My response

(See the original e-mail here)

Dear [relative],

I got your recent e-mail about the role of Christianity in America these days, and it included the line “Isn’t it funny how I can be more worried about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me.” This idea of being true to yourself and God resonated with me, though I do not believe in God in the classical, Christian sense. I do, however, believe in the importance of speaking your beliefs even in those situations where other people may think less of you for it.

As such, I feel compelled to respond to the factual inaccuracies of your forwarded e-mail. The subject of your e-mail was “BET I ONLY GET 3 BACK.” Here’s one back, though maybe not in the form you had hoped.

My issues with the e-mail, point by point:

1.  “Presidential Candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA ‘was no longer a Christian nation.'”

This is technically true, but ignores the fact that he deviated from his prepared remarks and, even then, still clarified that the USA was no longer just a Christian nation. From factcheck.org, his prepared remarks:

Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

His delivery wasn’t as smooth as written, but what he said conveyed the same message:

Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

This isn’t a new claim.  The founding fathers themselves had widely varied views on religion:

“[The Bible] is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.” – Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, Part 1, Section 4

“I have often expressed my sentiment, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” – George Washington, Letter to United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May 10, 1789

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

“As the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” – John Adams, The Treaty of Peace and Freedom between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary (ratified unanimously by the Senate, June 7, 1797)

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” – Patrick Henry

Debate over the religious soul of America is nothing new, and President Obama’s statement is relatively benign when compared to some of the statements made throughout the years by the intellectual forces behind our nation. Point being, what he is saying (even when taken out of context) is nothing new.

2. “This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone’.”

This passage uses misleading wording to make the reader believe that President Obama deviated from 20 years of White House observance of the National Day of Prayer through a National Day of Prayer ceremony. In fact, that is not the case. While it is true that President George W Bush held a special event to recognize the National Day of Prayer during each of his eight years in office, he was the only President to do so.  Both President Reagan and President Bush Sr. held a special event for the National Day of Prayer only once during their terms, and President Clinton never held any such event. So again, President Obama’s actions are not new, but the outrage that they inspire is. President Obama, like Reagan, Bush Sr, and Clinton before him, recognized the National Day of Prayer with a Presidential Proclamation.

In fact, President Obama’s administration “trotted out everything but the kitchen sink in attempting to rationalize this union between government and religion,” according to a spokesperson for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who is arguing in Federal Court that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

3. “BUT . . . on September 25, 20009 from 4 AM until 7 PM, a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was Held on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House. There were over 50,000 Muslims in D.C. that day.”

The ceremony described here and elaborated upon at the website provided in the e-mail (www.islamoncapitolhill.com) did happen, but it was not sanctioned by the government, except inasmuch as they allowed Muslims (like everyone else, including Glenn Beck) to exercise their Constitutionally-protected right to free assembly. It was no more a National Day of Prayer than Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally.

4. “HE PRAYS WITH THE MUSLIMS!”

The picture had been stripped out of the e-mail by the time I received it, but based on accounts of this e-mail I’ve read elsewhere, I believe it was meant to be this one, which shows President Obama removing his shoes while standing on a prayer rug, indicating that he is about to pray with the Muslims. However, the true story behind this picture is that Obama was visiting the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), the national mosque in Turkey. Before entering, everyone (not just those who are praying) is required to remove their shoes. Obama’s removing his shoes in this context proves he’s a Muslim just as much as my taking off a hat when entering a church proves I’m a practicing Christian. It’s a show of respect to the beliefs of your hosts, not an endorsement of the beliefs that they practice.

5. “I guess it Doesn’t matter if ‘Christians’ are offended by this event – We obviously Don’t count as ‘anyone’ anymore.”

No, it doesn’t matter. No more than it matters that I am offended by Christians like Fred Phelps, or Christians who plan an “International Burn a Quran Day.”

The idea that Christians “don’t count as ‘anyone’ anymore” is contradicted by the lengths to which Obama went during the 2008 election to get people to believe that brown skin does not make him a Muslim, but rather that his years of attending Church and practicing Christianity made him Christian. It’s also contradicted by the fact that 76% of American adults self-identify as Christians.  Every member of this 76% counts just as much as anyone else in this country, which is to say that while they have more political power than other groups due to their majority, they are subject to the exact same constitution as these other groups, despite their majority. That’s why it doesn’t matter if Christians (or any other groups) are offended, because as the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld, “taking offense” at something is not a valid reason to strip someone of their freedom of expression.

—-

I don’t take issue with the ideas after this point. I don’t agree with all of them, but that’s my right just as it is your right to hold them very close to your heart.

I write this e-mail in hopes that you will give it at least some consideration. These are my beliefs only, and I do not claim to speak for any other member of my family here. I simply see opinions that are expressed from one point of view, and felt that adding my point of view can only strengthen the discussion.

I hope you and your family are doing well, and send my love.

– Doug

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