Frederick Clarkson wrote a very good diary on Mike Huckabee and his latest claims that God has been ushered out of the public square. In his diary, Clarkson noted the typical Huckabee oddity - that unsubstantiated claim that America is a secularist refuge and the accompanying claim that America is paying the price as a result.
Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders. Sometimes, we even say they’re normal. And to get to where we have to abandon bed rock moral truths, then we ask “well, where was God?” And I respond that, as I see it, we’ve escorted him out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.Huckabee focuses his efforts on birth control pills this time, but I would like to discuss a broader issue. That is - the almost insatiable need for people like Huckabee to ascribe Christianity to inanimate objects.
I was raised in a Baptist church before serving time in a non-denomination church and returning to some mix of the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. My dad was a preacher and my mom thought she was. Later, I attended a megachurch before exploring my own religious convictions. For a period of two years, I explored my own thoughts on atheism, the role of religion in both my life and society, and the teachings of Jesus. I feel comfortable in my understanding today, knowing that religion cannot effectively answer the questions of "how?" for a person like me, but the words of Jesus can effectively help with the question of "why?" I take an outside - perhaps liberal - view of Christianity, and I believe a lifelong passion for helping the poorest and most disenfranchised of God's people is the best way to exhibit a "belief" in Jesus.
I include the above to provide some background. I have a seen a lot of Christianity, both from the inside of the church and the outside. I spent my childhood surrounded by people like Huckabee, and I have seen people of all stripes apply religion in their own way. And what Huckabee is doing is not novel. In fact, it's a problem that permeates and weakens the Christian church immeasurably.
Huckabee and his ilk are determined to ascribe Christian beliefs to a host of things that are not intended to have any Christian beliefs. Just as a stuffed animal cannot in any meaningful way be a Christian, a business and a government cannot be a Christian. Yet for the last six months or more, we have heard tell of the mythical "Christian Business." Dating back to the Chick-fil-a fiasco, we heard cries from the fundamental right that a Christian Business should have the freedom to act according to its understanding of the Bible.
I have read the Bible. I've studied the words of Jesus and the words of Paul, who seems to shape the modern-day Christian narrative far more than Jesus. And in those pages, I've never read an address that's aimed toward businesses. In the Bible, God addresses human beings. His commands are meant for human beings. His metaphors are designed to strike at the core of human beings. And only human beings can make a meaningful choice to follow Jesus.
When Huckabee talks about a "Christian-owned business" being forced to surrender its values, he's speaking in nonsense and deflection. A Christian may have values where he refuses birth control or other perceived vices. But a business has no such right to those values. It is certainly true that businesses can have their core operating philosophies, and it is also true that those core operating philosophies tend to match the leanings of the business owner. Businesses are regulated, though, and they interact in a regulated marketplace. They exist to take advantage of a structure and system that allows for profit generation. In order to operate within that structure, businesses make certain sacrifices - they agree to pay certain taxes, avoid certain competition-hampering behavior, and they agree to abide by the law.
There is a reason why the new healthcare law - and any law for that matter - does not require individual people to provide birth control pills to other individual people. In our government, where we have a basic respect for individual religious liberty, we are careful in requiring action or restricting action that might infringe upon a person's religious doctrines. it should be said that this individual respect is not absolute, as we outlaw things like polygamy and would require even a religiously-motivated tax avoider to pay his taxes. But we are careful when dealing with people. Businesses deserve and are thus granted no such courtesy.
The "Christian Businessman" has the ability to avoid the law that requires his business to provide birth control in its insurance plans. He could avoid this law by not starting a business. The government provides that business person with an opportunity to make that meaningful choice - do you value more your religious convictions or your ability to produce porch loads of money? When these business people choose - in very un-Christlike fashion - to pursue profits - the government rightly deems them to have made their choice.
Huckabee and his ilk do not stop with businesses, either. They seek to ascribe Christian beliefs to things like government. Though made up of people, government systems are inanimate structures. They cannot and should not be Christian. One of my professors has written that the establishment clause of the first amendment is wholly neutral. Following this conclusion, he wrote of his confusion that members of the fundamentalist right would look upon the government's neutrality as being negative. After all, who hates the Swiss? But there is a reason why neutrality is often viewed negatively by people like Huckabee. The fundamentalists adhere to a "with us or against us" view of Christianity. By not being "for" Christianity, the government, then, must be against it. This, too, is ascribing too many human qualities to a inanimate structure.
The constant need for government validation of Christianity is the concern of a lazy and unconfident Christian. When the government puts its stamp of approval onto something, people can justify that thing's legitimacy based upon the government approval alone. Without the help of state and federal laws, can you imagine a person deciding on his own that marijuana is worse than alcohol? Without government approval, Huckabee and his ilk actually have to think about Christianity, and they have to explain to their kids why Christianity makes sense. They have to spend precious time and often unavailable mental horsepower justifying the beliefs that they have held for the majority of their lives. If the government does not give them a gold star, then it is implicitly saying that perhaps another alternative is ok, too. And this is scary for the insecure Christian.
Mr. Huckabee - if "God" has been removed from the public square to an extent that bothers you, then you have only yourself to blame. The government is just as neutral today on the establishment of religion as it was 10, 20, or 50 years ago. Kids are still free to pray in schools, cars, malls, sports games, or any anywhere else. It's just that the government is not going to do your job for you. If your kids are not praying in school, it is because you have failed to reach them in a way that makes them want to pray in schools. Don't expect a state-hired teacher to then bail you out by forcing on these students a prayer that they didn't want to pray themselves. And really, is that the kind of Christianity you are after? The kind where kids will only pray in schools because they are forced to by the government? If you were doing your job, rather than pandering and blame-shfiting on right-wing television, then there might be so much prayer in schools that this conversation would never need to take place. Jesus's message works, and it's easy to communicate. Start focusing on that - the love, inclusion, and care for the needy - and you might draw more followers who don't need to be forced into prayer with a government whip.