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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, May. 29, 2013 4 years ago

Chris Jepson: Thank gawd for secularists

Thanking our ancestors for America's "blessed" secularity.
by: Chris Jepson Staff Writer

I joke. I jest. About thanking God for secularists. As a nonbeliever in a personal god, I thought the irony of thanking a deity for a secular society humorous. No, we need to thank our ancestors – actually the whole trajectory of Western culture the past 2,500 years – for America having arrived as “blessedly” secular as it is.

I’m going to ask you to do something difficult. Particularly if you believe “your” God has a “place” in our government (and yes, your beliefs do have a place in our culture – through how you treat your fellow citizen). My request is that you reflect on exactly why it is so critically important that “a” god not become the “favored” god of any rationally constructed society.

Everyday this point is vividly driven home for me by yet another bloody bombing in Pakistan or Iraq or Syria. If, on Tuesday, Sunni Muslims in Baghdad murder 54 Shiites in a bomb blast, expect by Thursday that Shiites will respond equally. A little history here: that Sunnis and Shiite Muslims kill one another today dates back to who would succeed Muhammad. They slaughter one another over arcane interpretations of succession. Oh, and for political power. Are you laughing yet?

In the West, we got our fill of murdering one another over the one true “path” by the end of the 17th century. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door in 1517, he inadvertently kicked-off nearly 200 years of devastating violence in Europe. I cannot overstate how debilitating this warfare was, particularly for Central Europe. Finally, a semblance of rationality prevailed and killing one another over whose God (and by implication, God’s people) had the one true word was replaced for killing one another over nationalism, colonialism and imperialism. Much, much better – Hmmm?

Understand that our founding fathers (products of the Enlightenment and all that that implies for religion) intentionally — with an immediate understanding of recent European history — excluded any mention of “a” god in our governing U.S. Constitution. This was no accident, no oversight. These “wise men” wanted nothing to do with religious dogma as a governing consideration. They clearly and unquestionably understood that combining the state with “a” (favored) god was an undeniable historical recipe for societal divisiveness and sorrow.

The absolute beauty of America is that if you mind your own business, pay your taxes, keep your lawn mowed (or not), that you can pretty much do whatever you want, pray to whatever deity gives you hope, even to go door-to-door proselytizing for Jesus, Mormonism or Amway.

All secularists want is god (yours, mine, all) kept out of government. This includes meetings and, of course, laws, policies, programs, government lands and regulations, etc. You know, that ol’ separation of church and state thingy.

I, as but one secularist, could quite frankly give a damn if someone wants to get up at the beginning of a public meeting, and mumble a prayer to Shiva. I don’t take particular offense. I just don’t care. It is all comically meaningless to me. But increasingly, I am in a minority.

Americans are so free, historically speaking, that — really — there are few impediments to anyone practicing their “personal” religious beliefs. Do so with my, uh, blessing.

Understand that once a god is favored by a government, discord, dissension and disillusionment inevitably follow (even in theocracies). Any student of history understands this. Secularism is good (smart) because it provides for everyone’s religious freedom. Appreciate the wisdom in that.

Jepson is a 27-year resident of Central Florida. He’s fiscally conservative, socially liberal, likes art and embraces diversity of opinion. Reach him at [email protected]

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