Coffee & Wisdom 02.56: The Wobbly Wall: Separation of Religion and State Part 2

David Breeden is speaking all week about Church/State Separation.


Please Subscribe



Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and this is Coffee and Wisdom. This week we’re talking about the “Wobbly Wall”, the separation of religion and state in the U.S….that’s called the Establishment Clause…,thinking through what secularity means, what being a theocracy means, and those kinds of issues. Yesterday I mentioned there are 195 nations on the earth, including a couple that we don’t always count as nations, including the Vatican and the state of Palestine. Among those, there are 51 that are officially non-secular states. That is, states that say, yes, we do indeed honor one religion over other religions. This means that the government and the religion is very closely aligned. Probably the best known case of this, in the U.S. anyway among Americans, is England, the United Kingdom and how the Church of England has become a part or been a part of the government since Henry VIII’s days. Here we have Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican tradition, shaking hands, glad-handing around. This is the kind of relationship that’s going on when we have government and religion as bedfellows, as it were. I should mention quickly that George Orwell looked at this closely. You remember George Orwell from past discussions, very much into the idea of what is actually the truth. His book from 1937, called The Road to Wigan Pier, looked at the British working class. He went to Wigan Pier, a very poor part of town, and began to talk to the laborers there, asking them about what they were interested in, what they were not interested in, etc.. What Orwell discovered is that these working class people had no religion at all, nor were they interested in religion. Now, his speculation on that is that the working class of England had already decided that religion was all about the ruling class. It was a game among the rich and they had no interest in it whatsoever. And this is one of the things that does appear to happen very often when you have a government and religion very closely aligned. The people who feel outside, those who feel oppressed, don’t want to have anything to do with that religion. The most famous quote from Wigan Pier is probably this one from Orwell: “As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for socialism is its adherents.” From 1937. Now, one of the things that’s a kind of a sleight of hand when we look at American history then is the poor British who were coming to the colonies here were not religious for the most part. We look at Massachusetts and say, Oh, look at those Puritans, they were coming here for religion, etc. But we don’t look at the other 12 colonies, which were not about religion for the most part. The poor who were coming here for the most part, had no religion. We know that by simply looking at what went on afterward with the Methodist circuit riders, (and) Baptist circuit riders. The poor in America, the oppressed, the rural people were Christianized later by the effects here in the United States, but it didn’t come from the state religion of the United Kingdom. So one of those oddities that we don’t really think that much about. What is a government when it is in bed with religion? Well, the government financially supports religion that religion or sometimes, as in the case with the U.K. today, there was a pretense of, yes, we spend this amount of money on the Church of England for schools, for example, but we will also spend the same amount of money proportionally for Islamic schools, etc. Separate but equal is one of those things that doesn’t work out very well, as we know from the American experience. That also implies government control over the polity, creeds and clergy appointments. That is, that the ruling politicians of the country control who is in control of the religion. Also, there are often laws requiring mandatory attendance of church services or religious services, laws requiring the licensing of other religious bodies so they can keep up with the other kinds of religion that are in the country and monitor them very often. The use of religious institutions, for the records of births, deaths and marriages, instead of state or local governments doing that. And then religious tests for voting eligibility, just so you can prove that you are of the dominant religion of the nation. Well, yesterday I ended with a question: Is the separation of church and state the same thing as separation of religion and politics? Because this is really where the rubber meets the road, here in the United States anyway, is do we have the separation? We do by law, we know, but because of the (1st) Amendment. But what does that mean in practice? What does it mean in practice? And we know that here in the U.S., this is a spark point in the culture wars, always. One of the things I do want to go into today a little bit is watching terminology a little bit, because, no, Judeo-Christianity is not a thing, if you ask most Jewish people certainly about this. Now, where did this term come from? Well, it was used in the 19th century to describe Jewish converts to Christianity. So they were culturally Jewish, they had been born into Jewish families, but they had converted to Christianity. So they were Judeo-Christian. That becomes very important during the Nazi period, because at first the Nazis were only persecuting people who were Jewish by religion. As the crackdown went on, as the concentration camps filled up, suddenly, then they moved to a different class of people. And those were Christians who had been born in a Jewish tradition, no matter how far back they had converted, by the way. And so this became a term that was much feared in Nazi Germany. It comes into U.S. parlance during the war as well, or in the buildup to the war as well. It first appeared in 1934 in The New York Times in an article called “Good-Will Barred to Nazis by Rabbis.” So the rabbis are not going to cut these Nazis any slack, they’re saying in 1934. They wrote in the New York Times, “We protest with all our might against the oppression of any individual on these grounds as contrary to the great Judeo-Christian heritage of our civilization.” Now, we must see the historical context of