Sunday, March 18, 2012

That Old Time Religion

I first heard this song sung while watching the film Inherit the Wind, Hollywood's portrayal of what is popularly called the Scopes Monkey trial, which was a peculiarly American event over what should be a non-issue which it seems will forever be an issue here in these United States.  It didn't make a favorable impression, nor was it intended to, I think.  The religious in that film appeared stupid and bigoted and likely were meant to; so, they bellowed the old song in a fiery and threatening fashion.

It seems it will not go away, this kind of religion; not here, in any case.  Though it is somewhat odd for a Catholic politician to be stoking the flames, one knows that someone will, somewhere, somehow.  Inevitably, there will be a concern particularly regarding sex, which is always a fascination to the evangelical it seems.  But now the righteous are also concerned about that disease or condition they are pleased to call "secularism."

Clearly, there is a kind of religion which conceives of God as a law-giver, issuing commands bewilderingly comprehensive which must be followed and which govern human conduct.  This kind of religion presumes that God is the source of morality and that the failure to believe in this kind of God fosters immorality.  It isn't clear to me why this is the case.  There is quite a bit of evidence which, when impartially considered, establishes that high standards of morality have and can be derived and followed without the need for divine commands.  Perhaps those who believe that such commands are needed are simply expressing the fact that they themselves would not be inclined to be moral unless the wrath of God would be roused if they were not.  It's more probable, of course, that they fundamentally mistrust their fellow humans and feel that belief in an angry God is needed to keep others in line.

A secular nation need not be anti-religious, however.  A secular nation should be religiously neutral, in more than one sense.  That is what is intended by those who insist that church and state should be separate.  We do not have a problem because the state is anti-religious in this country, though there are evidently some who would like it to be.  The problem we face in this country is that there are religious people who are not satisfied with a state which is neutral towards religion.  They want the state to be religious--provided, of course, that it is appropriately religious; that the religion it espouses is that old time religion.

This problem is part of what Sidney Hook addressed when he wrote of the latest "failure of nerve" about 70 years ago.  Hook was atheist; I am not.  Nonetheless, I have the same concerns he had regarding those who want a religious nation.  It's already been noted by many that groups like the Taliban want such a nation or nations as well.  That's not necessarily to compare our evangelicals with the Taliban, but to point out that a religious nation which conceives of God as issuing divine commands governing human thought and conduct will necessarily be one which will not tolerate certain beliefs and certain conduct.  That kind of nation will not be democratic.

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