Losing the Revolutionary War to the French

It is a tale of two revolutions, the American and the French. Chronologically close and the French were inspired by the American concepts of freedom (as I understand it.)  But philosophically they were different. The American revolution was mostly because of taxation and self-governance 1I am not a historian, please forgive me if I’m a little off on this. But the people who revolted largely came here because of religious persecution in their homeland. The Puritans wanted to purify the worship in the Anglican church either by reforming it or by starting over. Then there were the Separatists who didn’t want a state church. In addition to these, there were folks just looking to start over, others looking to make money, Deists, Quakers, the non-religious, etc. But there was a large community of folk who were religious and many had been burned by a state church.

American RevolutionSo the American revolution was not secular at its core. And by ‘secular’ I mean non-religious. It included a variety of religious viewpoints and wasn’t afraid of them. Religion had a place in the public square. It had a voice and that voice was not to be co-opted or silenced by the government as it had been in England. The Deists Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both recognized the positive role religion played in the formation of our nation. Philosophically, the American revolution was not fought to ensure freedom from religion but, in part, to ensure the free exercise thereof.

The French RevolutionThe French revolution, however, took a different turn. Yes, it was an effort to throw off the king but it also threw off the church since the two were so close. To be French was to be Catholic at that time. Even in England when the throne oscillated between Protestant and Catholic, there was usually a French tie in the Catholics who ascended to the English throne. So when the French revolution happened, they threw off their king and their church because they were closely related. But they went further and declared religion to be a private matter that had no place in the public arena. This was secularism and France is very secular to this day. The reason France outlawed the burqa is not because they fear Islam but because of the overt religious statement the burqa is. There is no place for that in public in France.

History lesson over. Now to today. I read a letter to the editor today in the Chicago Tribune that startled me a bit. Not the first one (though that did make my filling ache) it was the one titled “A Third Party”. I have kind of been jonesing for a third party for the same reason the author lists. Where the wheels came of was when I read this:

The very thing that the tea party should stand for that would certainly set itself apart from the other two, and create that counterbalance, it isn’t.

That is the upholding of the actual Constitution for which this country fought so very hard to attain.

The separation of church and state. Not to have any one religion, or any religion for that matter, dictate laws and mores.

Steve Himmelman, the author, has confused his revolutions or he isn’t paying attention to what the Tea Party is saying. What I think Mr. Himmelman is getting at in his letter is that he doesn’t like the religious overtones of the Tea Party. But that does not constitute one religion “dictat[ing] laws and mores.” 2Also, I think Mr. Himmelman used “mores” incorrectly. No one can dictate those, they are society’s values and norms. Perhaps he meant “morality.” If the Tea Party issues a statement of faith that members must agree with, that’s a different matter. But when you have a Mormon as the (big) mouth piece on television and an evangelical soccer mom as the most likely presidential nominee, you do not have one religion dictating anything.

I think that what the Pope said in Britain recently has a lot to say to the situation brewing here as well:

Some, [the Pope] said, openly advocate that “the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.” On the contrary, religion and politics need to be in dialogue, he said…The pope also offered an example of where ethical and moral influences have brought about a notable achievement: the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament in 1807.

Religion has a vital role in the public arena and I think it is right that the Pope pointed to the Anglican William Wilberforce as a positive example of politics and religion. I think we could do the same thing here. Not that I see anything close to Wilberforce’s in the Tea Party, but that doesn’t mitigate the place religious faith has in the public debate.

Ideas have consequences. Religious ideas and non-religious ideas. People have to vote in accordance with the implications of their beliefs. If you ask why someone is opposed to abortion or gay marriage, don’t then shout them down if they explain their reasons in terms of their religious views. It isn’t right to ask why someone opposes something and then say that their views are invalid because they are religious. Calvinism has consequences. Roman Catholicism has consequences. Islam has consequences. Atheism has consequences and so does secularism. For some reason only the last two are allowed to be expressed these days.

As a matter of disclosure I am not in favor of the Tea Party. I understand their frustration with the current state of affairs and their desire for smaller government, but I think they go too far.

1 I am not a historian, please forgive me if I’m a little off on this.
2 Also, I think Mr. Himmelman used “mores” incorrectly. No one can dictate those, they are society’s values and norms. Perhaps he meant “morality.”
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