America Is Not and Cannot Be a Christian Nation

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 5:03am

America Is Not and Cannot Be a Christian Nation

William Sloane Coffin said, “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country.” The same could be said of adherents to any religious tradition.

I'm not a loveless critic of Christianity. I'm an insider who has a lover's quarrel with fellow Christians who distort both Christianity and American democracy when they conflate the two. This country is founded on religious freedom and the strict separation of church and state, and it's perilous to play fast and loose with that fact.

But there's a peril on the other side of this coin. With religious freedom comes a responsibility to find non-doctrinal ways to address deep questions of meaning and purpose in places like our public schools. Many young people flounder because they get so little companionship from their elders as they try to understand what their lives are all about.

If we could do a better job on that front in the year ahead, we'd have even more for which to give thanks this week in 2015...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
—The Declaration of Independence

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
—First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

These foundation stones of American democracy were laid a century too late to save Mary Dyer's life. Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six, was hanged in 1660 for defying a Puritan law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Christians who cruelly deprived this woman of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were dead certain (so to speak) that they were on a mission from God, protecting their "divinely ordained" civic order against Mary Dyer's seditious belief in the Inner Light.

As a spiritual descendant of Mary Dyer, I'm profoundly grateful that America is not a Christian nation. If it were, my Quaker convictions might get me into very deep oatmeal. As a Christian who does his best to take reason as seriously as I take faith, I find it impossible to understand America as a "Christian nation." And I believe that there are vibrant possibilities in the fact that it is not.

Whatever America's founders believed about Christianity — and they believed a wide range of things — they clearly rejected the idea of an established church. That's strike one against the curious conceit that we're a Christian nation. If being a Christian nation means asking ourselves every day, "What would Jesus do?" about a political issue, then doing it, that's strike two. To take but one example from Stephen Colbert (without forgetting things like slavery, justice for those who can afford it, and peace through war):

"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it."

If a Christian nation is one whose popular culture is dominated by Christian convictions about what's good and true and beautiful, I'm afraid that's strike three. Just look at the fact that our nation-wide Christmas festivities begin on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that celebrates consumerism, our true civil religion. If anyone wants a fourth swing of the bat in hopes of getting on base, let me pitch this brief theological reflection. If, as Christians believe, God is the Creator and Redeemer of All, then there's no way God favors Americans above people of other nationalities. Strike four.

As a Christian, I'm passionately opposed to American pretensions that we have special standing with God, to political office-seekers who play on our religious differences, and to the religious arrogance that says, "Our truth is the only truth." But I'm equally passionate about the urgency of creating a culture of meaning that responds to the deepest needs of the human soul. This is a task we have been neglecting at great peril, a task that demands the best of all our wisdom traditions, a task on which people of diverse beliefs can and must make common cause.

Viewed from this angle, the fact that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation is very good news. America's freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, offers every wisdom tradition an opportunity to address our soul-deep needs: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, secular humanism, agnosticism and atheism among others. These traditions are like facets of a prism, each of which refracts a different wavelength of the light that overcomes darkness, including the darkness created from time to time by every nation and every tradition.

The philosopher Jacob Needleman has said that "one of the great purposes of the American nation is to shelter and guard the rights of all men and women to seek the conditions and the companions necessary for the inner search." In this society, where religious and philosophical diversity is one of our most precious assets, we can take a big step toward opening our culture to the "inner search" by shaking off the mistaken notion that this is code language for the search for God.

Inner-life questions are the kind everyone asks, with or without benefit of God-talk: Does my life have meaning and purpose? Do I have gifts that the world wants and needs? Whom and what shall I serve? Whom and what can I trust? How can I rise above my fears? How do I deal with suffering: my own, that of my family and friends, and that of the larger world? How can I maintain hope? What does any of this mean in the face of the fact that I'm going to die?

These are not questions that yield to conventional answers. They are the big questions that must be "lived," Rainer Maria Rilke writes, so that we might "gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers." Do our schools give young people a chance to wrap their lives around questions of that sort? Do our religious communities listen for the questions that are alive among us instead of answering questions that few are asking? Do we offer spaces of public life that are safe for vulnerable explorations of meaning, spaces that are not Roman arenas where demagoguery slays reflective, rational, and factually grounded discourse?

