The following was submitted to the local newspaper as an op-ed, and was also posted on the WWGHA forum:
“Thou Shalt Pander to a small ignorant sect of one religion”
House Resolution 535 has been introduced, and passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Again, some of our legislators (Representative Saccone from Allegheny Co. is the primary sponsor) have decided to waste time and resources on creating a resolution that declares 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” to pander to a small portion of their constituents. The Bible is indeed an important book, and has influenced many. However, in the interests of honesty and historical integrity, let’s review and correct some of the claims in the resolution.
Here is the text of HR 535: Declaring 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania. WHEREAS, The Bible, the word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people; and WHEREAS, Deeply held religious convictions springing from the holy scriptures led to the early settlement of our country; and WHEREAS, Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States; and WHEREAS, Many of our great national leaders, among them President Washington, President Jackson, President Lincoln, President Wilson and President Reagan, paid tribute to the influence of the Bible in our country’s development, as exemplified by the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”; and WHEREAS, The history of our country clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies; and WHEREAS, This nation now faces great challenges that will test it as it has never been tested before; and WHEREAS, Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people; therefore be it RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our Commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”
The United States, while a very nice country to live in, is not demonstrably blessed by any god, as Iran is not “blessed” by Allah or India by Vishnu, no matter how some might wish it to be. We still screw up from time to time and it’s good to admit that rather than attempting to revise history like some Americans would have it, like Tea Party idiots who want to pretend that slavery never occured. Can you imagine if these same people tried to claim that the Holocaust never occurred like Iran’s President Ahmadinejad? Our legislators would condemn them soundly. All of our great freedoms have been won by the hard work and sacrifice of American citizens of all races, religions and sex; no one sat back and waited for a magical force to remove King George III’s rule over this land or to keep enemy planes and subs from our shores.
Deeply held religious convictions did lead to the early colonization of the Americas. Many religious sects came to the US to have freedom to practice their own versions of Christianity since they were persecuted in Europe. However, when in the colonies, they proceeded to persecute anyone who did not agree with them, laws of blasphemy punishable by whipping or death, banishment etc. It seems that they learned nothing about freedom, only how to be intolerant.
Biblical teachings have nothing in them about civil government. (Lest anyone claim I don’t know what the Judeo-Christian bible says, I’ll even provide an excellent link to it in multiple translations: http://www.biblegateway.com/ ) There is nothing about democracy, representation or that all men are created equal and have rights like the pursuit of happiness. What little the Bible says about government is that any person who is in power is there by God’s will and should be obeyed with no exception (Romans 13, Titus 3, 1 Peter 2, etc, and yes, I do realize that it’s the not the “gospels” that say these things). The US would not have been founded if the revolutionaries had accepted this. The Declaration of Independence says “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The US Constitution mentions nothing about divine power and it directly contradicts biblical assertions that men should be considered superior, that slavery should be allowed, and that other religions are not to be tolerated.
Representative Saccone’s resolution is correct that more than a few of our presidents have mentioned the Christian God in their speeches. That does not mean that their assertions were correct or that they were not aware of how dangerous promoting one religion was. George Washington said: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean [conduct] themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” The Christian Bible is not an immutable and solitary “rock” on which our Republic rests, as the resolution would claim. Our Republic rests on the common moral ground and work of *all* Americans, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Wicca, atheists, agnostics, etc. The Golden Rule is not some Christian-only law. All religions have some version of this. Atheists often go with empathy and the common benefit of mankind. Americans value freedom and that is not something found in the Holy Bible.
I find it somewhat hypocritical that this resolution would say how valuable it was “voluntarily applying the teachings of the scriptures in the lives of individuals, families and societies” when the resolution is an attempt to take any voluntariness away from every Pennsylvanian. It also fails to take into account that the teachings of the scriptures have also harmed this country. The Bible was used to support slavery as much as to decry it, it was used as an excuse to murder and subjugate the native peoples, it was used and is still used to delay the equal rights of women. The Bible has been invoked to deny equal rights to homosexuals, mixed race couples, followers of other religions and those who follow no religion at all. Some may not find that objectionable but the US is built on protecting the minority from the majority. Those who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution knew very well the dangers of declaring a “state” religion and they went out of their way not to do so. They did not carefully calligraph “We The People of the United States of America” and simply add “follow the Bible and its laws.”
This nation is indeed facing many challenges but none have ever been solved by invoking some divine power nor turning to a book full of primitive laws that advocates things we have long left behind as a society. It is only by cherry-picking this book that anyone can find anything valuable in it, and none of those things are unique to Judaism or Christianity. Christians must ignore the commandments that say to kill those that break the sabbath, that rape victims should be forced to marry their assailants, that say that those who do not worship this God should be put to death (Luke 19, the parable of the minas, a parable that is rarely presented by priests or pastors), that women must dress and act in certain ways, etc. Many of them wish to have the “10 Commandments” in every public building but forget that they don’t stop there. Following such ignorant bigoted nonsense does not strengthen us as a people; learning from each other and embracing our differences has and does. We do not need to apply and study such things except as a history lesson showing how far we’ve come.