Smoke and Mirrors

My wife got this in her email the other day and I asked her to forward it on to me. She did so, sans email addresses and names, of course. This is the kind of letter that really gets my blood boiling because there's just enough truth in there to get most people to agree with the stated position. Kind of like a magician who uses smoke and mirrors to make you think you're seeing what you're not really seeing. The same is true here: you're not agreeing to what you think you're agreeing with. In keeping with the way the email is written, I will be responding to the hypothetical individual who is "speaking".

"I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December."

Good, because you'd lose and waste a lot of money. People might even laugh at you. The issue is not whether you believe in Santa Claus or not. Santa is actually more of a pagan creation that was combined with the Christian story of St. Nicholas and embellished a bit with flying reindeer. The issue is the separation of church and state: a government recognizing what is a religious holiday for only one faith out of this entire nation. This recognition is in actuality the establishment of one faith's holy days over anothers and is technically unconstitutional. But it's so very popular, I wouldn't expect to see it change anytime soon. I personally think Christmas should be like any other day of the year. There is not one reputable biblical scholar around that will tell you that Jesus was born in December— the actual date was more than likely sometime in October but others put it as early as August. To continue to celebrate Christmas in December is almost a slap in the face of pagan religions, whose Yule celebration was Christianized to give us the modern-day Christmas. For those pagans who hold grudges, they might see celebrating Christmas as celebrating Christianity wiping out their faith. There is nothing wrong with keeping a tradition as long as said tradition is not unconstitutional. Slavery, after all, was traditional less than two hundred years ago.

"I don't agree with Darwin, but I didn't go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his theory of evolution."

Again, good, because you'd have lost and wasted a whole lot more money. Evolution is a fact: we see species evolving on a daily basis. Viruses, particularly the HIV virus, has evolved so quickly that it's virtually impossible to create a vaccine right now. What is theoretical about Darwin's teachings are the parts that suggest that man and ape evolved from a common ancestor (which is NOT the same thing as saying that man evolved from apes.) In addition, the "Big Bang" is not even part of the theory of evolution, although many people associate the two together. Both are taught as theories and neither requires the belief in a deity. Creationism on the other hand requires not only a belief in a deity, which cannot be taught by public school teachers if they are to maintain the separation of church and state but also disbelief in other scientific evidence (like carbon dating, light shifts, etc.) in order to make their theory work. And finally, many creationists don't teach their ideas as a theory but as an established fact proven by the Bible. Unfortunately , this is circular logic. It is their religious faith that makes the Bible the word of God and therefore the Bible cannot be used to prove that creationism is true. That would be like me writing a book about two headed purple frog people and, in two hundred years, when someone finds my book, using my book to prove that two headed purple frog people really did exist despite the fact that there is evidence to the contrary.

"Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what's the big deal? It's not like somebody is up there reading the entire book of Acts."

Then I suppose it would be okay with you if, instead of praying to the God of Christians, they prayed to the God of Satanists or that of Muslims. Can you honestly tell me that if someone in a football huddle at a high school football game led a prayer to Lucifer or even Allah that there would be no parents protesting? I know for a fact that's not the case because there was a protest not to long ago when some members of the US Congress walked out of the morning prayer because it was led by a Muslim cleric and mentioned Allah. Perhaps now they at least understand why some get upset at having to even hear a Christian prayer, but I doubt it. There is too much hypocrisy in many of the Christian sects today, from the Catholic church covering up child sexual abuse to these fine Christians rudely walking out of Congress.

"They're just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game."

As long as the prayer is voluntary and not led by a paid school official, it is legal to say such a prayer. But if a student is shunned or harassed for refusing to participate or if a school official leads the prayer it is in violation of the first amendment.

"'But it's a Christian prayer,' some will argue. Yes, and this is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles."

This is a "misunderstanding" that has been propagated by some Christians for centuries. These Christians point to the Ten Commandments as the basis for US law, when in fact, the parts of the Ten Commandments that do not directly deal with how and when to worship God are simply specific instances of the Golden Rule, which predates Christianity by a good 3000 years. We do not steal because we do not want to be stolen from. We do not bear false witness because we do not want others to bear false witness against us. We do not murder because we do not want to be murdered. But there are certain part of the US constitution that are decidedly against Christian principles. For example, how does the first amendment giving equal status to all faiths fall into line with the Ten Commandments and with Christian teaching which warns Christians against being "unequally yoked" with unbelievers. The name "Jesus" does not appear anywhere in any document from that time period and an attempt to include the words "Jesus Christ" in the preamble to the Virginia Constitution failed miserably. (Read Thomas Jefferson's autobiographical account of why it failed.) In addition, the Declaration of Independence, a document in which every word and the phrasing of every sentence was debated and deliberate, says that all men are created equal and are endowed by "their Creator". "Creator" is a non-gender specific and non-religious term. Chance or luck or fate can be seen as a creator or it can denote a deity. This is not an accident or simple coincidence. This wall of separation is intentional and is supposed to be unbreachable. Unfortunately, that's not the case. There are literally thousands of laws on the books that breach this wall, from the blue laws that prohibit the sale of liquor on Sunday to the laws that deny gays equal rights. The US is NOT a nation founded on Christian principles.