American democracy gives us a chance to do all of that and more, free of ideological restraints. That's why I'm grateful that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation.

Of course, we can continue to have pseudo-theological food fights over questions like, "How can we save our nation by making all Americans into God-fearing souls?" or "How can anyone be so ignorant as to believe in God or the soul?" Or we can take advantage of the fact that American democracy offers us an open space in which to pursue questions of personal, communal, and political meaning, illumined by multiple sources of light.

Which will it be? That's a question worth wrapping our lives around, with gratitude for our political inheritance.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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Brilliant and reassuring in these desperate and frightening times. Thank you, as always. And Happy Thanksgiving to the whole On Being team.

Profound, moving and more than a little revolutionary, because it removes layers of debris and cobwebs from false constructions of piety and shines light into our hypocresy with reason.

Beautifully stated.

Excellent comment.

You will have to write about this again and again to reach the depths of the fight over this issue. Indeed, which question comes first: Are we a Democratic nation? Are we a Christian nation? The way you argue "no" to the latter implies if we were more Christian we might be more Democratic, that is, if we leave the judgement to God and behave as Jesus would behave. As a Quaker, I like that. But as a citizen of this United States, I wish the formula were "If we were more democratic we would be more Democratic." It seems that adherents of multiple religions and anti-religions can all be more Democratic than Christian and Islamic supremacists. And that makes me know that faith is given as a pretext for terrorism when power is the real prize.

Nicely summarized.

This says everything that I have believed in my heart and soul since I was as young as nine or ten but have never been able to articulate in words. Thank you.... I am now fifty. Two years ago I decided I'd had enough of the "traditional" Christmas' that reflect our materialistic and gluttonous desires. That year, only the candles came out of the holiday box and on the 22nd of December I took my family to a log cabin in the mountains for four nights. We were allowed two gifts each. There were no electronics. No phones. Just quiet, warmth from the hearth and outside, lots of snow and billions of stars. We took moonlit walks, stargazing, laughing and simply being there. Later, we returned to hot chocolate and read poetry out loud by the crackling fire. We reconnected or rather, connected authentically, for the first time. My children have asked ever since if we can do the same thing every year. The log cabin came at a hefty price, but well worth it. Our experience was a life changing gift.

What a beautiful way to have spent your Christmas. I too have a similar desire. This has become an excessive annual contrivance empty of the soulfulness we might rightly expect from what is meant to be a celebration of hope for all and not just some. But how conveniently we forget the 'all' and focus on the 'some' as we gorge ourselves silly and exchange gifts we absolutely don't need and mostly don't want. And yet, if this is the only time some of us make the effort to be with one another and be a little kinder to one another, perhaps not all is lost.

All I can say is right on! My wife and I are extremely blessed to live in a log home out in the woods... The true meaning of Christmas seems to be materialistic in Amorica among a large percentage of folks... Your response was warming! Thanks....!

James

Once again, Friend Parker delivers a message that's an amalgam of Quakerly wisdom and heartfelt common sense. These are trying times, indeed, globally and locally. It was just announced yesterday that the community in which I live is under investigation by HUD for possible civil rights violation due to decades of public housing patterns. Many of those who have "gotten theirs" are afraid that the construction of public housing development in a predominately middle and upper class neighborhood will bring crime, neighborhood deterioration and drops in their property values. Never mind that one of the most vocal critics moved to the neighborhood where the new development is planned, a few years ago from a very troubled neighborhood less than half a mile from the development that is scheduled to be demolished, after gunshots were fired near his home. The fact that he could provide that mobility for himself apparently makes him somehow more worthy of decent and safe housing, as opposed to those who have had difficulty escaping poverty and the sub-standard housing that, up to now, has been available locally to families of very low income. And yet our city has an abundance of churches and has always considered itself an extremely 'Christian' and generous community. Our hope may lie in the fact that our city has adopted a plan for extreme 'transformation' by 2025, and perhaps, one day, we will be able to look back and no longer recognize this pattern of dismissal of care for our neighbor.

