Vol. 47, Issue 1 ‣ editorial
A Nation of Many Religions
In January, five dozen politicians hit a large, albeit figurative, pothole on the road to the 2016 election. The group planned to go to Israel—nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the 60 members of the Republican National Committee were engaging in all-American electioneering, demonstrating their ardent pro-Israel position.
The problem was that the RNC members were being hosted on the junket by a group called the American Family Association. A spokesman for the AFA, Bryan Fischer, wrote last year: “We are a Christian nation and not a Jewish or Muslim one,” which many Israelis and American Jews—not to mention many Christians and others—found offensive.
The statement is troublesome. It proclaims as fact, not opinion, that America is a Christian nation.
Gary North, a theologian in the movement that includes the AFA, has even outlined the plan for America becoming a “Christian nation.” “We must use the doctrine of religious liberty,” he said, to construct “a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” Using freedom to destroy freedom.
There are about 33,830 Christian denominations in the world—with 1,500 to 3,000 in America—the vast majority not in tune with North and the AFA.
The issue, however, isn’t Christianity—or, for that matter, Scientology, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other particular faith. The knotty problem arises when one group declares it has a monopoly on religion and wants to enforce its creed on others.
At the heart of the murders of the French cartoonists working for Charlie Hebdo was the belief of terrorists that their religion entitled them to silence—with bullets—the opinions of nonbelievers. It’s not just Muslims who resort to guns and bombs. The most prolific religious terrorists in America, by number of incidents, are anti-abortion bombers and killers. There are violent-prone religious fanatics of many stripes across the world—including the United States.
There’s nothing new in that. When colonists left Europe for the New World, many fled religious persecution in their native countries. Religious liberty was nurtured in America long before the Revolution. In 1636, the royal charter creating Rhode Island proclaimed that “all and every person and persons may … freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments.”
The Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment. Most were dismayed by the overreach of state-sanctioned religions into people’s consciences. Many of the Fathers—particularly Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen—were avowed Deists, who viewed the Supreme Being as indifferent in the affairs of men and who eschewed traditional Christianity. Others such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Monroe were heavily influenced by Deism. The most outspoken of the Fathers on religion was Thomas Jefferson, who believed in the moral teachings of Jesus but not his divinity. Many other people who helped create the nation were devout in their traditional doctrines.
The point is that men and women come to wildly different conclusions about God and all other religious matters. In a perfect society, each person would be respectful of others’ beliefs. Yet, harsh words are used by some to disparage religions—and in some cases coarse language morphs into violence. Terrorism isn’t an aspect of any major religion—it is criminal aberration.
Healthy religions and a belief in the Supreme Being, as Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote, enhance and energize society. As religious leaders express in this issue of Freedom, faith is alive and well, regardless of what the media say. We examine what life in America would be like without religion; the sweeping effects of such a spiritual vacuum convey how important churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions are to our quality of life. We profile Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement, who believes religious freedom is one of the best weapons to defeat terrorism.
There’s more in this edition—much more—including a detailed look inside one of our Ideal Churches: Nashville’s Church of Scientology and Celebrity Centre, serving its parishioners as well as the Music City with an array of events and activities.
Enjoy this issue of Freedom. Express your own views on religion and society—we welcome your emails and letters.
— The Editors