the USA which is summed up neatly by the Lausanne Covenant regarding the importance of guarantees of freedom of thought and conscience.

The value of freedom of thought and conscience has deep roots in American history.

There was a religious leader named Roger Williams.

What Williams called "Soul Liberty," which is roughly freedom of conscience, became a very important thread in American evangelical Christianity.  

It's also a very important thread in American government and values, such that in 1941 when Franklin Roosevelt gave his "Four Freedoms" speech, there was very broad agreement.

Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms people everywhere ought to enjoy:

1.  Freedom of speech and expression.

2.  Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way.

3.  Freedom from want – individual economic security.

4.  Freedom from fear – world disaarmament to the point that wars of aggression are impossible.

Roosevelt isn't a popular figure with Republicans who now hold majorities in all branches of the Federal Government.

He certainly wasn't popular among Republicans when he served, but at the time politics and religion were not joined in the ways we find today.

Now Republicans are considered the party of conservative Christians and Republican politicians seek to make laws "because we are a Christian nation."

Many Christians, although hardly all, are politically conservative, however the rhetoric which Chris Hedges has in his article "The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism" often runs quite counter to the deeply held value of freedom of thought and conscience rooted firmly in American and American religious history.

Here is a quotation Hedges cites:

"Rushdooney's son in-law, Gary North, a popular writer and founder for the Institute for Christian Economics, laid out the aims of the Christian right.  

'So let's be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools untill we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government.

Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the relious liberty of the enemies of God.'" (Christianity and Civilization, Spring, 1982).

As a Humanist, am frightened by those proclaiming a theodicy, a vindication of God's justice in the face of evil, as in Pope Urban II's call for the Crusades, "God wills it!"

Coercion in the defense of faith is precisely what Roger Williams and the great many evangelical Christians here in America opposed, not for secular reasons as I am wont, but rather religious reasons.

Mr. Masai's religious convictions are obviously strong.

He stands for something, that pits him against, say for example, some of what I stand for.

What is very good about the value of the freedom of thought and conscience is that religious people can stand together on important matters of politics and civic society in love and peace with people who don't share their religious faith.

Doing so doesn't diminish Mr. Masai's relationshop with Christ, nor curtail his ability to evangelize.

Religious tensions exist, but religious wars are not inevitable.

People of goodwill can agree on a value of freedom of thought and conscience.

It's a position championed by many evangelical Christians through history and something of great relevance today. 

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Entry filed under: Kenya, Politics, Religion, Society, World.

I was just wondering… New episode on Kalenjin podcast

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. John Powers  |  May 29, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    I was most interested to see that the Aga Khan in a commencement address at Columbia University discussed the problem of compulsion in religion:

    http://www.akdn.org/speeches/150506_Columbia.htm

    “Let me finally emphasize my strong conviction that public integrity cannot grow out of authoritarian pronouncements. It must be rooted in the human heart and conscience. As the Holy Quran says: “There is no compulsion in religion”. The resurgence of spirituality – potentially such a positive force – can become a negative influence when it turns into self-righteousness and imposes itself on others. Like all of the world’s great religions, Islam warns against the danger of comparing oneself with God, and places primary emphasis on the qualities of generosity, mercy and humility.”

    Religious people have no monopoly on self-righteousness! The freedom of thought, conscience and religion is fundamental and universal.

    Reply

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