Monday, March 30, 2009

God, Freedom and China

I was thinking today about what a travesty it is that the people of China are forbidden by their government to practice religion. This, of course, has been true in every communist tyranny, but that it should be so in the Earth's most populous nation is a terrifying fact. Yet China is a country much admired in left-wing circles, and diligently courted by both the U.S. Government and American corporations. Leaving aside China's continuing rape of Tibet (the only example of absolute colonialism left in the world), of its history, its culture and its religion, that Hillary Clinton should have gone to Beijing hat in hand to beg the Chinese to bail out our economy is an act of unspeakable shame.

History would indicate that the worst dictators target religion first. That this should be so is no surprise. In order for people to become subjugated to an all-powerful state, they must first be stripped of private devotion to a deity that gives their lives transcendent meaning, and which represents an alternative to secular power. In short, the purveyors of tyranny fear God above all, because people worship God above all. Ironically, their position is that Thou shalt not have strange gods before us. It is the first commandment of communism.

And yet, our own nation is not immune from this tendency to strip the people of their ability to express religion. Increasingly in my lifetime, the secular left has systematically and aggressively targeted religion in its attempt to make America over in its own jaundiced image. In America now, just as in China, any expression of religious sentiment in a public place will be suppressed and punished. Students who attempt to pray in school or even to make use of a classroom for purposes of religious gatherings are made the victims of ACLU lawsuits. Teachers who support their right to do what the Founding Fathers urged - make religion the centerpiece of American democracy - are warned, or suspended or even fired. Try to put up a creche in a public square at Christmas, or a menorah at Hanukkah, and watch what happens. And try to suggest in a public school that there may be an alternative to evolution, even merely for the purpose of discussion, and you will be reviled and shouted down or worse.

This is how things are routinely done in China, and as they were in the old Soviet Union. But that they should be done in the United States is a fact of forbidding implications. The Founders were clear: The source of freedom and the legitimacy of government is God. They prayed, they urged their fellow citizens to pray, and Lincoln, the greatest of all American presidents, invoked God as both the source and the solution of the Civil War. Yet this is not good enough for the secular gadflies who wish to purge American public life of any form of religion. (Except those of which it approves, apparently. Students at the University of Michigan demanded without challenge that Muslim foot baths be installed on campus. But what would have happened had Catholic students demanded holy water fonts in the dorms, or Jewish students, that mezuzahs be placed in the classroom doorways? )

The Founding Fathers, fearful of government's ability to suppress even the eternal longings of the human spirit, guaranteed us freedom of religion - not freedom from religion. There is a critical difference inherent in those prepositions. I do not, myself, subscribe to any particular religious tradition (as those who read this site will know), but I should be free to express my religious beliefs, or keep silent about them, or have none at all, in the public sphere as well as the private. That is my birthright as an American, and it is slowly being eroded away by forces that have more in common with the communist bureaucrats in China than with the traditions of the American republic.