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Garden of the Church

A recent Newsweek article made a point about separation of church and state that often goes unnoticed by the religious among us: that religion flourishes in the minds of the people when it avoids trying to influence their government.

While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago. I think this is a good thing—good for our political culture, which, as the American Founders saw, is complex and charged enough without attempting to compel or coerce religious belief or observance. It is good for Christianity, too, in that many Christians are rediscovering the virtues of a separation of church and state that protects what Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island as a haven for religious dissenters, called “the garden of the church” from “the wilderness of the world.” As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience. At our best, we single religion out for neither particular help nor particular harm; we have historically treated faith-based arguments as one element among many in the republican sphere of debate and decision. The decline and fall of the modern religious right’s notion of a Christian America creates a calmer political environment and, for many believers, may help open the way for a more theologically serious religious life.

Coercing people to follow your religious tenants by force of law makes them push back. Given the explicit mingling of church and state under the latest Bush administration (one of our most disastrous presidencies), is there any wonder that people are turned off by religion. The religiously motivated attacks on September 11 also changed some minds about religion. Many churchs’ involvement in the fight against same-sex marriage turns even more people off. For many, religion became the public face of hatred, violence, and fear.

At the same time, many of us are seeking out even more fundamentalist religion. I guess these are polarizing times. Let’s hope for their sake that they learn from recent history. It would be better for religion observance in America if they took a live-and-let-live attitude toward other people’s behavior.

(via Mind on Fire)

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You go, Maine!

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A Season of Hope

It seems that many of us are upset at the majority of California voters harshing the collective buzz over the Obama victory.

Today is bittersweet… Obama got elected but it looks as though Proposition 8 will pass, banning gay marriage in California. Fuck you, California. (

While I am disappointed, I have reason to hope. Many people are celebrating the election of the first U.S. president of African descent (and I believe the right president) and find it unbelievable that we’ve come so far in so short a time. The days of segregation and poll taxes are part of living memory.

Like them, I look back to the attitudes that surrounded me when I was a child. I remember when it was unthinkable that a person would be openly homosexual. It was an aberration, a perversion, a disease. Being openly gay was to relegate yourself to the fringes of society. I am not that old; that wasn’t so long ago. I am deeply heartened that only a slim majority of California voters hold on to their apprehensions that recognizing the innate rights of homosexual people will somehow lead to the downfall of civilization, that somehow the gayness will infect them. We’ve come a long way.

Yet we still have some maturing to do. We are not yet comfortable in giving full expression to the American ideals of equality, life, liberty, and justice for all. We’re still easing ourselves into the pool of liberal democracy. Someday, I hope we can leave the security of the shallows and strike out for open waters.

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Civil Liberties Lost Since 9/11

Timeline of civil liberties lost since September 11, 2001

Sometimes the commenters on reddit are surprisingly insightful:

Yeah, but it was totally worth it when the government used that extra power to find Osama, cure cancer and solve world hunger… all while balancing the federal budget and growing the economy to levels of mass prosperity the world has never witnessed.

(via reddit)

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