A Biblical Civil Government – Is It Religious Pluralism?

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Let’s wander into the theological weeds just a little deeper today and look at the second option for the nature of civil government, other than political theocracy. It has been called “political polytheism,” or religious pluralism.

A religiously pluralistic government is officially religiously neutral; no religion is favored over any other religion. All religions are officially given equal standing with the government, including no religion at all. This has been the lawful position of the United States since the Constitution was ratified in 1788, the first time in recorded history that that position was officially taken by a nation. 

This is all we have known as we  have grown up here in the United States. A theocracy in our minds is particularly egregious because of the militant Islamic theocracy, so it seems obvious to us that pluralism is the right option. Let’s look at its characteristics and see if that is true.

Characteristics of religious pluralism

1. Liberty of conscience. The first characteristic and most basic of a pluralistic state is that each citizen, legally, has complete liberty of conscience. He is free to worship publicly, privately, or not at all, in any way he sees fit. There is a wall of separation between his faith and the state that the state cannot breach.  

In the American version of pluralism, this is underscored in two places in the Constitution. First, the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights which says: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This, undoubtedly in the framer’s minds, meant freedom of religion within the sphere of Christianity. They had seen the sectarianism, intolerance and persecution that was rife in England’s theocracy and even in the colonies, and they wanted to guard against that occurring on a national level. They probably never anticipated another religion besides some version of Christianity vying for the hearts of America’s citizens. 

However, the religious war that has slowly arisen over the next 250 years should not be surprising. The commitment we naturally hold most dear is to our god, whoever or whatever that may be. This is the commitment that theocratic nations had used for centuries to build and maintain national unity−“We all worship the same God.” 

Pluralistic nations do not have that advantage. Any other factor that may hold a nation together is an inferior one. Geography, language, a shared vision, etc. are all temporary and fall before the attack of a people united by their religion. If he must choose, an American Muslim is a Muslim first, not an American, just as a Christian’s ultimate “citizenship is in heaven.” This is why moderate Muslims very rarely condemn radical ones because of the brotherhood they sense as both worshippers of Allah. Followers of other religions are no different, including atheists. There is a natural bond between those of the same religion.

For the first 150 years after our new national founding document was finally ratified in 1788, the Christian religion of some sort was the public faith of the vast majority of U.S. citizens, with a smattering of atheists, agnostics and Jews. Therefore, Christians have convinced themselves that we were founded as a Christian nation, and have tried to find ways to get around the obvious declaration of the nation’s ultimate authority in the Constitution’s preamble: “We the People, . . . do establish. . .” 

Since our founding, we have been a de facto (in fact) Christian nation, although not a de jure (legal) one. We determined our own destiny with no recognition of God. There is no specific mention of God or Jesus Christ anywhere in the document, an exceedingly strange omission if the intent of the framers was to found a Christian nation.

As time has gone by, the religious fervor of our country has waned; the fire of the revivals of the two Great Awakenings in the 1740’s and the 1820’s, the Azusa Street Pentecostal awakening of the 1900’s and the charismatic renewal of the 1960’s has been reduced to smoldering embers. The resultant vacuum has been filled in America by other gods.

 Those who are not Christian have used whatever means possible to lessen their numerical disadvantage. The courts, increasingly non-Christian, have complied. In an attempt to quash the Christian majority, in violation of the First Amendment, America’s government today has driven Christianity totally out of the public square with the fallacious claim that any public expression of Christianity is an attempt by the government to “establish religion.” So, the battle rages, a battle that is always unavoidable in a pluralistic nation.

2. The “no religious test” clause. The second characteristic of our pluralistic Federal Government is illustrated in Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution, which states:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

This section in the Constitution is even more significant than the Preamble. The final phrase in this section guarantees that the United States is not, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, an explicitly constitutional theocracy. It is illegal to demand that any United States elected official, either on the national or state level, be or not be a follower of a particular religion. Under this constitution, as currently written, this nation will officially remain a religiously pluralistic nation. 

 So, the magistrates in the government supposedly rule in an impartial manner, based on the law of the land. However, this is a practical impossibility. We do not lay aside our most cherished convictions by putting on a judge’s robe or assuming an elected position. We carry those convictions with us, along with the presuppositions that accompany them, either consciously or unconsciously.

When a convinced, ardent Muslim is elected to the city council in Dearborne, Michigan, where a growing, aggressive, Muslim population is increasingly more influential, his affinity for Shari law will influence the decisions he makes. This is exactly the same way a Christian would be influenced by the Bible while serving as a civil magistrate.  

3. “Strength through diversity.” The strength of a polytheistic nation supposedly is the belief that pluralism is a “grand design” by which the country can be a melting-pot of diversity, everyone living together in harmony. I have heard it said that America is the only nation in the world without a common ethnic background but is held together by a common vision of liberty.

 That is a dubious assumption. Until relatively recently we did have a common Christian heritage with a prevailing European background. It is extremely doubtful that this vision of liberty by itself is strong enough to overcome increasing ethnic and religious diversity without a majority of Christians, as we are currently discovering. 

So, we are fooling ourselves if we think our nation is neutral. Who is our official God? The first line of the Constitution lays out our god very clearly: 

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” 

The framers appealed to man himself (“We the people”), corporate man, as our nation’s final authority. Satan’s temptation, directed at Adam and Eve in the Garden, was repeated in 1787 at Philadelphia: “You will be as God, knowing good and evil.” Remember, a nation’s god is the one whose laws are followed. We now make our own laws, with no consideration of God’s law whatsoever, proudly determining for ourselves what is right and wrong, so we are our own gods. Humanism became our de jure national religion in 1787. Now, 250 years later, it has finally also become our de facto national religion as well.

All governments, be they monarchies, oligarchies, democracies or republics, are battlefields between competing gods–between the two great antagonists, the God of Christianity and the god of all other religions, Satan himself. Our anti-guerrilla, mop-up campaign to finalize his definitive defeat at the cross constitutes human history, with the civil government as one of our weapons. . 

Next week we will summarize the strengths and weaknesses of Theocracy and Humanism, our two civil government options, and the conclusion to which I, personally, have arrived after at least three years of consciously wrestling with these ideas.

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  1. Jerry Buccola says:

    Once again Robert….an excellent, succinct analysis.

    I was especially touched by your insight that “we the people” is in fact stipulating a humanist “god”. I need to ponder this Insight 🙂

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