When I was a boy, I used to hear a lot about "godless communism." The fear of that phenomenon is one reason the U.S. added "In God We Trust" to its paper money and "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.
In more recent years the charge is more likely to be that the U.S. government has tossed God out of everything. That cry went up in the 1960s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer organized in public schools by public employees was unconstitutional. Later we heard more general condemnations of the ways in which religious voices allegedly were being banned from the public square.
I'm not denying that there's been a change over the years in how the voice of religion gets heard and in how our government approaches matters that have religious connotations. Lots of that change was necessary.
But I find it's usually demogoguery for people to charge that God has been banned from the public and that government has stood in the schoolhouse door, so to speak, to keep religion out.
I found good evidence for my point of view the other day when Secretary of State John F. Kerry made his formal announcement about the creation of the State Department's Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives, which I first wrote about the other day here. (The photo here of the event is from C-SPAN.)
Kerry's remarks are marinated in religious thought, as are the additional remarks of Shaun Casey, his special advisor in this area, and Melissa Rogers, director of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships.
Kerry obviously was speaking as a public servant who respects the wall of separation between church and state, but he also was speaking as a Christian who recognizes the common ground his faith shares with other world religions.
Clearly religion played a major role in the founding of the U.S. And clearly religious liberty is a foundational value for Americans. Beyond that, our government is increasingly aware that it must find ways to relate to world religions and their leaders if our country is to find allies who want to try to promote the constructive values for which the world's great religions stand.
This doesn't mean our government should be advocating belief in God or seeking to draw people into this religious tradition or that. No. That's out of bounds. But it doesn't forbid our officials from recognizing how important religion is to people around the world and to seek the help of religious people in solving global issues.
And that's exactly what seems to be going on here. But for a different -- and more critical -- take on this new State Department initiative, click here.
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NOT CRAZY, JUST FANATICAL
This analysis of the current trial of Maj. Nidal Hassan on charges related to the shootings he committed at Fort Hood almost four years ago gets it mostly right. But the author leaves open the possibility that Hassan was or is simply insane. That's too easy an answer. It's like calling Adolf Hitler insane, thus excusing him from responsibility for his evil deeds. No, I see Hassan as an Islamist fanatic, similar to Osama bin Laden, who deeply believes in the cause that continues to motivate some Muslims to behave in ways that are far outside the boundaries of traditional Islam. Let's not bring insanity in as a defense even though the ideas bin Laden and his followers have stood for seem completely crazy to most of us, including most Muslims.