Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nations Don't Need Religion to be Prosperous

Japan is a free country, officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. There is freedom of speech and religion there.

Japan has one of the most powerful economies on the planet as well as some of the brightest minds. Ninety-nine percent of its population is literate. And they live a very long time, on average, with a life expectancy of more than 80 years.

Violent crime there is almost non-existent. People get along well with each other, for the most part. And its citizens have a high degree of morality, which is reflected in the way they carry on their personal affairs with each other.

The Netherlands, like Japan, has a very high literacy rate – 99 percent. It, too, is a constitutional monarchy and like most other democratic nations, it has all the requisite freedoms, including freedom of religion.

The serious crime rate in the Netherlands is less than half that in the U.S. And, like Japan, people there usually live to be a ripe old age, with a life expectancy of almost 79 years.

The economy of the Netherlands is also quite strong for a small country. Generally, people there are happy and healthy.

So why did I provide summaries for two seemingly unrelated countries?

From the data, these two nations are doing quite well. Their people are peace-loving, happy, long-living, and moral.

But they also have one more thing in common. Christianity generally plays a minor role in the lives of the majority of the population in both these countries.

In Japan, less than one percent of the population claim to be Christian, although Christians are certainly tolerated there. In the Netherlands, the percent who call themselves Christian is a bit higher, about 50 percent. But most of those are not fundamentalists. And a large minority of the population, some 40 percent, claim they are not affiliated with any religion at all.

The common cry from those who put our president in office is that we need to let God play a vital role in the affairs of this nation. They say they voted for morality instead of prosperity.

There is the ubiquitous, though entirely false, claim that our country was founded on Christianity and that in order to become a great nation again, we need to follow the path of righteousness.

But as the statistics show, a nation doesn’t have to follow God or have a national religion to be proud, moral, prosperous and free.

In the 1500s, while Holland was basking in freedom, the rest of Europe was cloaking scientific discoveries and arresting their purveyors for blasphemy. Christian countries were engaging in witch hunts and holding trials for heresy during the Inquisition.

During colonial days in this country, the fundamentalist Puritans were burning innocent women at the stake, claiming them to be witches. This was done in the name of the Lord.

Throughout history, Christian nations have been the most ruthless, barbaric, and lawless nations on record. But, of course, they excuse themselves for killing heathens because, well, heathens don’t believe in God.

Those who say this country needs to get back to God don’t necessarily mean we should follow a religion in general. They want us to follow the right-wing evangelical fundamentalist brand of Christianity. Those liberal, freethinking, open-minded religions don’t count, even if they do call themselves Christian.

I used to call myself a Christian because I believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I no longer call myself that, not because I’ve turned against Christ’s teachings, but because I’m embarrassed to associate myself with the fundamentalist right. They have done more harm to Christianity than any other force in modern times.

Even some of the more moderate Christian leaders agree. I received an e-mail last week from a religious leader who said in part, “I'm an Episcopal priest living in a hotbed of evangelical fundamentalists, and I often feel horrendously outnumbered.”

What we need is to adopt a national sense of ethical logic and religious moderation. We need to run our affairs based on what is best for the majority while still protecting the minority. We need to worship the way we want, but to allow others to do the same without judgment or interference.

Most of all, we must not allow the fanatics of the religious right to take control of this country, despite the fact that our president is one of them.

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