I’ve been wondering about the relationship between religion and government. Most of the existing theocracies in the world are Islamic and have cost us much, either by military occupation or measures taken to prevent that necessity.
I was given a tract that contained statements of faith by our founding fathers, supposedly proving that we were created as a Christian nation. Moved by the eloquence and conviction of those statements, I was all the more impressed by their author’s wise determination to avoid creating a nation ruled by a church.
St. Augustine defined pride as “the love of one’s own excellence.” That would be the worship of self, not God. It is a mystery why men of no discernible intellect or accomplishment are yet so self-assured of their theological correctness that they use that faith as a bludgeon to correct others. It is what makes a man fly a plane into a building, carry poisonously stupid signs outside a soldier’s funeral, or slaughter those with whom they disagree, all in the name of a God who has asked only that you treat others as you would be treated. I don’t know why zealots feel they must impress their beliefs on others. Maybe it is easier to believe the unknowable if others share that belief.
If pride is the deadliest of sins, then humility is the first virtue. It removes the obstacles to faith. Humility is the understanding that you are not more important, not more valuable, and not more loved by God than anyone else. That neatly explains the rarity of the truly humble man.
I risk excommunication from my home church by telling you that I have been wondering about religion lately. Did God create religion for the benefit of man, or has man created religion for the benefit of God, or his own self?
It is hard to understand why God might create one true religion and many decoy religions. It is easy for a proud nation to think that other nations are theologically deceived. It is more problematic to believe that Catholics are right and Presbyterians are wrong, or that Mormons have found a truth that escapes Methodists. These differences persist all the way to the level of father and son, brother and sister. Whose faith shall govern? You may end up thinking that no two persons believe precisely the same.
Hence the need for humility. In a crowd of six billion, there is some possibility you are not the Truly Enlightened One. My faith, poorly formed and still evolving, has come near to putting me at peace with the world. It has grown as the inescapable response to all that is given to me. I am not unique. These blessings are there for all who see them. The sun rises, flowers bloom, birds sing, and love grows on every continent.
My church is filled with decent and unassuming people. I am deeply grateful that the differences among us are not just tolerated, but treasured. That goodness doesn’t end at the door of my church any more than it ends at the American border. What a gift it is that our founding fathers created a country where I may say that.
Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.