Robert B. Simpson: Faith, or politics

March 9, 2014 

When I was a child, I spent a fair amount of time being offended and resentful because my parents had restricted my actions in some way or my elder siblings had exerted seniority over me in the matter of tasks and responsibilities. I felt these attacks on my freedom to be totally unwarranted and possibly among the most egregious assaults known to man. I'm reminded of this indignant kid when I consider the spate of "defense of religion" measures that politicians have proposed, and in some cases passed, around the country. They claim to believe that the Christian religion is under attack and must be defended by government from the hordes bent on persecuting the faithful.

I'm no Bible scholar, but I don't believe Jesus ever called on the government to come to the rescue of the faith called by his name. And those early Christians knew what real persecution was. I suspect they would be chagrined, as am I, to see the mild restrictions today's people of faith have to deal with -- most of them restrictions of the faithful's right to interfere with the rights of others -- identified as discrimination. When politicians take this position, I can only conclude that they are incredibly blind to history or depressingly cynical.

Just as freedom of speech doesn't give me the right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, freedom of religion doesn't mean I have unlimited rights to perform whatever acts I choose, just so long as I label them "Christian." That most certainly means that, once sanctioned by government to provide goods or services to the public, I do not have the right, no matter what my faith, to pick and choose whom I will serve or to whom I will sell. Don't like government restricting you? I seem to remember something about rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's.

To suggest that American Christians are persecuted and restricted in the practice of their religion is ludicrous. And just as suggesting that the President is another Hitler, as some like to say, is an insult to six million dead Jews, Gypsies, mentally challenged, homosexuals, and others who didn't fit the Nazi mold, so is contending that we Christians are being discriminated against an insult to the lives and deaths of the legions who actually have been persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ.

Aside from the wild inaccuracy of such claims, when these wails of "Oh, we're being attacked because of our faith" somehow metamorphose into actual or proposed legislation, not just the perpetrators but the innocent bystanders as well look silly to the rest of the world. Instead of being defended, the faith is being laid open to ridicule. Not exactly the best way to bring unbelievers into the fold.

I have lived in a country where citizens dared not practice the Christian faith, and outsiders might do so only hidden from view. Proselytizing by Christians was totally forbidden. Western women who dared to walk in public with bare legs were subject to being switched across the legs or having their limbs spray-painted by the religious police. Government policies were dictated as much by religious belief as by political reality, with the result that many aspects of society were stuck in the 12th century. I don't think that's the way we want to live, but that's the way it can go if religion and government share the same throne. Subject only to such government restrictions as are necessary to prevent undue interference and unfairness in the lives of all, Christianity does very well in this country. The last thing we need is to develop our own Taliban.

When I was a child, it was fun to feel put-upon and resentful. But eventually I grew up and found out that was not a very adult way to live.

Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."

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