When Religion Gets it Wrong

I have a print that hangs in my office, a print of the Norman Rockwell painting that says “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” The painting affirms the diversity of professions of faith in our world. Recently there have been statements by presidential candidates that support neither the idea of religious liberty nor the Golden Rule. One candidate refused to correct a person’s comment that Muslims were a major problem in the U.S. Another said it would be wrong for a Muslim to be elected president. Neither candidate has backed down from those positions.

We’ve all heard the rumors about President Obama. That he is a secret Muslim. That he isn’t an American citizen. This kind of rumor-lie is not new. Think back to when John F. Kennedy was running for president. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic. The rumor? If elected he would simply be a puppet of the Pope. Non-Catholic Christians have viewed Roman Catholics with suspicion throughout our American History.

But, is Barak Obama the first president to be accused of being Muslim? You might be surprised to know that it is our 3rd president who holds that distinction. That’s right. Thomas Jefferson.

According to Stephen Prothero, Professor of Religion at Boston University, “One Federalist called Jefferson the ‘great arch priest of Jacobinism and infidelity.’ The Connecticut Courant suggested he might be a secret Jew or Muslim. It complained that no one seemed to know ‘whether Mr. Jefferson believes in the heathen mythology or in the alcoran (Quran); whether he is a Jew or a Christian; whether he believes in one God, or in many; or in none at all.’

There was talk at the founding of turning the United States into an officially Protestant nation, and during debates over the Constitution, some in the states raised the specter of a Catholic, “infidel,” or “Turk” (an epithet for “Muslim”) holding office. But the founders wisely decided on a godless Constitution with no religious tests for national office.”

No religious tests for national office. Now before we knee-jerk into some kind of uber-religious reaction to that reality, let’s ask why it might be a good thing.

One comment I’ve heard in conversations that question whether Muslims should hold office (and, yes, there are Muslims in the U.S. Congress serving with distinction) is the fear of Sharia Law becoming the law of the land. Despite the fact that the possibility of such a thing happening is remote at best, how is that fear different from the fear many have of Evangelical Christians pushing an agenda that would create a kind of theocracy by imposing their particular Christian views on the whole society?

Please don’t misunderstand. Many Evangelical Christians are and continue to do great and loving, compassionate things for the benefit of the world. But when what might sound like a great idea, the idea that if everyone believed what "we" believe, to the point of legislating belief, that is when a very dangerous line is crossed. For at least two reasons.

The first I’ve already mentioned. Our Republic was founded on principles intended to protect all citizens. We all have the right to life, liberty and happiness. Our federal system was created to work for the general welfare of the people, and insure freedom of religious expression. The second line-crossing happens when people of faith deny God’s creative nature so obvious in the diversity of creation. If creation is so diverse why would God stop that creative energy when it comes to religious expression? Thinking one’s religion is the only true religion is simply bad religion. I believe it is especially bad Christian religion.

Whatever happened to living by the golden rule?