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for this profound reflection. I remember your time in Woodbrooke back in the early 80s (forget which year) when, in reflecting on "community", you said "community" is the place where the person you would least like to be with is" (or something to that effect). That same sense is conveyed in your message here. Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes to you and family.

I am concerned that people in this country think that we should respond to jahadism by assuming that the Islamic faith is saying to be to kill Christians. It is a PEACEFUL faith. Our country respects the diversity of religion. Well not everybody in our country. Donald trump is not helping matters by saying that American Islamic people were in support of the 9/11 attach.

Please keep in open mind. I try to not let my fears make me lose sight of dire need that refugees have. America need to recognize that coming to europe via syria is not the only way that terrorist make it in to America. We need to focus on homeland security to keep our transporation doors closed.

The thought provoking and courageous aspects of affirming that "all people are created equal..." and the tenants of the 1st Amendment are often at the mercy of fear, ignorance, and group hysteria. As individuals, we can aspire to honor and practice that which our "higher selves" hold dear. Yes, there are times when we may succumb to hatred and unworthy acts of discrimination based on engrained and outmoded prejudices. But, we can also educate ourselves and ask for the grace to honor and practices the higher calling of humanity. There are many wounded souls in the world and I believed that many are looking for a path in life that honors "life, love, and the pursuit of happiness."

Thank you for sharing Mary Dyer's story within the context of the deep questions, the "inner life", that are currently front and center in our nation's discussions being held within political settings, family dinner tables, religious institutions, or others. My husband and our children are some of Mary Dyer's many direct descendants, thus we are very familiar with her role and contribution to our nation's development that has permitted true religious freedom. We encourage questions and discussion of these big issues among the interns on our farm, thus I now understand that we are providing a "safe spot" for these young people to explore these vital questions of purpose, meaning, gifts, passion, etc. Perhaps there has been another spirit (Mary Dyer, in addition to Aldo Leopold) who guided us to becoming "old-new farmers". That is a new thought for me, indeed, a direct connection for me to Mary Dyer. I would like to think so. :) I stumbled on to your book Let Your Life Speak years ago now, and so finally today, I thank you for your clear, level-headed, grounding, and wise words, needed now by both individuals and leaders in our nation more than ever.

I truly appreciate your well written views in this article, they strongly reflect my own. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

I am troubled by the line: "... Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that celebrates consumerism, our true civil religion. " This sounds to me FAR too accepting of the old childish Santa Claus notion, not unrelated to "pie in the sky when we die." Children around age 7 (if not sooner) can learn the joy of GIVING as well as receiving: handmade gifts, or donations to those needier than themselves. I was taught early on that we are helping Santa when we give gifts, and that the fat guy in the store is not the real Santa, who is an invisible spirit. What's hard about that?

I am not a Christian and do find the enforcement of Christmas sales down my throat starting before Halloween as an assault on my senses. Gift bearing and giving was not on original Christian tradition but a Pagan one based from the Roman traditions. Santa Claus is a terrific advertisement to get people out of the house and shopping, but is a softer kinder version of the Norse traditions of Odin and the Wild Hunt which isn't so sweet nor nice. Sorry, I know Santa Claus is for children, but shouldn't the holiday be celebrated in more ways than just 'gift' giving. There is no spirit of any holiday anymore, it's all just people attempting to kill each other over a TV at Walmart. I hold with Parker's criticism of Black Friday sales and even those day of Thanksgiving sales. I find it pretty much disgusting in American society's gluttony and greed. Big sins, I do believe, right?

Well stated Cheri. It's a sad state of affairs to see such over-the-top commercialization being thrown at us from all directions, in addition to the holidays themselves being reduced to "savings opportunities." On some level it's a reflection of the times we live in, but it doesn't mean we have to participate. I like to think that each of us still has a choice in the matter.

Parker Palmer, I love every word of this reflection. Thank you and bless you ... I wish you a meaningful, connected, and delicious Thanksgiving.

It should be obvious that if the United Stated formally adopted a national religion, both the nation and that religion would be mutually degraded.

The author clearly misstates the historical record. The reason why the US Constitution forbids establishment of an official religion by the Federal government is NOT because we are not a Christian nation. It is simply because many of the several States already had official State religions and the States did not want to empower the national government to toy with that.

