In America, a majority of people call themselves Christians or believe in some kind of God.

In America, a majority of people call themselves Christians or believe in some kind of God.

Historically, our country has been influenced by Christianity. Puritans from Europe settled here; men of faith helped gain our independence; ministers founded our universities; and churches formed the foundations necessary for the civil rights movement. And yet, we have in America a belief that faith should be private — that it should stay in churches and synagogues, not affecting public life. The separation of church and state first mentioned by Jefferson has ceased to be a defense of either religion or government, and has become a tool to squash any form of public faith, which in turn subjects society to the chaos of secularism.

You may think that I am exaggerating; that there is no anti-religion movement. It is a very subtle push that has not completely permeated society, but is very powerful among the religious and irreligious alike. Listen to the comedy of Bill Maher or the philosophy of Christopher Hitchens to witness the most blatant and antagonistic voices against religion. On TV and in movies, which have become simultaneously the temperature gauges and driving forces for public thought, anti-religion is quite common. Fortunately, there are movies that support the practice of faith (“Lord of the Rings,” “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Amazing Grace”). There also  are occasional films with deep spirituality borrowed from Eastern religion (“The Matrix,” “Star Wars”). A large number of films have a well-defined system of morality, but no sense of personal faith (“Spider-man,” “Borne Identity”). There are films that are openly opposed to public faith (“Kingdom of Heaven,” and “The Golden Compass”). Finally, and most damaging of all, there are a large number of films with humanistic “believe in yourself” messages (“Polar Express,” most sports movies, and many films put out by Disney). This final type may seem to favor the practice of faith, but it is actually a veiled form of the secularism I'm talking about, trading the divine for the self.

Faith is important for two reasons, the first of which is the search for truth. Religion is a valid study of the spiritual, in the same way that science, history and philosophy are valid studies of the physical, temporal and intellectual. There is a fear in America that strong religion of any kind leads to violence and ignorance, as has happened in some places in the world. Enemies of religion love to site the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, and Galileo’s troubles with the Catholic church. I defend religion by saying objective truth about the natural and supernatural worlds is so important that we must not limit public thought because of conflict or shortfalls in the past. (As a side note, I would defend Christianity by pointing out the Crusades were originally waged to free Jerusalem for pilgrims of all religions; only 20 people were executed in Salem in 1692-93, and the short-lived ordeal was ended by Christians who saw the evil in it; and, Galileo’s conflict was not so much one of science against religion, but a conflict between one Christian scientist and the church over scientific issues with spiritual implications.) Does that mean I would be accepting of any religion being discussed and paraded in politics, in schools, and on TV? If it means the freedom of ideas and the availability of truth would be present, then yes. Even though I am a Christian and hope for the spread of Christianity in society, I desire an open discussion in public life of all religion and personal faith, including Christianity. Truth is hindered in a purely secular society, because secularism intentionally excludes spirituality. On the other hand, to force belief in one faith is no better than suppressing all faith.

Therefore, in a free society, it is only through openness and tolerance that truth can be strengthened.
Secondly, religion is important for the foundation of order. Though rare, secular civilizations have existed, and a few exist today. Some have been a positive force in the world (modern Japan), and others have been negative (Nazi Germany). Even these irreligious societies have been dictated by a set of principles or laws. The only difference between religiously motivated laws and secularly motivated ones are their sources. In a purely irreligious culture, laws are written based on the will of the ruling power, whether that is the people or the king. In a purely religious society, they are written based on man's understanding of the will of God. Both types of laws are forms of morality: precepts for right action. With or without religion, these precepts must do two things, protect order and provide justice.

Without religion, man is left to his own reason, which is subject to all the flaws of humanity: greed, lust, and hatred. With religion, man is also subject to these things, but has the advantage of a higher morality and a means to seek perfect order and perfect justice. In our society, the laws are based on the will of the people, but informed by Christianity. I need not establish the value of the core principles of the Judeo-Christian tradition — do not lie, do not steal, do not murder. These principles are the foundation for our legal system, which has been one of the most impartial and unifying systems the world has ever seen. It is only through the open discussion of these higher principles with the aid of religion that our society can hope to maintain order and justice.

My point in this discussion is that personal faith is not only important to the individual, but to society.
We as a civilization must fight the notion that religion must only be a private thing, and that any mixing of religion and public life is somehow undesirable. As I said above, man is inherently religious, and to suppress the public expression of faith is unreasonable. Of course, anyone who believes in democracy rejects church-run government and state-run religion; but public discussion of personal faith must be tolerated if we are to sustain our free society.

Matthew T Shaw is a McPherson native, who living in Indiana. He is fillling in for Daniel Schwindt.