[T]he plain fact is that the United States has only in recent years departed from its Christian foundations. —R. J. Rushdoony1
When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table. —Christopher Reeve2
But it is possible to affirm and practice belief in God while simultaneously practicing a rigorous separation of church and state. —Richard Land (p. 63)
When a reasonably intelligent man, motivated by good intentions, indulges in muddled thinking and insincere rhetoric, the result is often a book like Dr. Land’s.
President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, educated at Princeton and Oxford, Dr. Land has some vague idea that “the God-and-country shouting match” between America’s liberals and conservatives must stop. He does not make a strong case for why it ought to stop, and his prescription for stopping it is at best half-baked, at worst unintelligible.
Reading this book is like watching someone building a house that is obviously going to fall down before it’s finished, but you can’t decide what fault to tell him about first.
Dr. Land’s house wobbles all over the place, probably because the nails he’s using to hold it together are ideas that have no substance.
Why Stop the Shouting?
Land enjoys frequent opportunities to be a talking head on television and to write for publications like Newsweek and The Washington Post. For some Christians, that would be tantamount to a one-time-only engagement at the Roman Colosseum; but Land has prospered as a token Christian, and we suspect he doesn’t want to lose his place. He wants to stand up for Jesus, but he doesn’t want to rock the boat.
“The problem with nasty shouting matches,” he writes (p. 5), “is that eventually they get boring … The most thoughtful inevitably turn down the volume simply by turning away.” The noise obscures a more important problem, he says, which is to answer the question, “What’s God got to do with America?” (p. 14).
“I am earnestly invested in proposing an appropriate and fruitful way of answering this question,” says Land (p. 15), “because the future of our nation will be shaped by how each of us answers it.” He doesn’t want the shouting match to “take the place of the kind of moral and spiritual reformation we so desperately need” (p. 15).
Most serious Christian thinkers would agree that we need a reformation. But Land thinks we can have one only if the government adopts an impossible position of religious neutrality and “accommodates” any and all belief and non-belief that has detectable public support. The nail he uses to hold that together is “separation of church and state”—a tenet that appears nowhere in the Constitution or any other American founding document and describes something that exists nowhere in the real world.
Or, as expressed by Senator Joseph Lieberman in his introduction to the book, “[E]veryone, [Land] argues, has a responsibility to include people of all faiths—or no faith—in our national dialogue” (p. x).
What Does He Mean?
What does Dr. Land mean by “separation of church and state”?
First he chides liberals for thinking this separation doesn’t apply to them, but rather gives them a license to dictate public policy. Then he chides conservatives for making patriotism a form of idolatry. Not original, but good points to make. But for every good point he makes, the reader must pick his way through clouds of verbal lint, like:
“While it is true that America was not founded as a Christian nation …” (p. 32). Whoa! You can’t just say a thing like that is “true” and expect it to pass unchallenged. But that’s what Dr. Land does, never trying to prove his statement.
He offers a discourse on the need for “a balance between religious morality and public virtue …” (p. 33). What in the world is he talking about? What kind of behavior would be religiously moral, but not publicly virtuous?
“What’s God got to do with America? Well, not everything … but far more than liberals may think, and a lot less than conservatives may assume” (p. 15). Or, “[T]his doesn’t mean that God has everything to do with America” (p. 34). Anyone would think Dr. Land was trying to limit God’s authority.
“[I]f the public agrees,” then faith can be allowed to prevail in a discussion of public policy (p. 130): which is to say that for Land, “democracy” is always the trump card. It’s only wrong to exclude religion from the public forum, he argues throughout, because the great majority of Americans want religion to play a role in public policy. What he would say if the majority voted to outlaw Christianity, we can only imagine. (And what with various hate speech bills pending in Congress and some state legislatures these days, it’s not as hard to imagine as it used to be.)
“Now, on the other side of the coin, no one has a right to say, ‘We have to do this because the Bible says so’” (p. 174).
One often gets the impression that Dr. Land sometimes just doesn’t think about what he writes. His thought wanders, and it’s hard to make out what he means by “separation of church and state” or anything else. Sometimes it’s a “maximum plurality of religious expression in the public square” (p. 34)—something that sounds like it could easily turn into a shouting match. Or it’s an obligation on the state “to avoid violating the rights of others who are not believers by getting government on the side of religion at the expense of non-religion” (p. 43). Elsewhere, it’s a separation that’s needed to protect the church from the state (p. 118).
Land seems worried that if the government doesn’t bend over backward to accommodate unbelief, the alternative is the Spanish Inquisition. But he doesn’t want religion excluded from the public square. “The debate has turned nasty because a secularity minority … wants to expunge all evidence of religion from America’s public life,” he writes (p. 131).
What Dr. Land does not understand is that any pursuit of a chimerical religious neutrality will inevitably lead to the exclusion of the Christian religion. He can’t have his cake and eat it, too.
What Comes Out of the Melting Pot?
It would be uncharitable to liken this book to a mass of overcooked linguini and let it go at that. But what else are we to make of twaddle like the following?
“America is a melting pot of religions” (p. 232)—what does that mean? Where a “civil religion,” complete with God Bless America and watered-down interfaith services, is “merely society’s way of accommodating religion in general [religion in general? Is there any such thing?—LD] without favoring a particular faith over other faiths” (p. 233).
Logic, please! The only way that all belief systems can be “equal” is if they are all equally wrong. You can’t toss Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and atheism into a “melting pot” and expect to get anything but meaningless drivel. It’s like trying to color with all your crayons at once—it always turns out black.
In the public debate of various issues, Land says, Christians have to frame moral arguments in non-Biblical terms (p. 234), or else no one will listen to them.
