Monday, June 05, 2006

Christianity Today Supports the Rights of Wiccans?

As if I weren't already confused about what is going on here, Christianity Today ran this article supporting the right of a US soldier's family to have a Wiccan symbol inscribed on his tombstone. The ACLU I would have expected, but Christianity Today?

4 comments:

  1. It is a troublesome case. However I will say that while certain demands are specifically for Christians, even unbelievers have a right to impersonal justice from the State. Thus while we may deplore the fact, we can concede the legal right.
    The State's duty is different from the Churches. The State is primarily a coercive instrument. As such I think it only has a right to demand justice and prudence from the citizens-and such things that are necessary for achieving justice and prudence(taxation, military service, jury duty, etc). Obviously there are a lot of "yeah, buts" like public works, and so on. But that is the general idea.
    To permit is not to approve. There are numerous examples in the history of Christiandom where it was considered appropriate for the State to permit something universally condemned. And whenever it has been attempted to deliberatly make Christianity and human authority synonamous, the result was usually an establishment of phariseeism. In other words often the harm is greater then the gain.
    We are commanded to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. Both the State and the Church have a relationship to God analagous to that of a medieval baron to his overlord. Both have certain rights and responsibilities within their own sphere and both are ultimately subject to God. The Church is of course ultimatly in a higher place. But "ultimately" hasn't happend yet, and in any case the Church doesn't have a right to usurp the responsibilities of the State.
    This sounds like "Separation of Church and State". It is not really that. When the ACLU says that, it really means absoulute separation, which in turn means separation of the State from moral authority-the vassal is being encouraged to rebel against the Overlord. What I mean is that God's Kingdom is not of this world. Caesar's authority is no more then a necessary expedient, derived from the fall. For the Church to claim it would be like Gandalf claiming The Ring: Gandalf's power and responsibility is more subtle yet ultimatly far greater and The Ring is a tawdry shortcut.
    What I think would be wrong would be for the State to provide the engraver for the tombstone. This would make the State a collaborator in Idolatry. It is one thing to permit, it is another thing to approve.
    However that would mean the State has to do this in all cases for all faiths. Perhaps the state can simply provide a given ammount to everyone who is buried, to make such decorations as the family of the fallen desires. Even if he followed a depraved faith, the State has a debt to pay. Admittedly this sounds like Pontius Pilate-like hand washing. On the other hand Pilate's sin was in washing his hands at the specific momment when he should not have. It is not clear that this is such a momment.
    The questions about this go on and on. As the old saying goes, "the devil's in the details. And this time it seems literally.

    Sir Jason the Longwinded

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  2. "What I think would be wrong would be for the State to provide the engraver for the tombstone. This would make the State a collaborator in Idolatry. It is one thing to permit, it is another thing to approve."

    I think this is one of the points at issue, Sir Jason. The government provides engraved bronze grave markers for all veterans, and I believe this what the relatives are asking for. Otherwise it would not be an issue - they would just have the local tombstone cutter do the symbol.

    The other angle I hoped you would comment on is the Christianity Today endorsement of this supposed "right". Quote the author...

    "Although our country was founded on a Judeo-Christian base, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that religious freedom was for everyone, not just Christians. In other words, the only way that freedom can prevail for Christians is for Christians to stand up and fight for the minority beliefs and religions of others."

    Is he supposing that the founding fathers would have "fought for" government payment for a wiccan-inscribed grave marker? And by espousing this view in a Christianity Today article, does he extend his assumption to Christians "fighting for" the freedom to practice witchcraft, just because we live in a "free" country? Sounds like pretty liberal theology, to me. But then again, maybe that is "Christianity today".

    Sir Chuck, wondering witch way the wind is blowing...