this. So this term “Judeo-Christian” in German had been used as a way of rounding up Christian Jews. Now, the rabbis, the Jews in the U.S., are going to say…we’re going to use this term Judeo-Christian to say, hey, guess what? We are actually very much a part of your tradition. So let’s think about anti-Semitism as a very dangerous attack on our heritage of Judeo-Christian. You see how this goes into popular parlance. Very quickly you see books such as this: The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition by Arthur A. Cohen, who died in 1986, a novelist and a theologian, a theologian of Judaism, who said, “You know what, there is no Judeo-Christian tradition at all.” It’s all made up. Here are the facts. And this then becomes very much a part of what’s going on. You’re going to have Christians in the U.S., during the McCarthy Era and on, saying we have a Judeo-Christian tradition and it’s not like those communists who are atheists, but you’re going to have Jewish folk saying, “wait a minute, we don’t think that this is a very good way to describe us.” Now, why is that? Well, because of a very simple idea in Christianity called Supersecessionism, also known as “replacement theology.” That is the belief that Christianity superseded Judaism, the “new” covenant of God is with Christians, superseding the “old” covenant of God with Jews, hence, the New Testament and the Old Testament. As if, yes, it’s a video game in which we have Jesus and Moses fighting it out to see who gets the prize. Supersecessionism is a very old Christian idea. It is embedded within Christianity and has to really be specifically repudiated, because the early Christians, all the way back to the actual writing of Christian scripture, believed that Christianity had superseded Judaism. So, the Old Testament and the New Testament is actually a way to express Supersecessionism. Most liberal theologians today don’t use those terms. We call it Hebrew scripture and Christian scripture, but not Old Testament and New Testament. It’s not about this “old” covenant with God that the Jews had that ran out when Jesus came along. If you notice from this particular New Testament version, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Translated out of the original Greek, etc. by His Majesty’s Special Command and appointed to be read in churches. Yes, that is the official King James Version of the Bible. This idea that the New Testament is about Christians and the Jews are left out in the cold: Supersecessionism. I should quickly mention that the doctrine of liberal Christians, most liberal Christians today, liberal Protestant denominations, and the Roman Catholic Church officially, now has what they call a “dual covenant,” that is, that both covenants are valid. Therefore, Roman Catholics, for example, no longer believe that Jews are going straight to Hell because they’re not Christian. We should mention that, Traditional Islamic theology claims that both Judaism and Christianity have been superseded by the Qur’an. There you have it. For example, if you cruise around the Internet a little bit, you’re going to see Old Testament versus New Testament. What’s the difference? from a very Christian viewpoint? And you can tell it’s Christian because it calls it Old Testament and New Testament. Over here, we have a book called Jesus in the Old Testament, the Messiah Revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is exactly the problem as far as practicing Jews are concerned, that, no, the Old Testament, the old Hebrew scriptures, are not talking about Jesus. They’re talking about a messiah that early Christians began to say, oh, we know who it is and tried to supersede the idea of the Hebrew covenant. So Judeo-Christian is a term to be used very carefully because it is a politically motivated term that most theologians no longer use, liberal theologians anyway, but on the right wing in the United States you see it everywhere because it is a statement about how Christianity has superseded Judaism. We own the covenant now, is the claim. So you’re going to see this kind of thing everywhere. This is from a website called National Center for Constitutional Studies. Guess what? It’s a front for right wing Christian views, Judeo roots of America’s founding ideals and documents, it says. And if you look down this very quickly here, you’ll see, for example, principal reliance on the providence of God, Judeo-Christian roots. And you see…bing, bing… Isaiah. Isaiah is Hebrew scripture, not Christian scripture. So you’re going to see this Christian jumbling, saying, wait a minute, this is what Isaiah says about the Messiah, because we know who the Messiah is, and Jews will say, no, that’s not the way it is. So it’s fasthand use of how these terms worked out. Here’s another one from 2009 back when Obama was President: Obama Is Wrong When He Says We’re Not a Judeo-Christian Nation. “We have not abandoned the principles upon which we were founded,” he says here. I want to show you this, because this is how these ideas get twisted a little bit and used, “Our nation’s history provides overwhelming evidence that America was birthed upon Judeo-Christian principles.” Number one, watch out for terms like “America” instead of the United States. Right. A little bit odd. Also “Judeo-Christian,” again, not used by people who have thought it through very much. “The first act of America’s first Congress in 1774 was to ask a minister to open with prayer and to lead Congress in the reading of four chapters of the Bible.” Which ones we were not told here. “In 1776, in approving the Declaration of Independence, our founders acknowledged that all men ‘are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…'” We need to look at that, which will do later in the week in terms of what they meant by that, “…and noted that they were relying ‘on the protection of Divine Providence in the founding of this country. John Quincy Adams said, ‘The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.'” Again, this is one of the ways to play to people who don’t quite follow what’s going on, because John Quincy Adams wasn’t there. It was his father, John Adams, who was, John Quincy Adams was indeed a President of the United States, but had no dealings whatsoever with the founding of the country. So what he said about it was secondhand at best, and