Are we to pretend we get our moral standards from some other source? If our arguments don’t derive from God’s Word, what makes them any better than anybody else’s? But this is precisely why “conservatives” always lose debates on “social issues” like homosexual “marriage.” Pretending that religious issues are not religious issues always makes the devil laugh.
Then there’s Land’s “Modest Proposal for Religious Accommodation in the Public Schools” (Appendix A). Schools, he says, should allow diverse religious expressions, as long as they are student-initiated and student-led. These should be based on the school district’s religious demographics.
“If the student body were 40 percent Catholic, 40 percent Protestant, 10 percent Jewish, and 10 percent other or no faith,” he writes (p. 246), “then opportunities would be allocated accordingly.” Would that mean that students would be exposed … to a fellow student invoking the blessings of the earth goddess Gia [sic]? Yes, if adherents of that particular ‘deity’ were present in the student body and wished to invoke. Would students possibly be exposed to a brief discourse on a fellow student’s disbelief in God…? Yes, if students of atheistic belief [sic] volunteered to be accommodated.” Presumably school authorities would be able to fit all this in among the transgender and sodomy workshops.
Of course Land’s scheme would fall victim to what R. J. Rushdoony calls “the supremacy of the lowest common denominator.” “It is capable of exact demonstration,” Rushdoony says, “that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter how small a minority the atheists or the agnostics may be.”3
Rushdoony is talking about exclusion. But the principle will hold for inclusion, too. We saw this as recently as the convocation held at Virginia Tech in the wake of mass murder perpetrated there on April 16. So “inclusive” as to rope in a Muslim imam, a rabbi, a Buddhist, and whatnot, there was no room left in the ceremony for the name of Jesus Christ. Surely more than 40 percent of the people in attendance were at least professing Christians! Somehow “inclusion” always winds up excluding Jesus.
The worst thing about Dr. Land’s book is its insincerity. Land is so anxious to accommodate, in hopes that he in turn will be accommodated, that he plays fast and loose with facts.
His repeated assertions that America was not founded as a Christian nation, for instance, are simply not true.
“The American colonies were all Christian republics,” Rushdoony writes.4 “They wanted the freedom to be Christian republics according to their own Biblical beliefs. Every state, when the Constitution was adopted, was a Christian republic. Nine of the thirteen had one or more established churches. Christianity as a religion, rather than a particular church, was the established faith of the other states.”5
These are plain facts of history, but Land prefers to ignore them. If he went around saying things like this, he might lose his gig with Newsweek.
“What is Christian about a Constitution which never mentions Christianity?” Rushdoony asks.6 “The answer is everything. First, the laws reflect Christian moral law, and the checks and balances system reflects the Christian distrust of man as sinner. Second, the Constitution stayed out of the area of religion deliberately because it recognized that Christianity was already the established religion of every state.”
Dr. Land knows this: he just pretends otherwise, to be “accommodating.” But he lets his slip show, here and there. For instance, on page 76, he says that belief in God, the Biblical God, is the source of all America’s liberties and is “imprinted on our national genetic code via Judeo-Christian belief.”
Elsewhere, Land cites Gregory S. Paul as an authority on “The complicity of large numbers of German church leaders and ordinary German church members in the horror of what transpired in Germany under National Socialism” (p. 145). This discussion is informed by an article by Gregory Paul,7 “The Great Scandal: Christianity’s Role in the Rise of the Nazis,” in an atheist publication, Free Inquiry Magazine (per Land’s footnote, p. 44).
Does Dr. Land not know that Mr. Paul is not a historian, not a social scientist, has no credentials in either field—but is merely an illustrator of dinosaur books, an atheist with an axe to grind against Christianity?
A real scholar of the Third Reich, Karla Poewe of the University of Calgary, in her book New Religions and the Nazis,8 refutes the canard that Christianity empowered the Nazis. But we don’t see Poewe’s book in Land’s bibliography. Biblically faithful Christians in Germany did everything they could, even suffered martyrdom, to oppose the Nazis. But blaming Nazism on Christianity has always been a sure way to curry favor with the secular Left.
We agree, of course, with some of Dr. Land’s points. He understands that government can’t make people be good Christians and that any effort along those lines is apt to do more harm than good. In fact, he makes that point rather effectively.
But he projects his bent for “accommodation” onto those who simply don’t share it, and offers no means by which diametrically opposed worldviews might be brought into peaceful coexistence. Saying “Can’t we all just get along?” has never resolved anything.
He knows it’s not just an idle shouting match. He knows that what is at stake is “a titanic clash of worldviews” (p. 15).
Why should the secular Left, simply to “accommodate” us Christians, yield up any of its dominance in the media, the schools and colleges, the courts, or anywhere else? Land must know they’re committed not to any form of accommodation, but to total hegemony: “Secular fundamentalists,” he writes, “don’t just want a secular state, they want a secular society” (p. 146).
Biblically faithful Christians do not hunger for aggrandizement in the things of this world. That puts us at a disadvantage in the political arena, contending with those for whom the acquisition of political power is the pearl of great price, worth all they might be asked to pay for it.
But we cannot, and we will not, compromise our faithfulness to God and His Word in any vain attempt to seek “accommodation” with those who reject God and rebel against His Word.
Not even for a guest column in The Washington Post.
1. Rushdoony, The United States: A Christian Republic (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 2000), 1.
2. Quoted in Land’s book, 153.
3. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1963: 1995 edition), 335.
4. Rushdoony, The United States, 2.
5. Ibid., 3.
6. Ibid., 5.
7. For more on Gregory Paul see http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=177
8. Karla Poewe, New Religions and the Nazis (New York: Routledge, 2006). For a review of her book, see http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=254
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.