Tuesday, May 02, 2006

God, free will, and how every political conflict doesn’t have to become a religious war

Jon Meacham’s new column over at Newsweek provides good perspective on what he calls – and I agree – is the central issue in our on-going culture war. Writing about a discussion after a recent speech, Meacham said:
What do you do, he asked, when you are in debate with someone from a religious tradition who believes his truth is the only truth—and that his way of belief does not tolerate any other truth?

Meacham’s answer to the question is based on Christian theology and should be helpful, particularly when speaking to a person from a Christian tradition. I'm quoting most of his response. The emphasis is mine.

If God himself did not compel his creatures to believe in him, then who are men to try? When the crowds tried to make Jesus king, he hid from them; before Pilate, he said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews said, “we have no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come,” and, in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul declares that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men.…” For now, we can only “see through a glass, darkly,” as Paul said elsewhere, and for believers to assume that they can fathom the mind of God, or grasp all of his ways and means, seems foolhardy. We live in twilight and in hope, but we cannot have all the answers—which means humility and a sense of history can offer us light as we try to move forward.

Meacham added:

The point of the American system, best expressed by Madison’s Federalist No. 10, is that competing interests can contend against one another peaceably within the republican arena of checks and balances, an arena in which the rights of the minority are protected from the tyranny of the majority. There is more than enough for us all to do without turning every political conflict into a religious one.

Meacham ended with a quote from Thomas Jefferson:

“… it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Meacham’s new book is “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.”

This is good stuff, very true stuff. Allowing those “competing interests” to each speak freely (or to put it theologically: allowing God's gift of free will to function) is the only way our nation will survive. The alternative -- where the supporters of one brand of religion seek to impose their ideas on the rest of us – would lead to repression, bloodshed and too many horrors to count.

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