William Higginbotham, a perennial critic of the Gazette’s religious and political views, in his latest letter is gleeful that he has caught the paper clearly being hypocritical. The hypocrisy is quoting Jesus and advocating that the voters of Alabama follow his advice by voting for a tax increase that would benefit the poor. Mr. Higginbotham sees this as a connection between government and religion, a connection that he thought the paper detested. He concludes: “If caring for the poor is mandated by the Bible, then you should demand that the government have nothing to do with it.” And further: “You can’t have it both ways. Either God and morality have a place in our society or we resort to having an immoral society.”

Mr. Higginbotham’s logic and faith are faulty in two respects. He confuses the separation of church and state with the separation of morality and state. No one, even the most ardent humanist or atheist, has ever advocated the separation of government and morality. On the contrary, all secularists wish to have a moral government but they certainly are opposed to a theocratic government or even a religious government in the sense that the government espouses and supports any one religion or all religions. No humanist would complain if government incorporated Jesus’ compassion into its policies.

It does not necessarily follow that a religious person is moral or that a religious entity practices morality. The Inquisition comes to mind. What is more immoral than burning at the stake a person whose only sin is to have a conscience that is considered by the ruling religious majority to be heretical? The Reformation was the result of centuries of corruption and immorality in the Catholic Church. The Thirty Year’s War was one fought between Protestants and Catholics in such a barbarous and heinous manner that cities were destroyed, the populous put to the sword and even pregnant women and babies impaled on spears. And even today the immorality of churches is headline news.

In the light of Jesus, the morality of Jehovah is questionable, particularly with respect to penalties for disobeying his multitude of commandments: “I will also do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies; they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.”

Higginbotham’s other logical and faith-based fault is the notion that without God there is no morality; and the notion that God revealed morality and truth to Moses and to Christ and they transmitted it to man. What is the premise upon which to base the belief that without God there is no morality in society? The Bible? If the Bible is the answer, it will not stand to scholarly investigation or to reason. The Bible is the product of men over centuries; and it is loaded and larded with the character, personalities, politics, prejudices, interpolations, poetry, dreams, hopes and speculations of those men. .

If morality came from God, it didn’t come from Him directly to a prophet whose head was in the clouds. It came to man through nature, through nature’s evolution, by way of nature-created genes transferred from cells to cells, animals to animals and finally from saints to saints. The prophets and the saints looked within and found what nature had created and called it God, the very same God that men this minute find within themselves during their quiet hours and that still induces them often to do the right and moral thing. If God exists, He is not off yonder between a star and infinity; He is in the consciences of people every where. And their consciences are the only hope of mankind.

For a proponent of separation of church and state to advocate that society pay attention to the Sermon on the Mount, not only on Sundays but on Mondays, is not hypocrisy. It simply reflects the wish and dream that a people can separate church from state without separating its moral values from its acts and votes. .

For a theocrat to premise his argument that morality is dependent upon the existence of a personal God, who has revealed it to a chosen race, flies in the face of history, scholarship, reason and common sense. All the civilizations preceding the Hebrews’ heyday had a religious code of laws and morality. Maybe it was not as civilized as the Decalogue, but Christ’s message is morally light years beyond all that Jehovah allegedly poured into Moses’ s ears. Who has the mindset to advocate the stoning to death of anyone for anything today except fanatical Muslims and those Christians on insanity’s fringe that shoot doctors in the back and justify such monstrous murders on the ground that God mandated them to do so. How do such Christians differ from those Muslims who downed the World Trade Center in the name of Allah?

History and current events attest convincingly that no military war against religious fanatics can succeed in doing anything except producing more religious fanatics. But a moral war designed and waged to bring more social and economic justice into the world, to reduce religious fanaticism through the liberal arts and humanist philosophies, and to strengthen the concept and institution of a United Nations, may not bring a utopia; however, it may prevent the Armageddon that violent war waged by tribal and religious fanatics will inevitably bring.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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