A more accurate way to sum up the founders vision, one that drove our national discourse well into the 20th Century is that man derives his rights from God. Because of this, governments may not infringe upon them. Just as God gives man free will, so man must have liberty to achieve all that God's benevolence may bestow upon us. We swear oaths, on a Christian Bible, in recognition of our belief that while we might lie to each other, it would be inviting God's wrath to swear falsely under an oath on the Bible. Another underlying Biblical theme is the ideal of a land where people live in peace and liberty - free from the threats of external and internal threats to safety and prosperity. Our Constitution was designed to achieve this very ideal - one the children of Israel proved unable to live up to time and time again. These high level precepts have absolutely nothing to do with the minute differences in religious practice that often define and separate disparate denominations.

Those uniquely Judeo Christian tenets are intimately woven in both our founding documents and are reflected by our national leaders with great consistency for many years after. To argue otherwise is disingenuous at best.

Most of the authors and influencers of our founding documents were of English origin, and their concern was to avoid the establishment of a Church of America to match the Church of England. Having a national church in England gave too much political power to members of the Anglican community, a condition unfavorable to Baptists and other denominations. James Madison, a Baptist, wrote the Bill of Rights with this concern very much in mind. Other people who had fled religious persecution in Europe shared that concern.

That's an originalist interpretation. Early legislative history can be read as supportive, but it's still one interpretation of several that are held by serious people.

A day after proposing the First Amendment, the same congress requested the declaration of a day of public thanksgiving and prayer for the "signal favors of Almighty God." See, H.R. Jour. 1st Cong., 1st Sess. So yes, the people of the time were steeped in Anglo-Christian tradition and probably didn't deviate too far from that, at least in public. Two-hundred twenty-six years ago to this day, November 26, 1789, George Washington made that declaration of thanksgiving. History shows that the founders were complex individuals and thinkers whose viewpoints changed over their lifetimes: their historical and social contexts should be taken into account, but I don't think any of the founders were particularly devout in what we today might view as a conventional sense.

Interesting suggestion being raised as to the primary rationale for the Establishment Clause. Might one ask, which states had which religions at the time? Is there a Federalist paper or some other source that supports this suggestion?

Not qualified to speak for originalists, but suspect that they would feel that religion itself is categorically set apart, with the main point being that one faith is not to be favored over another. Libraries have probably been written on this very topic. As to the present post, it looks like Parker's main thesis holds up even on this interpretation.

Very random and delusional.......

"Christian Values" is a slippery term defined differently by various sects, and contradictory statements in the christian scriptures. I will stick with America as a secular nation whose values are defined in the Constitution, which clearly states that we are not affiliated with any specific faith.

I love every word of this blog. I have book marked it so I can return to it often. I tried to find a short phrase in here that was my favorite but found the task impossible. Incredible writing! Thank you so much for this essay. I too write but this expresses so very well everything I believe to be true about the greatness of America and our search for inner truths.

Excellent article! I appreciate the reference to Mary Dyer as I am descended from her and from the Puritans who executed her. I am very well acquainted with the religious history of America and how daring the Framers of the Constitution were to try to give the new nation a new path to follow and what that has meant to all of us. It is so disheartening to see people who wish to take America backwards because of their ignorance of our history in favor of an imagined mythical American past.

I am grateful fior the freedom of the inner search. How can we incite, invite a culture that asks the kinds of questions we want to "live into?" When people barely think, but react, never mind think critically, in what ways can we allow broader religious, spirtual, or philosophical reflection than the kind of Christianity that gets the sound bytes, that us to say, none. See reaction, above. I'm speaking more about the public forum than the silent meditation of many seekers, but should not the marketplace also be an occasion for reflecting?

very well written. that is all.

please do not mistake the media's materialistic propaganda of "Christmas" with the actual religious meaning of Christmas. As a Christian I am always disappointed with the media's never ending consumerism and emphasis on the Christmas holiday season as a materialistic event. There are many common ground views that become ignored to prove that there is a difference between us. Does the idea of treating people fairly and with dignity belong to only one religious idea? No. Just because you call yourself a Christian does not mean you are behaving like one. Similarly just because you are Muslim does not mean you are a suicide bomber. If Every day we all tried to be the best person we can be while at the same time trying to help others to be the best they can be, our world would be different.