"According to our very own phone book, Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect-somebody chanting Hare Krishna?"

The number of Christian churches vs. the number of other churches is irrelevant. It is also misleading. Wiccan covens don't advertise in the yellow pages, for example. Sometimes it's because the followers of that faith don't proselytize and aren't looking for "recruits"; other times it's out of fear or what might happen. Wiccan and new age bookstores have been picketed, broken into and burned to the ground simply because they were not Christian. What I would expect to happen is a deity non-specific prayer or a silent prayer to one's personal deity. Why is it so important for Christians to demonstrate what good Christians they are when there are several places in the Bible where Jesus admonishes his followers to avoid the hypocrisy of the Pharisees by praying in public and to pray when one is alone. He states that those who beat their breasts in prayer and wear sack-cloth and ashes for atonement in public have already received their reward.

"If I went to a football game in Jerusalem, I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer. If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer. If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha."

Jerusalem is not in the US. Baghdad is not in the US. China is not the US. The laws in both these cities and China are not the same as the laws in the US. Therefore, these statements are really irrelevant to the issue at hand. This kind of argument is what is more commonly called a "red herring"— an attempt to divert the attention of the listener/reader away from the real issue, which is practices which violate the constitutionally mandated wall of separation of church and state.

"And I wouldn't be offended. It wouldn't bother me one bit. When in Rome..."

This is really ironic, because in Rome, there are temples to the various gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon. Like the US, there was religious diversity in Rome. Unlike the US, Romans respected the diversity of their neighbors and didn't attempt to force a worshiper of Apollo to make an offering to Diana.

"'But what about the atheists?' is another argument. [sic]What about them?' Nobody is asking them to be baptized. We're not going to pass the collection plate."

True, but you are also not respecting their beliefs and therefore have indicated, by virtue of your own Christian faith, that you do not wish to be respected when it comes to your beliefs. So why are you complaining now?

"Just humor us for 30 seconds. If that's asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of ear plugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand."

And is it asking too much to treat others the way you want to be treated? That is part of the Christian ethic, is it not? Why must the prayers be said aloud? Sounds a lot like the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked for standing on the temple stairs shouting their prayers to the heavens for all to see. They already had their reward according to Jesus.

"Call your lawyer. Unfortunately, one or two will make that call. One or two will tell thousands what they can and cannot do."

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that the US is a democracy. It is not. Read up on your history. A democracy is a form of government where the majority rules. The majority being defined as more than 50%. The US is a constitutional republic: the difference is that in a constitutional republic, the majority rules ONLY AS LONG AS it doesn't violate the constitutional rights of even ONE SINGLE individual. It's not that one individual telling thousands what they can and cannot do: it is the US Constitution telling thousands that they must respect the rights of the individual.

"I don't think a short prayer at a football game is going to shake the world's foundations."

If that were the only breach of the wall of separation between church and state, while I would not condone it, you are correct. But it's not. The wall looks more like Swiss cheese than it does a wall. Any law that defines morality is in violation of the first amendment because morality is ultimately based SOLELY on what the individual believes and those beliefs are protected by the Constitution. Laws on the books regarding prostitution, gambling, drug use, multiple marriages, gay marriages, selling alcohol on Sunday and a whole host of other laws should be dropped for breaching this wall.

"Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights."

Christians have not been stripped of any rights. In the rare cases where laws are misapplied (such as a child being forbidden to bring a Bible to school or to say grace at lunch), the courts have corrected the misunderstanding of the school district. What Christians HAVE lost is the unchallenged ability to force others to adhere to and to pay homage to your ideas of who and what God is. Contrary to popular belief, any child may pray in school as long as the prayer is not disruptive and is done on the students own time.

"Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating, to pray before we go to sleep."

And you may do so anytime you want. No one is stopping you. But you cannot force others to listen to your prayers. In a democracy, yes, you could. Not in a constitutional republic.

"Our Bible tells us just to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying."

