Posts Tagged ‘Christianity in America’

Hatred of the Cross and Confusion in the Courts

Friday, October 20th, 2017

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul spoke plainly about the difficulty that the cross presents to those who don’t believe: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).

He might well have added that the cross is the object of hatred to some militant atheists, and incoherent confusion to some federal judges. This can be seen in the latest example of atheistic hostility to Christianity and muddled reasoning by a court faced with a lawsuit challenging the existence of a war memorial.

The memorial in question sits in an intersection in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland. It is a cross, forty feet tall, decorated prominently with the symbol of the American Legion on both sides – a large gold star with the initials “U.S” in the middle. The base is inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage,” and “devotion.” On the base is a large plaque with the names of soldiers who gave their lives in World War I and an inspiring quotation from Woodrow Wilson. An American flag stands nearby. According to the town, the memorial is known as the “Peace Cross”.

A group of Christophobic atheists filed a lawsuit claiming that the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  They claimed that they “have faced multiple instances of unwelcome contact with the Cross. Specifically, as residents they have each regularly encountered the Cross while driving in the area, believe the display of the Cross amounts to governmental affiliation with Christianity, are offended by the prominent government display of the Cross, and wish to have no further contact with it.”

Aside from their delicate sensibilities, their legal theory was that the use of the cross somehow signifies that the State of Maryland has endorsed Christianity as a preferred state religion.

The Establishment Clause states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This provision originally bound only the federal government, but the Supreme Court has also held that it applies to all levels of government. The Founders who drafted the Constitution and the public who ratified it knew that they were using a term of art that had a specific legal meaning. They all understood that the Establishment Clause meant that there could be no “established church” — namely, a church that had enjoyed special legal status, that was specifically endorsed by the state, that received unique privileges under the law, that all citizens were either required to belong to or financially support, and failure to do so would result in some kind of legal penalties.  Established churches were the norm in most European countries at that time, so everyone knew well that the Amendment was designed to prevent coercion to belong to the church favored by the government or king.

Anyone who reads the Establishment Clause and considers its original plain meaning would find this an easy case. Having a war memorial in the shape of a cross at a public intersection does nothing to create a state church, it doesn’t endorse any church or Christianity in general, it doesn’t compel anyone to believe any doctrine or participate in any religious practice or worship, and there’s nothing in such a gesture that would coerce anyone into joining or supporting any such church or would penalize anyone for not joining.

Sadly, the Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence is such a mess that a federal Court of Appeals has ruled that the memorial cross violated the Establishment Clause.  In a similar case a few years ago, Justice Clarence Thomas, commenting on the Supreme Court’s incoherent rulings, said:

Since the inception of the endorsement test, we have learned that a creche displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… Likewise, a menorah displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… A display of the Ten Commandments on government property also violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… Finally, a cross displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause… except when it doesn’t…  Such arbitrariness is the product of an Establishment Clause jurisprudence that does nothing to constrain judicial discretion.

This kind of case, like the Ten Commandment public display cases that frequently crop up, may seem like petty and arcane bits of legal doctrine, but they are highly relevant to a central issue facing us at this time. There is a concerted effort being pursued to purge religion from the public square. Policies and laws are being pursued that effectively disqualify Christians from full participation in business and professions, nominees to public offices are being questioned with great hostility about their faith, and there are serious penalties imposed on churches and private persons who disagree with or refuse to comply with government policies based on their religious beliefs.

This latest demonstration of hostility towards the Cross provides us with a moment of clarity about the stakes that are in play. It also provides is with an opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of the Cross as a symbol of our salvation.

Don’t Dishonor Columbus

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

The movement to remove some public historical monuments has gained considerable momentum after the tragic events in Charlotteville.

I am sympathetic to the removal of statues to Confederate leaders. These men fought for an evil and ignoble cause and their statues were for the most part erected to reinforce a wicked regime of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era. Calling attention to this, and cleansing the public square of these monuments, may help to reinforce the rejection of racism that our society clearly needs.

But the “progressives” in our nation have begun to turn their iconoclastic attention to other historical monuments, and in this they are not on such solid ground. In particular, by targeting Christopher Columbus, they have gone too far and have shown a deplorable lack of moral and historical sense. To dishonor Columbus would be a crime against our history.

Modern progressive ideology holds Columbus responsible for all that went wrong after the discovery of the New World. Those effects are undeniable and Columbus was certainly implicated in conduct that by modern standards are unacceptable (but which is also grossly exaggerated). Historians disagree about the extent of his involvement in that conduct, and we should leave it to them and their researches to provide the basic facts.

But on the moral level, the legacy and conduct of Columbus deserve great respect and honor. To understand Columbus, we have to appreciate the completely Christian mind with which he — along with all of his contemporaries — viewed the world. The modern mind cannot understand the centrality of faith to a man such as Columbus, a deeply devout Christian of the late Medieval era. His faith affected every part of his view of the world, and was the most significant motivation for all that he did. To him, the liberation of Jerusalem the Holy City of God and the conversion of non-believers to offer them salvation were moral imperatives of the highest order. In his view, the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims and the fall of Constantinople were not just political and military matters, but were catastrophes that had apocalyptic significance and demanded a response by Christians.

Columbus’s nautical ventures were not purely commercial in nature, as our narrow modern economic obsession would view it. Nor was he bent on conquest and oppression, or seeking to discover a new continent, or to prove that the world was round, as our contemporary historical ignorance would suggest. It was never Columbus’s intention to spread disease or to commit genocide. Unlike Confederate generals, it was never a fundamental part of his mission to enslave anyone. To allege otherwise is to commit a vicious and ignorant historical slander.

Columbus’s mission always and at its heart was motivated by his deep Christian religious beliefs. To understand this we can just look to Columbus’ own diary, in which he explained that he sought the journey in hope that he would find enough gold and spices to finance a crusade to liberate the Holy Sepulcher, and he urged the King and Queen of Spain “to spend all the profits of my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem”.

His faith and trust in God was what led him to his great adventure. This is what gave him the courage never to give up on his goal, despite all the personal hardships and disappointments he suffered. He was impelled always by what he saw as God’s holy will for him, his part in the mission to bring the Gospel to the whole world, his role in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

It is clear that Columbus did not foresee the negative consequences of his journeys. But who among us can see all the results of our actions? How was he to know that the natives of the Americas would be vulnerable to European diseases (and vice versa) or that the new colonists would act as monsters? It’s also important to recall that we can say with absolute certainty that there have been enormous good consequences of Columbus’s intrepid journeys. The opening of a whole new world has offered people an abundance of material blessings and has spread the Gospel, offering the hope of salvation to billions of people. This cannot be discounted in our evaluation of Columbus. Indeed, it should be given the tremendous weight that it deserves.

It is certainly ironic to see Columbus denounced as a killer by people whose evil acts are so obvious that all can see them — particularly the remorseless killing of African American and handicapped babies in the womb, which is ardently defended and supported by so-called “progressives”. One can only hope that history — and God — will judge them with more mercy and fairness than they are judging Columbus.

Christopher Columbus was not perfect. The values of his time were not as “enlightened” or “liberal” as ours. But he was undoubtedly one of the great men of history. Even to consider removing a statue honoring Columbus would be an act of historical sacrilege, a denial of the very roots of our society, and a crime against our heritage.