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Austin Cline

Joe Sabia: More Church, Less State, Part 1

By November 26, 2003

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[T]he problem in our country is not that there is too much religion in the public arena, but rather too little. In our prayers this Thanksgiving, we should recommit ourselves to fighting the atheist left and advancing the Christian principles upon which this nation was founded. The atheist left is on a rampage and their goal is clear -- to ban God from the public square.

This is the first installment of a four part analysis and critique of Joe Sabia's article "More Church, Less State."

Too much religion rather than too little? What is he talking about? There are two possible meanings to this, based upon what Joe Sabia intended by "public arena." On the one hand, he might simply mean "out in public," the opposite of that which is kept private and hidden from the view of others. Your medical records are not supposed to be "public" in this sense while your address generally is.

Such a meaning would unfortunately render Sabia's claim rather absurd. There are churches everywhere in America - in some places, you can hardly travel a block without encountering a church, synagogue, or other house of worship. There is religion all over in the media: television shows, magazines, sections in the newspaper, etc. Individuals aren't very shy when it comes to talking about religion - they share their faith and try to convert others on a regular basis. How many homes haven't been visited by Mormons of Jehovah's Witnesses at some point?

One can hardly traverse the "public square" without tripping over religion a number of times; encountering atheism, humanism, or even various philosophical thinkers like Hegel or Plato, however, is much more rare. I can't imagine how much religion Sabia would like to see brought out in public if what we currently have is insufficient in his eyes.

There is, however, another way to understand "public arena" - and in fact the ambiguity of the two meanings can often be exploited by people opposed to the separation of church and state. This second meaning of "public" refers to that which is supported and funded by the "public" (normally through the government) as opposed to "privately" (meaning individual citizens).

Thus we have "public television" which is supported in part by the government but also "private television" which is very "public" in the first sense (i.e., it's not hidden from view), but is "private" in the sense of being owned and financed through private means (advertising). We also have "public colleges" which are funded by the government as opposed to "private colleges" which are managed and (for the most part) financed privately.

There is indeed very little "public religion" in the same sense of "public television" or "public education." We don't have the government financing missionaries. We don't have the government building churches. We don't have the government telling citizens that they should read the Bible and convert to Christianity. We don't have "public religion" like what exists in Europe where certain churches are in partnership with central governments.

Could this be what Joe Sabia means? I think so. The rest of his article strongly suggests that he isn't simply looking to have religion be less "hidden" from the public but, rather, that he is looking to have the government begin playing a greater role in the promotion, financing, endorsement, and even enforcement of religion - but not just any religion, of course. It's pretty clear that he wouldn't be happy with the government endorsement of any religious beliefs that were tolerant towards atheists or that endorsed gay marriage.

No, Sabia has in mind very particular religious beliefs that a part of particular groups of Christians. Thus, he is looking to have certain sects or denominations or even just understandings of Christianity promoted by (if not also enforced by) the government - and at the expense of not only other groups of Christians, but also of all other religions.

As I said, the ambiguity between the two meanings of "public" is easy to exploit - many readers might agree that religion should be more "public" in the sense of being open to view of everyone, but far fewer people will agree that religion should be "public" in the sense that the government should pick a religion or religious group for the sake of special privileges and financing. This is because most Americans still believe in fairness and they still believe in religious freedom, two principles which are undermined by the theocratic designs of people like Joe Sabia - and make mo mistake, we are talking about theocracy. There's no other appropriate label for giving government the power to promote, endorse, and finance particular religious beliefs.

This critique of Joe Sabia's article "More Church, Less State" continues tomorrow.

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