Well-meaning people in two nearby Texas cities, including Paradise, have now declared 2014 to be the “Year of the Bible.”
Please don’t read this as anti-Bible, anti-Paradise or even anti-city council. I’m none of the above.
I can’t help but wonder, though, how city councils will respond if next year a Muslim group approaches them with a petition to declare 2015 the “Year of the Koran.”
What if the Latter-Day Saints come with a request for the “Year of the Book of Mormon”? Or perhaps there’s a Buddhist enclave in Paradise, as there is in Newark, and they respectfully suggest 2016 be the “Year of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.”
Or what if an atheist walks in with a request for the “Year of ‘The Age of Reason’ by Jean-Paul Sartre”?
This is a can of worms Americans ought not to open.
Certainly, if you’re a person who seeks to base your life on Biblical principles, there is much in popular culture to deplore. Public behavior, music, clothing and language explore new depths daily, and movies and television shows often celebrate what the Bible labels as sin.
So if you’re elected to, say, a city council, and everyone knows you’re a Christian, then it’s natural to assume everyone approves and supports your faith. You may be right – or it just may be that they appreciate the kind of person your faith prompts you to be.
But if any of that translates into an urge to put your faith into the statute books, please lie down until that feeling goes away.
It was faith that brought Pilgrims to this continent and led them to set up a system of government where people could worship (or not) as they chose.
Many of our founders were people of faith. That faith enlightened them and guided them as they set up a system of government where faith could flourish – everyone’s faith.
The same freedom that protects a Christian’s right to worship protects an atheist’s right not to. Freedom assures that Jews can go to the synagogue on Saturday, Muslims can bow toward Mecca three times a day and I can go to church on Sunday.
When it comes to defending freedom of religion, we’re all on the same side.
Christianity has in fact flourished in the light of freedom. Given an opportunity to choose without coercion, the threat of public ridicule or – God forbid – the heavy hand of the law, many people do choose Jesus.
But if it’s not a choice, freely made, it’s meaningless.
I strongly believe Christians should work to influence their culture – not through law, but through allegiance to a higher law.
Do we truly believe the mighty arm of God needs the flimsy hand of government to hold it up? Have a little faith!
Government is not here to raise your children, stop your drinking, heal your marriage, mend your broken heart or forgive your sins – or even to direct you where to turn for those kinds of things.
How about making sure the water’s clean, the food is safe and my garbage gets carted away? Moral guidance is the last thing I want from my government.
In a democracy, everyone has a vote. Maybe here, now, people who share my faith are the majority – but who’s to say whose faith will be in the majority 10 years, 20 years, 50 or 100 years from now?
If Christians in the U.S. today establish the precedent that faith can and should be written into law, what will our children and grandchildren do when successive generations follow that precedent?
Maybe they’ll have to flee to a country that understands and practices religious freedom. If they can find one.
Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Wise County Messenger.