Assortments of Thought

Religious Diversity and God

Posted on: July 15th, 2009

The inclusion of God by government and other public institutions has continued to stir controversy. For instance, public schools have even faced lawsuits over using the line “One nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and some activists continue to cross out “In God We Trust” on all paper money that comes their way. That anyone takes issue with these things, however, may seem surprising. If separation of church and state as mandated by the Constitution is maintained with the exception of such minor things, indeed we are all fortunate. Even so, that anyone in turn takes issue with removing God from public institutions is perhaps less surprising but far more concerning. For it isn’t just separation of church and state that’s involved, though that’s certainly very, very important. Even further, it’s discrimination on the basis of religion. After all, government and public institutions serve the nation, and in a nation with citizens of virtually every major world religion and more, just one or a few religions shouldn’t be endorsed over all the others. And it’s important that everyone realizes this, even if it’s not a particularly big deal as it stands, to ensure that it doesn’t become anything bigger in the future.

To be clear, inclusion of God by public institutions obviously isn’t to the detriment of Christianity, and likely not to that of Judaism, Islam, or Sikhism either. All of these religions, of course, are related, particularly the former three, and share not only a common ancestor but similar beliefs. (The partial exception, Sikhism, formed from a synthesis of sorts of Islam and Hinduism. Consequently, it has a solid relation to the three big Western religions, but it has a firm footing as a South Asian religion as well). Most relevant here is that they all claim existence of the one true God, even though they mostly differ on a preferred name for God. As such, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs are all likely to accept such lines as “One nation, under God” and “In God We Trust.” Even the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings is fine for Christians and Jews, and possibly Muslims as well. I’m not sure if the Commandments are in the Qur’an or not; they might be, given the shared stories and people between the Bible and the Qur’an. Even if they’re not though, Islam accepts the Christian and Jewish scriptures as valid, just somewhat distorted, so I’d imagine Muslims wouldn’t seriously object to the Commandments anyway.

However, the other major world religions certainly do not claim existence of the one true God, but rather various other sacred things. Hinduism, for instance, features not only many gods but a pervasive spiritual presence (Brahman) as well; it’s up to individual Hindus to decide their own specific beliefs. Theravada Buddhism, on the other hand, features no gods or spiritual being at all. Rather, Buddhists seek to reach nirvana, a state of existence beyond the desire that normally traps everyone in a continual cycle of death and rebirth. Or consider philosophical Daoism, which holds that everyone and everything emanates from the Dao, the source of all there is. The Dao isn’t a god and it isn’t a being; it’s simply the Dao. Finally, in Confucianism, such things as gods and the Dao are only relevant in so far as they promote a harmonious society. Rather, it’s the teaching and practice of certain virtues, meant to bring about a harmonious society, that is sacred. Clearly then, taken together, the world’s religions present a rich collection of spiritual views, far more vast than any one of them presents alone, including the Western religions and the one true God.

So then, back to “One nation, under God” and “In God We Trust,” and a government serving a nation that practices such a vast collection of religions. As I said at the beginning of this post, if such public inclusions of God are the only real transgressions on the separation of church and state we face, then we’re truly fortunate. Perhaps there’s even a mitigating factor here, namely, that the Founders were Christians, and thus held a personable belief in God very dear and fundamental. Given that, perhaps it could be said that such minor government and public inclusions of God are more of a nod to our history than anything, that so long as people remain free to practice their religion of choice, there isn’t any real harm. Indeed, but government and public endorsement of certain religions over others is still religious discrimination, and everyone should realize this, and certainly not object to removing God from public institutions. For we need to respect our religious diversity, not oppose it, and a failure to note even minor transgressions could be the beginning of something truly far worse. For we believe in a lot of freedoms including that of religion, and that’s how we want it to stay.

©2009, D.S. Applemin. All rights reserved.

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