2002-07-13 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

John Wilson’s response to my column last week is pretty typical of what I get when I write about anything touching on religion.

"Thank you for your comments regarding ‘under God.’ You have just made it easy to give up buying your weekly rag. I guess you enjoy bashing Roman Catholics," Wilson wrote.

Actually, I don’t believe that I bashed Roman Catholics in my column last week, but perception, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder so I guess that Wilson and others of his ilk will always look at anything rational written about religion to be "bashing."

I wonder what John would have said, if, in 1954, Muslims had the ear of Congress and put "One Nation Under Allah" into the pledge? Or, if Hindus held sway and put "One nation under Vishnu" into the pledge? See what I mean, John? It depends on whose ox is being gored.

John and others who believe that I was "Catholic bashing" should know that more people have died in the name of religion than of any other cause in history. His Christian ancestors, on the way to murder "infidels" for taking the "Holy Land," killed tens of thousands of Jews in Europe just for practice.

Religious hatred continues today. Catholics killing Protestants in Ireland. Protestants killing Catholics. Jews killing Moslems in the Middle East and vice versa. Indians and Pakistanis. Croats and Serbs. The list goes on and on.

Anybody who has studied history has to know that religion has historically been divisive, not inclusive as John seems to think.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, many look at God as a kind of generic, all-encompassing deity. When those words were added to the pledge in 1954, however, the Knights of Columbus made clear whose God they were talking about. It was yours, John, not mine and therein lies the problem.

Aisem-ul-Haq-Quershi is a Pakistani Muslim. Quershi believes in Allah. Amir Hadad is an Israeli Jew. He believes in the God of Abraham. They both believe in God. They both play tennis and they play it together, as an internationally known doubles team. They have become friends.

Pakistan has told Quershi, however, that he can no longer play on the same team as Hadad. Why? Because Hadad is a Jew. Quershi, who is on the national team, has been threatened with punishment for playing with Hadad.

"I think that he can be forgiven if he never plays with the Jew again," an officials of the Pakistani Tennis Federation has said. There are some who have even said that Quershi’s life will be forfeit if he continues to play with Hadad.

David Benke is a minister of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He may well lose his collar because he dared to say a prayer at the same September 11 memorial service at Yankee Stadium as a Jew, a Hindu and a Muslim minister. "To participate with pagans in an interfaith service and additionally, to give the impression that there might be more than one God, is an extremely serious offense," said the synod’s vice president in a warning letter to Benke.

Those are fairly good examples of what religion can do.

Inclusive? I think not!

In the early 1920’s, President Teddy Roosevelt asked a noted sculpture to design new American coins. He checked the statutes and found no law that mandated the "In God We Trust" saying on the coins. He said that he no longer wanted the saying on the new coins.

It was not that Roosevelt was bashing religion. He explained his position to a minister who had written to him to complain.

"I am of the very firm conviction that to put such a motto on our coins not only does no good, but that it does positive harm," Roosevelt wrote.

Congress, always looking towards the next election, overruled Roosevelt.

"In all my life, I have never heard any human speaking reverently of this motto on coins or show any sign of its having appealed to any high emotion in him," Roosevelt wrote later. "The existence of this motto on the coins was a constant source of jest and ridicule."

Michael Kramer writes a regular column for the Daily News. Kramer recently told of going to a summer league baseball game for kids between nine and eleven years of age. He asked them about the recent court ruling.

Three of the boys called the decision "stupid," Another, the best player on the team, quietly told him, however, that he doesn’t believe in God and having to say the pledge with those words contained in it makes him "feel stupid."

He told Kramer that he says it because "if I don’t, the kids will make fun of me. They say that I’m not an American if I do not say the pledge."

The kids father, who is an atheist, added, "I don’t want the other kids thinking that there is something wrong with my son," he said. "His relations with his friends are the most important thing."

Justice William Brennen, who was one of our most important Supreme Court justices, once wrote that citing God in official circumstances (on money, in the pledge, opening court sessions) is no more than "ceremonial deism." He said that our continual use of the term has made them lose any "significant religious content."

I wonder if Brennen had that atheistic kid in mind when he wrote those words.

Why must that kid, and thousands of others like him around the nation, be afraid to say some words that he is literally forced to say even though he does not believe in them?

A nation brought up to believe that the majority cannot hold sway on the minority to the minority’s detriment, should not allow such things to happen.

What Wilson calls "Catholic Bashing" is actually a call on the majority of Americans, who happen to be Christian, to understand the uncomforting feeling that attends when one is in the minority and has to face an official decree that makes him or her feel like less than a full citizen.

As I wrote last week, I faced that in high school when I had to say the "Lord’s Prayer" each day and when the words "Under God" were added to the pledge. I faced it each morning and each evening in the Navy when prayers praising Jesus were read over the ship’s loudspeaker.

Perhaps Wilson and others might put themselves in the shoes of those who are not Christian to see what those things really mean.

Religion is exclusive. It has always been and will always be. It is the nature of religion. Because of that, religion has no place in the business of government. Our Founding Fathers realized that. It is time that others should do the same.

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