When I was young, it was common for kids to ask newcomers in a neighborhood the question, “What religion are you?” The geographic area of the country I live in is a stronghold for both Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Often such questions came from children who wanted to know if you would belong to the same parish, or attend the same parochial school that they did.
I once recall my older brother having a conversation with my mother on a similar topic. I found his explication to be rather interesting even as a ten-year-old. He stated that when people ask you about your religion, they are really asking “what denomination you are,” because your “religion” is really the particular things you actually believe and find important. Today, we might ask the question, “What is your worldview?” in approximating the concept my brother was explaining.
The word religion is often defined as the belief in or worship of a supreme being or beings. Or in a nutshell, some form of theism. But this is a very narrow definition of what religion encompasses. If we were to look in an unabridged dictionary, and we got down to the third or more successive definitions, we might just come up with something like this: “A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.”
This is much broader and inclusive version of the definition of religion, and it is one that is vitally important to understand. Given the narrower definition of religion, we see that the application of this concept has morphed to absurd levels, when we are referencing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. When we read the plain words, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,” we can’t help but notice what the Orwellian and errant interpretations of this phrase have wrought.
For instance, by what measure of equivalency would Congress assume that the First Amendment prohibits a high school football coach from voluntarily kneeling in prayer in the middle of a football field after a game? Considering this, we see what mischief the evolution of jurisprudence by means of Legal Positivism has resulted in.
In the 1962 Engel v. Vitale SCOTUS decision, Associate Justice Potter Stewart had the fortitude and wisdom to write a dissenting opinion contending that the Establishment Clause was originally written to abolish the idea of a state-sponsored church, but little more than that. The Founders believed it was wrong to use the coercive powers of the state to compel adherence to a particular set of denominational distinctions, as had been the case in colonial America and in Europe. Somehow this morphed into a mandate for the state to be neutral, or even hostile, toward the influence of theism on public policy and the public square in general. There is much historical evidence to be skeptical of this objective.
The 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins decision resulted in a footnote from Justice Hugo Black stating, "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism (my emphasis), and others.”
Secular Humanism is undoubtedly a religion under the broad definition, but not so under the narrower theistic definition. As a consequence, precepts based on theism have gradually been eradicated from their influence on law and politics, whereas Secular Humanism has been permitted to flourish in the same spheres. That’s why you see its tentacles inundating our culture, and pervasive in public education as well. It is doubtful this has been entirely accidental.
John J. Dunphy, in his popular essay The Humanist (1983), contended, "The battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: A religion of humanity—utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to carry humanist values into wherever they teach. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new—the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism."
Why would it be any less coercive or destructive to personal liberty of conscience to compel anyone to conform to precepts they disagree with whether based on theism or not? Exclusively applying the narrower definition of religion to First Amendment issues has resulted in affirmative action for secularism.© Robert Meyer
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