probably just being made up. “Also, the signers of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, insisted that the treaty begin with the phrase, ‘In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.'” OK, that is a very particular kind of Christianity, isn’t it? Let’s take a peek at that. So that’s the claim. And here’s the text: “In the name of the…”, and this is how this treaty begins: “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity” … (it) does say that, doesn’t it? “It having please the Divine Providence,” says that too, “to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg, Arch-Treasurer and Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, …, and of the United States of America to forget all past Misunderstandings….” Oh, wait. They already knew that these things weren’t true, didn’t they? George The third was in no way, shape or form the King of France at this time, and he was perhaps a defender of the faith, maybe you could say that, but he also was in no way the Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, which no longer existed. So there’s a lot of fiction going on from the writers of this particular document. So, yeah, it says that, but it also says a lot of other untrue things. So we have to begin to be very careful about these kind of claims. The prayer of the Continental Congress of 1774? Yes, indeed, in 1774 there was indeed at 9:00 a.m. on September 7th, a reverend was asked to say a prayer and he did indeed begin it by saying, our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords and, you know, take care of us, and then ends it with the traditional Christian ending: “Jesus Christ, Thy son and our Savior. So that did indeed happen in 1774. Again, no mention of which of those chapters were read after this. One of the ways to balance these ideas off is from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. A lot of humanists and secular people belong to this particular group, which specifically is about how to keep the wall of separation up and working and debunking the ideas that are going on. So indeed, Andrew Seidel writing here, you can find this on their website, Debunking the Christian Myth. Indeed, Andrew Seidel, who is one of the attorneys for Freedom From Religious Foundation, has written a book called The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American. The foreword is by Susan Jacoby, who many humanists know is one of the great theologians, if you will, historians of free thought in the United States. For example then, it has been proven that George Washington’s prayer journal is a fake. So one of the things that’s going to go on here is that we have fakes from way back. We have people from the very beginning who wanted to make the U.S. And and the founding fathers look more Christian than they actually were. There were written documents at the time that weren’t actually true. So we have very, very old fakes. Most famous one is this having to do with George Washington and did he pray at Valley Forge? President Ronald Reagan in 1982 said this: “I said before that the most sublime picture in American history is of George Washington on his knees in the snow at Valley Forge. That image personifies a people who know that it’s not enough to depend on our own courage and goodness. We must also keep help from God, our father and preserver.” After Mr. Reagan said this, this became an explosively popular thing to put on people’s walls this picture that is completely made up of George Washington bowing down on one knee, and, no, he’s not protesting anything there. He’s saying a little prayer. But the soldier who reported this incident reported it 20 years later, told his preacher about it, who wrote about it, falsifying, clearly falsifying details that could not have happened at that time. Indeed, this has been questioned to the point that, it goes along with George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. These things are just made up because people want to somehow make this guy larger-than-life hero of American history. So we have here a statement on a Christian website, authentic or not, the consideration of that instance offers a moving scene as we contemplate what took place during Washington’s darkest hours. So even if it’s fake, you know, we need to think of it as true or something, I suppose, along those lines after Reagan talked about this and indeed he kept a copy of this picture in the White House all the eight years that he happened to be there. It has become a great bestseller and the original is now worth 12 million dollars. Arnold Fryeburg is now dead. He was a Christian painter. You’ll see several kinds of …he’s always painting Jesus into U.S. history scenes, kind of thing. But it is fanciful in the way that he did it. We want to look a little bit more about the separation of church and state, what it means, how it’s messed with in various kinds of fictional creations of what America was or is, and think about ultimately the idea is about, what we were really dealing with today, which is Christian Nationalism. This is a book from Oxford, called Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, looking at how Christian Nationalism has taken over on the right wing of Christians, really to the detriment of Christianity itself, ultimately. Thanks for listening today. I will be lecturing at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Central Time Sunday, when the question: does humanism have a future in Unitarian Universalism? That will be presented by First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. You can go to their website and register for that. The respondent to what I’m going to be saying is Leika Louis-Cornwell, president of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, a humanist association within the UUA and an up-and-coming minister. So that should be fun, I’m looking forward to that. And we will have questions and answers after the lecture and the response. Don’t miss Wednesday night, 7:00 p.m. Central Time. We’ve got Bibles and Beer with our special guest, our resident Bible scholar, Reverend Wendy Jérome, and she’ll be talking about some of the latest research into the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Thanks a lot. And we’ll be back to talk some more about that “Wobbly Wall” tomorrow. Thank you.

Leave a Reply