The removal of a Bible (King James Version of the New Testament?) from a POW/MIA "Missing Man" memorial table set up at an Ohio Veterans Administration (VA) clinic, on the face of it, seems a trivial act at best and an abridgement of Christian rights at worst.
If we are very simple people, deeply passionate followers of Jesus Christ -- our version of Jesus Christ -- and not very concerned with much more than our daily lives and our own interests, we might feel either way. We can ask Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia to advise us because he has clearly revealed that he is one of these very simple people. Moreover, he has done this while continuing to serve as a chaplain in the reserves of our Armed Forces -- an egregious breach of military etiquette and regulation.
On the other hand, if we are thinking folks, people interested in matters larger than our own interests and daily lives, matters like the Constitution, civil liberties, our social contract under that Constitution, tolerance, diversity, the dictates of both a multi-religious and a non-religious polity, and perhaps harboring a sincere belief in a Divine Providence that guides the affairs of humankind, we cringe at such displays of religion when they are associated with our government, particularly our Armed Forces. For sound counsel and advice, we can turn to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), as tens of thousands of military personnel have done, well over 95% of them practicing Christians themselves.
As Congressman Collins and his fellow Apasionados por Jesus at the Family Research Council have publicly demonstrated, it is inevitable that these two views clash. One is purblind, selfish, close-mindedly ignorant and dangerous; the other is enlightened, altruistic, open-minded, and seeks amelioration of danger both domestic and foreign.
The US Government's advocacy of a specific religion is wrong. This is why James Madison, for example, argued against even having chaplains in the military. George Washington talked him into it because he felt the comfort many men in his beleaguered forces drew from the closeness of religious counsel and prayer outweighed the slight possibility that any citizen would feel oppressed or violated by a chaplain's presence (that said, the debate over the constitutionality of the chaplaincy still stirs itself from time to time). Yet I often wonder what those early chaplains thought of Washington's consistent use of such words as "Divine Providence" rather than "Jesus Christ" and his refusal to wear his religion on his sleeve, as Congressman/Chaplain Collins obviously does. One wonders as well at how the colonial period of almost zero tolerance for Catholics, overbearing Puritans, and proliferation of religion -- Mennonites, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Quakers, and others in the Middle Colonies -- elsewhere, colored the Founders' views of keeping a wall between church and state.
In that regard, the reason behind Madison's comprehensive objections were significant even in the late 1700s when a great majority of those who were religious were Christians and probably most were religious in some way, large or small. Today, there is no such reality. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Jedi Knights, and many agnostics and atheists make up our very complex society. As a soldier who has seen modern combat, I can even relate that the old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes is patent nonsense. There are quite a few. (Incidentally, there would likely be many more if today the foxholes were filled by the middle and upper classes, but they are not; they are filled overwhelmingly by the lowest quintile in our society.)
Madison knew -- and the MRFF shares and supports his knowledge -- that one of the most dangerous forces in history was the church allied with government (notice I did not say "God allied with government" for that would be presumption of the highest order: for example, both the Germans and the Americans claimed during World War II that God was on their side while managing to see to the killing of more than 50 million people). As many crimes and depredations had issued from such alliance as from almost any other such relationship in human history. Indeed, that is why our Founders explicitly delineated the doctrine of no state religion whatsoever. Jefferson's eloquent promise to oppose all tyranny over the minds of men contemplated kings, mobs and priests, and not necessarily in that order.
So, removing that Christian Bible -- and at the request, by the way, of seven Christian veterans out of the total of eleven veterans who, together, initially reported its presence at the VA site to the MRFF and requested MRFF's intervention -- was not trivial and not contravening of Christianity. It was crucial to upholding the principle of separation of church and state while at the same time reaffirming that Christianity can flourish in America -- right along with Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, the Jedi Knights, deists, agnostics, atheists, and others.
The shame in all this is Congressman Collins and others like him. As a religious man myself, I feel quite certain that God is enormously frustrated by the extraordinary limits placed by such men on Her prerequisites.
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