I follow much of this but can't shake my belief that the ancient Jews who wrote the New Testament were serious when they said "Jesus saved us from sin" and that "Nothing but the blood can save". The parable of the Prodigal FATHER - not prodigal son - was of a paradigm-shifting amount of forgiveness. The father forgave what no Jewish law would allow. We Christians are cast originally as the wayward younger son who is forgiven. But we have become the stubborn elder son who refuses to celebrate the homecoming of his little brother.
I believe any that ask God to forgive their sins will have it - and if they ask God to make them more like Him, he will. Even if they do not do it 'in the name of Jesus'. However, I believe that is only possible because the blood of Jesus has been shed. We Christians should never forget that.

Another way to think about this is that our governments - federal, state, and local - provide only the framework within which individuals and communities live and function. In a democracy, the framework should not and cannot be expected to supply content, which arises from the lives of individuals and communities. Content comes from cultural, intellectual, spiritual and religious sources which the people create, interpret, modify, and preserve. Government does provide structures and protections for the expression and enjoyment of content, which must arise from the people.

Another very helpful column, Parker. Thank you.

Parker Palmer says very succinctly what the American ideals were at the founding of our country and what they supposedly still are. I hope that as a nation we can live up to them. He gives my favorite quote from Stephen Colbert, one which I often have relayed onto friends since I heard it. America has to make a choice.

I consider the writer of the above article a 'kindred spirit" This is how I've felt for as long as I can remember. I cherish the knowledge of understanding all professions of faith; I take what I "like and leave' the rest without forcing my views or condemning others. Blessings,

Thank you so much for this. Very best wishes to all.

Thanks for writing this.

Very thoughtful, soulful and intelligent handling of these issues - you are one of the wisest persons Ive ever read on these topics - America and Canada need more people who think like you do, and who have a heart for inner life, logic and freedom of religion.

I have bookmarked this page. I will have to read this a couple more times. An eloquent discourse on the idea of a Christian nation.

Profound and states more eloquently with more depth and facts things that I have been thinking a lot about.

Thank you Mr. Palmer for this controversial article. I enjoyed reading it. In my opinion, what a controversial article does is to allow a person to reexamine whatever a person believes. I was not born in the United States, but I am a Christian. I thank God for the privilege to call this great country my second home. I believe that the United States was a Christian nation, but I don't believe it is a Christian nation today. It was very unfortunate that Ms. Dyer lost her life. There was no biblical justification for that and they were not on "divinely ordained" mission. Do you remember the Crusades? It was, a series of holy wars launched against Muslims in 1095. If you look at history, everyone religion has innocent blood on its hand! Here are some of the reasons why I believe the the United States was a Christian nation. "In God We Trust" is on the seal of every state, coin, currency, and in courthouses across the nation because it derived its moral values from the Judeo-Christian principles. Are these principles derived from pagan ideology? Line 28 of the national anthem reads, "Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation." Most preambles to state constitutions of all fifty states acknowledges God as the Creator directly or indirectly. The writers of these preambles gave thought and deliberately chose words to indicate the insufficiency of human wisdom and their dependency on God. These words Almighty God, Supreme and Sovereign Ruler of the Universe point only to the God of Abraham (revelation), the God of Isaac (redemption), and the God of Jacob (regeneration). These declarations and acknowledgments are not found as the foundation of any known human government. And best of all, the first prayer of the Continental Congress in 1774. Listen to this; "All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy son and savior. Amen. Harvard University was founded in 1636 and the intention of the school was to train Christians ministers "in pursuit of truth found in Jesus Christ." On the shield of Harvard it reads; "Veritas Christo et ecclesiae, which means "Truth for Christ and the church." The truth of the United States foundation on Judeo-Christian principles have not changed. However, what has changed is the shifting of the "American mind" surrounded by varied philosophical ideas that also claim to have truth about who we are and where we come from. Biblical description of this is "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men , and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" ( Ephesians 4:14). Listen to this also; "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Existential question is universal and is on everybody's mind! On this issue; The Apostle Paul dealt with the Epicureans and Stoics philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:18). American freedom and ideals embody all religions and cultures to coexist. Would you say, a Christian would no longer be a Christian because someone of a different faith is invited to his or her home? The so called Black Friday has nothing to do with Christianity. Sales are always going on every known holiday or a special day on the calendar. How does sales on Memorial Day and Veteran Day honor those we remember? No one can make a person to seek or fear God! Only God can! I don't think that the writers of the Preambles to State Constitutions are ignorant. I also don't think that the writer(s) of the first prayer of the Continental Congress in 1774 are ignorant as well as the intention of Harvard. Do you think, purpose and meaning of life now and after can be found in multiple sources of light?