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  3. "Although our country was founded on a Judeo-Christian base, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that religious freedom was for everyone, not just Christians. In other words, the only way that freedom can prevail for Christians is for Christians to stand up and fight for the minority beliefs and religions of others"
    Is he supposing that the founding fathers would have "fought for" government payment for a wiccan-inscribed grave marker? And by espousing this view in a Christianity Today article, does he extend his assumption to Christians "fighting for" the freedom to practice witchcraft, just because we live in a "free" country? Sounds like pretty liberal theology, to me. But then again, maybe that is "Christianity today".
    _____________________________
    Sir Chuck is arguing another side of a long debate. St Augustine for one seems to have leaned toward Sir Chuck's position.
    The problem is that the founding fathers lived in a time when paganism was completly repressed. Witchcraft was something for charletans, superstitious peasants and sailors, and the occasional palace decadant. It wasn't considered a religion in itself, and the founding fathers would have laughed at the idea of granting it such a dignity.
    We live in a confuseing time. People today have tired of the reductionism of "the enlightenment" but they don't like to have to submit to authority so they scorn "traditional religion"-yet in this case seem to wish to ape the trappings of "traditional religion".
    Part of it is people misunderstand what a religion is. They understand it as a source of community, comfort, and pleaseing ceremony. In other words what they really want is a more effective "Society for Creative Anachronism", that doesn't take away from it's mystique by frankly admitting itself to be play. They want contradictions.
    What the founders would have done I don't know. They didn't think anything wrong with giving soldiers pay, knowing that they would spend it on depravity as soldiers do-that was part of the contract. On the other hand if it was a religious cemetary they were to be buried in that would certainly be an insult to the ones maintaining it. This is presumably a state cemetary. Furthermore, the problem would likly never have come up-in that day enlisted men were simply scooped into a trench to keep the plague away and only officers got state funerals. If someone that important had wanted to be buried as a witch there would have been a national scandal and we would know. Carrying each and every one to be buried at home would likly not have been thought of. If a common soldier was a witch no one would ever know-they would have assumed he was a Christian by fiat and not bothered to check. In those days soldiering was regarded as a sport for lazy rich, and a handy way to get vagrants off the street. Americans weren't quite as cavilier as Europeans but much the same attitude prevailed.
    The Founding Fathers never had to deal with the problem, as it had never been an issue for ages. When America was born Christianity was assumed, Judaism was acceptable, and Paganism was fairy tales. America is in fact best thought of as another variation of Venice, Switzerland, or Holland, or other Christian era republics with a few fashionable enlightenment twists(the term Revolution is a misnomer-the Founding Fathers only occasionally acted like revolutionaries). So perhaps we might make a wierd twist and ask, "What would Emperor Constantine have done". Well in fact we do know that because he had a number of pagans fighting for him-the legions were among the last to be converted. They were fond of Mithraism primarily and generic paganism secondarily(they saw no contradiction: Jove was hardly a "jealous god" and Mithras had greater emotional appeal). Would Constantine have objected to a legionary being buried in a Mithrist funeral? I would guess he would have assumed it was none of his business and left it up to the centurions-who probably would have given Mithrist burials. Constantine was sort of a go where the wind blows kind of guy.
    I think he was a Christian at least toward the end of his life, but I doubt he would have let that impinge-and maybe he was right.
    In this case I think it is not simply a matter of the State recognizing Wicca, but the State paying a debt. The laboror is worthy of his hire, even if in other respects he is an evil man. If a Christian had taken a loan from a pagan temple(some temples acted as banks and still do in India, I believe), he would be expected to repay it. If a Christian had married a pagan before he or she converted he would certainly be expected to remain loyal to his or her spouse(this is actually in the bible is is not speculation). Another precedant would be Naaman the Syrian Captain, who escorted his master into a pagan temple. This man being buried bound himself to temporary servitude, and in the end payed with his life. The State does not have the responsibility to actively organize his odd request, and should not. I think giving his family the means to arrange it themselves is permissible.
    We should not expect too much of the State. The State is at best a blunt instrument and at worst-Sauron's ring. In our case it is more like a blunt instrument. Blunt instraments have their uses but those uses are rather-unsubtle. Whichever way they decide someone will be offended. Therefore we should not become too upset if the decision does not come out the way we desire. Perhaps this is my real answer. I am not completely sure, neither is the State. So be charitable.

    Sir Jason the Hopefully Interesting but Longwinded

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  4. The Founding Fathers never had to deal with the problem, as it had never been an issue for ages.
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    An exception to this would be mercenaries serving with Europeans-in the American's case, Indian Scouts. The government had no policy with regard to his burial, so presumably he would be buried as the local commander directed-just as in Constantine's army. And the local commander would probabably have put such things as diplomacy, courtesy to the fallen, and millitary necessity first.

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