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3.02.2005    |    "tying the legal system to Protestantism"
First an apocryphal story from the Troubles in Ireland. A Jewish fella in Dublin goes into a pub just off O'Connell Street; he's a stranger, and right away he's accosted by the publican: Answer me this question, boyo, "I know you're of the Jewish race, but are ye a Catholic Jew or are ye a Protestant Jew? Your very life depends on the answer."

The point being that the Troubles had very little, really, to do with Catholic or Protestant theology. They had everything to do with culture and political power. Hence, for this purpose, a Jew could be a Republican (Catholic) or a Loyalist (Protestant). Which brings me home to America, in which the analogy is that we are all, Catholics, Jews, and others -- Protestant.

My point isn't that all of the varied ethnic and religious groups that have made up America share in our Protestant theology. Rather, most assimilated Americans have been acculterated into an essentially Protestant worldview. The key word is "assimilated." There are today many hyphenated Americans whose first loyalty remains their native or ancestral homeland, language, or religion. Too many, in my opinion, but that's subject for another time.

How are most assimiliated Americans Protestant, if not in theology? For starters, in the belief that there is a God, and that all men (and this includes women, of course) are created in His image with certain unalienable rights. I think you all know the litany -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It goes further in the Protestant direction with the classically American precept of the primacy of the individual and his freedom of conscience. It's no accident that there are thousands of Protestant denominations.

In the American system, as codified in our Constitution, power flows from the individual to the state -- not the other way around. No one has supreme power; no King or Pope to rule over us with Divine right or infalliability. Power is also decentralized to the maximum extent consistent with maintaining the commonweal. Or at least it used to be, but again, a rant for another time and place. In my view, these are both classically Protestant, which emphasizes the individual's relationship with God while affirming the unity of God's Church.

With this as background, I am certain that the Founding Fathers, virtually all Protestants, would have been surprised at the charge that it was somehow wrong to be "tying the legal system to Protestantism." Since this is precisely the worldview that helped to shape it in the first place. This, however, is the charge that the Gray Lady's lead editorial today is making with respect to displays of the Ten Commandments on state property.

The New York Times is predictable, however, and no one should be surprised at this point of view. They are, very simply, against any expression of religion in the public square. Unless, perhaps, it involves saluting our Muslim brothers. But I digress.

No claim can be made that Americans are faithful Protestants, qua Protestants. Although a large enough number are. More importantly, the basic Protestant worldview of the individual's liberty are transferred to the secular realm. By Catholics. By Jews. And, it is to be hoped, by Muslims, those of other faiths, and, God help them, those of no faith.


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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.