The greater preponderance of people find themselves in what may be considered a perpetual childhood. Mystics come and go, sowing their seeds, and as the parable of the sower shows, these seeds seldom fall on fertile soil. The good news is that we're all learning the same thing; some learn quickly, and some learn slowly. There is no countdown timer on anyone's evolution. All is well and nothing is lost. Through meditation, much wisdom is to be gained. The truth isn't "out there", it's "in here". Seek and you shall find.

Thank you for articulating the questions that face all of us, as you say, either with or without religion. As I get older, and witness the illness and loss of loved ones, the disturbing and disheartening events in the world, I find these questions pressing on my thoughts more and more. How do we deal with suffering, with death? How can we maintain optimism, hope? I like the image you give of a prism, and multiple sources of light. Surely there is wisdom in opening ourselves to the experience of others, no matter what tradition they may arise from.

Interesting article. It is well and good for this nation to enjoy freedom of worship and freedom of faith. It is well to remember that the Constitution guarantees us that freedom - OF religion, not FROM religion, and that includes atheism as a belief system.

The big plus of such a system is that it affords us the unfettered opportunity to seek truth - for if faith is not based on truth then it is empty. And one cannot freely seek truth while being persuaded, harassed, or coerced into becoming a convert to any given form of belief system. If not freely elected, faiths and ideologies are simply a way to hide behind a badge. And that is morally, spiritually, and intellectually dishonest.

But if one is free to use reason, to study the facts, to accumulate knowledge both academic and experiential, and to combine all of those with that strange inner compass that some have called instinct or intuition, plus the universal impetus that resides in humans to overcome their selfish tendencies in order to reach for that which we call real love - then we are doing our best to seek truth and thereby find our faith.

That said, one should avoid painting issues of faith with too broad a brush. To claim that one faith is a good as another is to deny that faith must be based in truth - because while the many faiths may have much in common, they have just as much in conflict in terms of doctrine and practice, and not only about details or trivia. Whether Christ was God or not separates Christians from Jews and Muslims. The belief that He is God is a non-negotiable foundation of Christianity, the whimpers of lukewarm idealists notwithstanding. It cannot both be and not be. That is the truth.

Jesus' message to us, in the plain language he used, was not that he represented one of many "facets of a prism, each of which refracts a different wavelength of the light." Quite the contrary, and the analogy is precise - he declared himself to be "the way the truth and the light." And he stated more than once that he was one in being with God Almighty. That sounds suspiciously absolute to me, terrifyingly non-relative. So that is the deal with believing in him. You either take him at his Word, swallow it whole, or you may as well take up knitting or collecting gum-wrappers.They would serve you better.

As for Mr. Colbert's astute observation - often quoted to bolster the cries for "social justice" - Jesus told US to help the poor. He did not ask us to forfeit large chunks of our income to the government, so that IT could help the poor.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice. May God help us preserve our freedom.

Chris Bonett

We the people who established our government "of, by, and for the people" ordained and established our Constitution to "establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare." In the first amendment we stipulated that our government will not make laws "respecting an establishment of religion" or "impeding the free exercise of religion."

Chris writes "Jesus told US to help the poor. He did not ask us to forfeit large chunks of our income to the government, so that it could help the poor."

We the people, as per our Constitution , provide for the general welfare by : building, maintaining, and regulating a road system, establishing a military, providing a judicial system, providing for businessmen cheap access to publicly owned resources, creating a department of agriculture to help farmers and insure our food supply, and on and on, and , yes, provide welfare, food stamps for those in need. We do these things by our own choice, through our government, not because some spiritual icon told us to, as our government is not founded on a religion, as per the first amendment.

