Secular Government vs. Secular Society (Part 1 of 2)

One of the ongoing arguments in the American public square is just how “religious” is our country and how much of that religiosity is — or should be — allowed in our government & society. One side typically has talking points about the Establishment Clause in the Constitution and the Separation of Church & State doctrine in, well, no official document. They point out the non-sectarian nature of our founding documents and institutions, claiming they were based on Enlightenment ideas. The other side counters with the obviously Judeo-Christian principles — and, often, Christian beliefs — exhibited and expressed by most of our Founding Fathers and which are recognized within our founding documents, institutions, etc.

Declaration of Independence being written

Franklin & Adams reviewing Jefferson’s draft of Declaration of Independence

Truth is, some ideas & principles were held in common by Enlightenment thinking and traditional Judeo-Christian doctrine. For example, the ideas of freedom and democracy and equality. The details & boundaries may have differed somewhat (as they did within each camp), and certainly the grounding for any rights to such things, but there were definitely some shared ideas.

Here is an excerpt from Sen. Jim DeMint’s book Saving Freedom on his thoughts about a secular government versus a secular society in America. I found it… enlightening.

“On one of my trips to Iraq in 2005, I arrived about a month before their first election. The State Department encouraged my colleagues and I to press the candidates for president and prime minister to form a secular government that promoted religious freedom and capitalism instead of a Muslim theocracy. As I encouraged these Iraqi candidates to adopt a secular government, it occurred to me I was fighting against the destructive forces of secularism back home in America. I became conflicted about the role of religion in government.

This personal conflict encouraged me to think more clearly about the difference between a secular government and a secular society. One is good; the other is destructive. WE do not want a government that represents a particular religion or forces a particular religion on its people. Our government should be religion-neutral or secular.

But we also do not want a government that purges religion from society. We do not want a government that prohibits religious-based moral judgments by individuals or private institutions. We do not want a government that excludes constructive values and principles from public policy because they may be associated with religious principles. And we do not want a government that promotes destructive behaviors opposed to the traditional values of our nation.

‘The framers… knew from history, even early American history, that imposed faith could be disastrous for freedom…. Yet the American framers’ linking of republicanism and religion was one of their most characteristic, if surprising, emphases. They believed that the self-government of the republic rests on the self-government of the citizens. They recognized that the rule of law constrains the external, whereas an individual’s faith is obedience to the unenforceable and an act of freedom. Faith is indispensable to freedom, they claimed — to liberty itself and also to the social vitality and civic harmony that undergird freedom. Their position can be expressed simply in a kind of eternal triangle of first principles: “Liberty requires virtue, virtue requires religion, and religion requires liberty.”‘
— Os Guinness, author & social critic

A free nation needs a government that encourages (not forces) the practice of religion and does nothing to diminish its importance in society. America needs a government that guarantees religious freedom and the freedom to practice religion within reasonable legal boundaries. Our faiths will lead us to be tolerant and compassionate toward those with different beliefs, but freedom will demand we have the right to form associations with those who share our religion, values, and principles. This freedom also means that nongovernment, voluntary associations should have the right to exclude those who don’t share their faith and values.”

Note that this is coming from a conservative, evangelical Christian, like myself. You know,… the kind that certain people claim want our nation to be some sort of puritanical theocracy. Does this sound like a push for theocracy?!

That’s a lot to chew on, so I think I’ll leave it at that. Talk amongst yourselves. Leave comments. I’ll post Part 2 in a couple days.


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