America is an ideal that can never be completely fulfilled. That’s not something to be disparaged but celebrated: we are always looking to live our values in more and more expansive ways.
One of the great freedoms that makes the United States exceptional is the First Amendment, especially the clause against the establishment of religion. It is a value under siege in our own country, often lacking altogether in many others.
Take, for example, the war on Christianity. I’m not talking about the fake war that floods the airwaves at Christmas time with pundits mistaking the separation of church and state for some Stalinist attack on Christianity, but the real war being waged against Christianity in other countries. In countries with authentic religious freedom there is no war on Christianity. The danger to Christianity (and other faiths) comes not from freedom but from the lack of freedom.
Muslim extremists in Nigeria have killed scores of Christians simply because they are Christians. Muslim converts to Christianity in Pakistan and Iran face the death penalty since conversion out of Islam is a capital offense in those countries. Indonesia has seen dozens of churches attacked by Islamists, and as Egypt and Syria move more deeply into the Islamist camp the oldest Christian communities face extinction.
But don’t imagine it is only Islam that is taking on Christianity. Hindu nationalists in India are trying to outlaw Christian missionary work, and Communist China and Vietnam are doing their best to crush their growing Christian movements. And in the Holy Land itself Christianity is caught between Judaism and Islam, each of which is determined to keep Christianity from growing.
What all of these countries have in common is a lack of religious freedom. This is not a matter of Christians being more open than Muslims, Hindus, or Americans being more open than is the Chinese, this is a matter of the United States been rooted in 18th Century Enlightenment values and allowing those values to expand our hearts and our laws.
While too many politicians want to take us back to the 1950’s I want to go back to the 1750’s. I want to see a rebirth of the Age of Reason. Of course this was also a time of slavery and there was no women’s suffrage, and anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that is not what I am talking about. But the freedoms we cherish and seek to expand to all people have their roots in the radical ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment, ideas and ideals that are under attack today from within our own country.