“Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused. — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Ch. 22
You can’t steal from the Buddha, they say.
Why not? Because if you try to take something from an Enlightened One, he or she will surrender it — not as a victim, but from a position of inarguable power. Without the ability to take anything, or do anything, against the Buddha’s will, the thief is powerless.
I wonder if the same possibility, of surrendering the point while retaining the power, exists in an argument?
For example: I frequently find myself fighting with people who want to insist that the U.S.A. is a “Christian Nation”. As is often the case, laws designed to protect the minority — in this case, the non-religious, or those who wish to practice a non-Christian religion without feeling like it makes them freaks in their own society — upset and anger the majority, who see those protections as restricting their (the majority’s) ability to create the society that’s best for them. (It’s not uncommon, I think, for a majority to feel that they have the right to do this. However, it is counter to the whole idea of human rights, so I think we have to admit that it’s not okay.) It would obviously be best for Christians if their literature could be taught in all the schools, their rules posted in all the public buildings, and their proscriptions (for instance, against homosexuality) enforced by the government. And there are obvious reasons why those things wouldn’t be good for the country as a whole. Whether or not America was “originally” a “Christian nation”, it certainly isn’t anymore.
But still, it’s hard not to argue, when faced with such a claim.
I’ve made many of the typical arguments, such as:
- The Constitution is an openly secular document, with the first ten words of the Bill of Rights being “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”. (The Bill of Rights also applies to the States, not just the Federal Congress.)
- Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence that began America’s birth as a new nation, was not a Christian. He was a Deist, as was Thomas Paine and for a time, Benjamin Franklin. Deists did not grant the divinity of Christ, or other supernatural claims made by Christianity; they were rationalists. Other Framers were Unitarian Universalists and unorthodox “liberal” Christians. In any case the majority were far from orthodox Protestants as is often claimed.
- Most of the “Pilgrims” came here for trade, not religious freedom. The framers of our government included religious freedom in the country’s formation because they wished to avoid messes like the Inquisition, a Christian-led abomination which was still killing people at that time (they didn’t stop until 1817; the Roman Inquisition wasn’t considered fully “over” until 1860). The Inquisition is likely the reason that our laws explicitly forbid the government from forcing (or even encouraging) anyone to worship anything.
- If we really want to give special treatment to America’s “original” religion, then wouldn’t that be to the polytheistic nature-based religion of the Native Americans?
- “Under God” was inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 (during the McCarthy era), and the words “In God We Trust” were added to U.S. paper currency in 1956. Hardly formative.
…But the other day I realized that perhaps I should abandon that tactic. For one thing, it’s fighting, and while intellectual argument has its place, most of the time what these arguments involve isn’t intellectual discourse; it’s getting angry and losing sight of patience and compassion. Not really my path anymore.
A more effective way to deal with the “it’s a Christian Nation” arguments might be to yield and overcome, by granting Christians the ownership of America and its history that they seem so eager to possess. We’ll all just concede, Buddha-style. This is a nation founded by Christians, okay.
If this is a Christian Nation, then the following are all Christian actions:
- Two hundred years of genocidal war, segregation, oppression and treaty violations against the Native American population;
- Two hundred and fifty years of slavery, including systemic kidnapping, torture, murder, and rape, plus a bloody war against our own people to defend the practice. (Ahem, “A 1705 Virginia law stated slavery would apply to those peoples from nations that were not Christian.“)
- Deaths, rapes, mutilations, and suffering caused by deployment of U.S. troops in many hundreds of foreign wars — see this list;
- Clear-cutting of millions of acres of old-growth forest, plus countless other acts of environmental pillaging and massively poor stewardship of the Earth, including being the biggest-polluting country in the world for many decades;
- [Insert Your Own -- drop a comment if you come up with a good one!]
…And I bet there’s a good lesson here. When someone tries to take something — like credit for being “the official U.S. religion” — maybe the best thing to do is let them have it, and then deal with the consequences of that ownership.
Are Christians really ready to “own” the history of the U.S., and its consequences? Are they also willing to face the fact that “their” history of violent mistreatment, war, torture and destruction in America is anything but a deviation from the various Churchs’ pre-Colonial activities too? Because let’s face it, if the argument that slavery and genocide in the U.S. were a Christian invention has anything going for it, it’s the fact that it’s not at all historically surprising.
As a non-Christian (or “reformed Christian”, I guess), I’m willing to let the Church own America’s history, especially if it might produce some apologies and changes in behavior. Then again, we are talking about the same organization that has a history of blatantly denying, then capitulating on and disowning, its mistakes. And if what modern Christians are seeking with their “Christian nation” arguments is a way to take credit for our nation’s good points, without taking the blame for its failures, well, there are problems with that. Somebody needs to own up to America’s bloody and misguided past. Normally I’m in favor of that being all of us, all current Americans, but if the Christian community is volunteering, well… ;)
So. Rather than argue, perhaps, at least in private conversation, this is an example of a case where it works better to cede the point, and then let the “winner” stumble under the weight of the goods he now has to carry.
(My brain is having positively Golgothan* spasms trying to come up with a “So Jesus and Buddha walk into a bar” joke that encapsulates the point of this entry! Perhaps it’s best for us all that I can’t do it.)
*I’m so sorry. I had to.
Awesome Creative-Commons image by WickedSunshine.com