No, they are telling you to cease forcing others to have to listen to or participate in your prayers. There is a very big difference in the two.

"God, help us. And if that last sentence offends you, well..........just sue me."

There is no grounds to sue you. I could just delete you, but I wish to counter your emotionally charged misinformation with the truth.

"The silent majority has been silent too long.. it's time we let that one or two who scream loud enough to be heard, that the vast majority don't care what they want.. it is time the majority rules!"

Christianity is indeed the majority, but it is anything but silent. Christian radio stations and television stations far outnumber those of other faiths. You can't flip through the channels without seeing some televangelist hawking his version of the faith. And there are over 33,000 different Christian sects/churches in the US alone. I don't know how you know you're following the right version.... In addition, see above for my comments on your mistaken impression that the US is a democracy.

"It's time we tell them, you don't have to pray.."

Nor are you denied the right to pray.

"[...]you don't have to say the pledge of allegiance,[...]"

Now this one rubs a sore spot for me. I'm a writer. And when I write something, I write what I want it to say. I don't write it with the intent of having someone 50 years down the road change it to "improve" it and make it fit their religio-political agenda. The original author of the Pledge of Allegiance intentionally did not include the words "under God". And it was not until 1955 that Congress, in direct violation of the first amendment, ordered the words "under God" inserted in the Pledge. (You don't have to believe me if you don't want. Just click here to read a history of the Pledge and the reaction of the author's granddaughter, who is certain her grandfather would not approve of the change.) How dare Congress make a congressional fiat to alter another's writing and to drastically change the intent of that writing?

"[...]you don't have to believe in God or attend services thathonor[sic] Him. That is your right, and we will honor your right.."

Well, I sure wish you'd start soon!! I'm getting tired of waiting!

"but by golly you are no longer going to take our rights away .. we are fighting back.."

There is nothing to fight back against except change— change from a way of doing things that was unconstitutional to a way that is constitutional. I'm sorry you don't like it. But it is the law of the land. You are, of course, free to move to another country if you don't like our laws. (How do you like hearing that one thrown back at you?)

"[...] and we WILL WIN! After all the God you have the right to denounce is on our side!"

That same sentiment have been uttered before, although you might not like to be in the company of those who have uttered them. Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden to name a few. Man has invoked the name of God in all manners of disrespect towards their fellow man and quite frankly, if I were God, I'd have put a stop to it a long time ago. All the people throughout the world who hear this kind of propaganda and misinformation being perpetuated in the name of Jesus and the name of a loving God. I can't help but ask how many people have turned their back on Christianity before they even heard the message because of the attitude of the messenger. They say that actions speak louder than words. Perhaps if the "silent majority" want to be heard, they might start by walking the walk rather than just talking the talk.

"God bless us one and all, especially those who denounce Him..."

Just out of curiosity, how would you feel if someone told you that they were praying to Allah for you? Would you be offended?

"God bless America, despite all her faults.. still the greatest nation of all........"

Yes, America is still a great nation, but she must change tack rather quickly if she wishes to remain that way.

"God bless our service men who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God..."

We invaded Iraq for control of the oil. Saddam was just a convenient excuse. So was bin Laden. Both are former allies of the US. We trained and armed both of them, gave them money and arms and technical support until they stopped doing what we wanted them to do. But if I keep on with this, this article will never end. Our service men and women are dying needlessly, just as they did in Viet Nam. They're fighting to stay alive so they can come home. Enough said for now....

"May 2003 be the year the silent majority is heard and we put God back as the foundation of our families and institutions."

In other words, you're asking that 2003 be the year in which the US Constitution is overthrown by the Bush administration? Be careful what you ask for: you just may get it.

"Keep looking up...... In God WE Trust"

Do you really trust God? 'Cause it doesn't seem that way to me. You see, I think if you trusted God, you'd trust him to be able to use any faith to bring his children home. You'd trust him to do what he says he will do: give if you ask, open the door if you knock. Yet when others tell you that they knocked and this is what God told them, you say "No, that's wrong. Here's what he should have told you." That's not trusting God. By suggesting that everyone must relate to God in the same manner, you are imposing limits on God, suggesting that he is not capable of relating to his children in any other way that is meaningful. So I must say, I fail to see how you can claim to trust God. I trust God has led you to the path that is best for you at this moment in your life and that he shall continue to lead you on the path that will bring you safely home. It's a shame you can't trust God to do the same for me.

"If you agree with this, please pass it on. If not, delete it!!"

I hope you don't mine, but while I don't agree with it, I could not simply delete it. I just wish I knew who you were so I could send this to you directly. Since I don't, this will have to do.

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