Monday, November 16, 2009

A Secular Truth

Once upon a time, a nation was created by admirable men who wished to be free to choose their own leader and have a say in the government. They created a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” They called this nation the United States of America.

These founding fathers wrote a Constitution outlining the government of their nation. Not once in this document did they use the word “God.” Despite the fact that most of these men had Christian heritage, they were not all Christian. For example, there is evidence that supports the idea that Thomas Jefferson was what is known as a deist. He edited the Bible to create his own version which he titled The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ. His version lacks all references to the supernatural, and is, essentially, a philosophical text. More commonly, people know him for his emphasis on the secular nature of our government.

Today, it is possible to read statements by elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum that claim the United States is a Christian nation. This is in direct opposition with the desires of the founding fathers. A famous quote from Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli states, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…” The Treaty of Tripoli was ratified by Congress in 1797 while the government of the United States under the Constitution was still very young. Furthermore, as I said, there is no mention of God in the Constitution. The United States is not, and has never been, a Christian nation.

Many people cite the fact that our national motto is “In God We Trust” as evidence that we are a Christian nation. Similarly cited are the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the appearance of “In God We Trust” on our money. The truth, that is so often left unsaid, is that “In God We Trust” was created our national motto in the 1950s, at the height of McCarthyism and anti-communism. The “under God” part of the pledge was also added in the 1950s. “In God We Trust” was not included on our money until after the Civil War.

Why does all of that matter? There are countless accusations in the media that atheists, agnostics and other secularists are trying to rewrite the history of this great country. The truth is that it was already rewritten, to the detriment of our government and our civil liberties. Lawmakers think they are upholding our “Christian values” when they do not support equal rights for LGBT individuals. They think they are supporting the ideals of our government when they write language into a bill to pay for spiritual care, when they bend over backwards to prevent federal dollars from funding the completely legal procedure of abortion and when they try to waste money on ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs. When they voted to put “In God We Trust” on the Capital Visitor’s Center, it apparently did not occur to them that would effectively exclude the minority known as nonbelievers that make up 15% of the population. Lawmakers are blind to their affronts to the founding fathers, to the Constitution, and, more importantly, to the citizens of the United States. All of these little things add up, it seems our country has forgotten its true roots.

Every citizen of this country deserves the freedom of religion. They also deserve to be allowed to live a life free of religion if they so choose. The government should have nothing to do with religion, directly or indirectly. It should not be allowed to cloud lawmakers’ reasoning about foreign policy, domestic issues or anything else. This is what the founding fathers wanted, and this is what is best for our government. I wish I could say that our government is not, has never been and will never be a Christian nation, but, unless we do something, our future as a secular country is in jeopardy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Term Limits, Please

I do not often like to write or discuss politics in this country. Although I am usually willing to discuss an issue that is affected by the political environment, I avoid talking about candidates or party ideals. On average, my opinion does not fit with the people I talk to. Conservatives are too conservative and liberals are too liberal (I consider myself to be quite moderate). That being said, I decided to write about the political system in the United States this week, not in honor of Election Day, but because elections are dominating the news sites.

The United States is often criticized, mostly by the inhabitants of this country, for its political system. I have heard complaints about everything from how slow the legislative process is to how the politicians diverge from their parties’ values too often, among others. The complaints are far too numerous to list here, and while I understand some of them, others seem to miss the upside of certain traditions or policies.

People complain that our legislative system is too slow, but a slow system is far more preferable than one that allows change to be enacted easily and quickly. The slow process is meant to prevent rash action, and retroactively became a way to lessen the effects of political swings between the two dominant parties in this country. Without our arduous legislative process, the majority in the Senate would have an incredible amount of power: a majority party could pass laws quickly while the minority would have little influence. We would get whiplash from the changes in the laws each time the power passed between parties. The slow process allows for refinement of the legislation and greater consideration of consequences; it protects minorities by preventing any one group from having too much power.

Politicians do tend to diverge from their parties’ political values, but how much of a problem is this? Should politicians be automatons of their respective parties? It was once considered a virtue to be an individual in this country; I guess I must have missed the memo that changed that. I realize that a politician should practice what they preach, so to speak, but that does not necessitate that they have the exact same stances that their party advocates.

When I look at our political system, the biggest problem I see is the motives of the politicians. At the root of that problem is the lack of term limits on senators and representatives. After being elected the first time, the motives of senators change from representing their constituencies to trying not to aggravate too many voters, especially right before they’re up for reelection. The main goal of incumbents becomes to remain in power. They stop taking strong stances and they increase the amount of pork they add to bills. The ideas are not to offend anyone that may be voting for them and to spend tax dollars on things that appease their constituencies, whether or not the benefits are worth the money.

With term limits, members of Congress would worry less about keeping their cushy jobs as the leaders of our country. Rather, they would be concerned with running the country in a way that looks toward the long term. Instead of appeasing current voters by spending unnecessary amounts of money on projects that are hardly beneficial, politicians would work to be more fiscally responsible. Politicians would take stronger stances on things they claim to believe in. Elections would be more democratic on average because the incumbent advantage would be shorter lived, and, quite possibly, diminished in influence.

People in this country should stop complaining about the individuality of politicians and about the speed of our system. It is ridiculous to desire politicians to be automatons of their parties; without individualism our country would not exist. As for any complaint about the lack of speed in the legislative process, a review of the lessons we are taught in classes like U.S. Government and Civics in middle and high school is in order. Checks and balances are a good thing, and our system would likely benefit from a further check on the power of Congresspeople in the form of term limits.