Friday, December 10, 2004

Non-Christion Morality

Recent letters in the local newspaper have implied that morality only comes from God, that one cannot be moral without God, and that our elected officials must be believers in order to be acceptable. The implication is that those of us that are nonbelievers are by definition immoral with no absolute moral foundation. We are also blamed for the ills of the country, and deemed unfit to serve it in any leadership role.
The numbers of prisoners in U.S. jails, the number of abortions, unfaithful spouses, and abusive parents are too high to be the sole responsibility of nonbelievers. Moreover, what about the heinous acts of obvious believers like those caught in the highly publicized Catholic Church scandal? How can you blame atheists for that? Human history is filled with believers committing immoral acts like slavery, devastation of Native Americans, the Crusades, and of course 9/11.
I am a nontheistic Buddhist, a nonbeliever. I don’t believe in lying, stealing, abortion on demand, or the death penalty. I do believe in respect for others, compassion, understanding, and tolerance. I am willing to put my morality up against any Christian or other believer.
My morality is based on solid principles, but the situation must be taken into account to determine the proper action. All moral actions are situational, even Christian ones. The Ten Commandments tells us not to kill, and yet God ordered the destruction of the Midianites in the Old Testament. Christians kill in self-defense, in war, and some believe in the death penalty. Despite what we are told, there are no absolutes.
A relatively small, but highly vocal group of Christian extremists views these issues in black and white. If you don’t agree with them, you must be wrong and immoral. They are blind to the immorality of their own actions in trying to force their religion down our throats. They still dwell in the false belief that the United States is a Christian nation. While it is true that the founders of the country were primarily Christians and that those values had a significant role in shaping the nation, the country was founded on religious freedom, not Christianity.
Unfortunately, there is also a similar group on the far left that wants to completely remove any trace of public religious expression. While these individuals do have some valid points with relationship to the involvement of religion in government, they push them too far. They want to deny that religion has played any role in the history of the country.
Both of these views are currently at the fringes of public opinion, but they are getting attention, influencing others, and gaining momentum. The Right wants to put prayer back in the schools and teach creationism as science. The Left wants to keep public school teachers from wearing symbols of their faith and rewrite the basis for public holidays like Christmas. It’s a battle of extremes and the rest of us are caught in the middle, expected to choose sides. Rather than choosing either of these views, we should embrace another position, a position of understanding and tolerance. We need to realize that despite what may be in our Pledge of Allegiance, we are not one nation under God; we are one nation with religious freedom. That freedom allows us to believe in one God, in many gods, no god at all, or something in between. There is no proof that any one religious vision is any truer than any other. We live in a country whose Constitution guarantees us the right to hold these varied beliefs, and to express them freely without government interference. If we are to avoid further religious polarization of our country, we need to turn away from the intolerant extremists and return to the true foundation of this country, religious freedom.

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