I find it weird some would single out aid to economically struggling people as a complaint about how we spend our tax dollars from all the things our government does for all its people and for various groups of those people, while at the same time claiming that helping those same poor people is a directive from their spiritual leader.

Buddha, the Jewish Prophets, Christ, & Muhammad all preached the Golden Rule; it is all God’s commandments and laws rolled into one. Since no creature in the universe can simplify the Golden Rule humans must be among the most intelligent creatures in the universe. People who live by the same moral code should not be fighting and killing one another. The Golden rule is a path to peace. We should be concentrating on this moral compass which guides all faiths, not petty differences used to divide and conquer. Only evil people use religion to turn one person against another. They do it to obtain power and riches for themselves. True people of faith should recognize if a religious leader is acting against the Golden Rule and remove them from a position of authority they abuse. Pope Francis explained it clearly using God’s name to promote violence is blasphemy.

Love his article. I attended a workshop with Palmer when I was supt.

Thank you for sharing your insights. They are, sadly, applicable across the globe as w e seek new ways to be human together not just nations in conflict.

Thank you....such a great piece.

Thankful that my journey has included this encounter with Parker J. Palmer and also with Brian McClaren and Samir Selmanovic. My discovery of the writings of these men will be a special take-away for me from my 2015 spiritual adventure.

Wonderful. A copy should be sent to Congress and all presidential candidates.

WOW WOW WOW - could not have said it better myself. I agree with this wise and thoughtful thinking. Many Americans are mighty arrogant about thinking they know "the secret" to the entire universe.

I am so grateful to have Parker Palmer sharing his wisdom with me and with all seekers.

In this third week of Advent, I am grateful for such solid and encouraging reminders of truth....and the truth shall set us free!

Our leaders need to bring these words and thoughts to all Americans. With the middle class shrinking and opportunities for our children becoming less and less, fear is becoming the operative emotion in our country. And fear is driving us to blame anyone different from ourselves for losing the American dream. Our leaders need to recognize this fear, cajole us all to rise above it, and remind us that the only way to revive hope for all Americans is to work together as one united nation.

Parker, we first met many years ago, and your thoughts evoked then a sense that you spoke my mind. You still do. You helped me to see that there is, indeed, "that of God" in everyone. You helped me choose to become a "convinced friend". That choice enriched the quality of my practice of medicine, always striving to care for the health of those whom I served. In that same light my care for this nation in that same vein holds to this day. Thank you again for speaking my mind.

One of the best things I have read on Facebook in a long time. Thank you from an Atheist.

Important ideas. Have you read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' new book Not In God's Name?

Good article. So many of us in the USA don't want to hear that we are not a christian nation. But it is so obvious that we are not, and like you mentioned in the article, it is a good thing. God is not the god of America, and Jesus did not start the christian religion. God created ALL men (and women) equally and He loves each one of us around the world equally. If we really think about it, American not being a christian nation is a good thing. We all have the freedom to accept Christ and live for him, and we all have the freedom to not accept him. God loves us all, no matter who we are or what country we live in. God is the god of us all, even when we do not accept Him. He has given us the freedom to choose who we will serve and accept, and He loves us either way.

It is amazing how influential a title of a document can change a nation's course. As intellectually you equate circumstances with evidence, the title leads some to believe, we are not and should not be considered a Christian nation. Most people in this world do not have the time to intellectually study every nuances of interpreted vocabulary as you so eloquently do in a scholarly manner. One mind thought provoking concept I would like to lead this world to is the goodness that our nation can be and thrives to be as a direct result of the Bible. There are only a handful of religious organizations in this world and I'm proud to say I believe we stand for goodness as a direct result of trying to aspire to the Bible. To lead others away from that as your title seems to do is counter productive. Please consider a warming title that shows the greatness that has resulted from past learned lesson of humility in life. Thank you for the opportunity to express my exasperation when I saw another example of dividing people instead of Uniting for the good in a sincere way. The Bible is good and I ask myself, "Then why do people want to come to America." My hope is that they know they will be loved and accepted. The Bible is a guide not a do it all document. The best guide book that will ever have been written. God Bless.

apples