I discovered this gem on the social media a while back. I understand that it’s just a meme, but a lot of people seemed to agree with it.
On its surface, it reads logically enough, but after approximately thirty seconds of deeper thought, I think it actually seems to be rather incoherent and inaccurate.
This type of meme-sharing also somewhat speaks to the current condition of productive discussion between people. Anyone can post and share a picture with a snarky phrase that resonates and feels good emotionally, but it takes a lot more effort to critically think through a position on something, even with something as trivial as a meme like this one that, at a glance, feels like it makes sense. But I digress…
I shall explain this quandary in three separate sections: One for the “separation of church and state” phrase, one for the same-sex marriage position, and one for abortion. And possibly a fourth bonus section for a conclusion or something. I haven’t decided yet. We’ll be surprised together.
To be factually and historically accurate, the “separation of church and state” phrase isn’t in any of the founding documents. It’s not in the Bill of Rights, not in the Declaration of Independence, not even in the Constitution.
It was actually only part of sentence in a private letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. To be specific, the letter said:
Gentlemen, – The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction. . . . Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem.https://wallbuilders.com/separation-church-state/# (Bold text mine.)
Interestingly enough, besides those eight words being taken drastically out of context, Jefferson’s letter actually means the direct opposite of what the “separation of church and state” phrase is incorrectly used to mean today.
The important parts to note here are, first, the “separation of church and state” phrase isn’t in any of the founding documents. Second, the intent of Jefferson’s use of that phrase was to reassure the Danbury Baptists that the clause of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” in the First Amendment was actually to keep the federal government out of the church.
Again, that “wall of separation” is to keep the state out of the church. That is legitimately the opposite of what that phrase means now, referring to keeping the church out of the state. If that premise of this meme is that far off base, it kind of brings into question the accuracy of its other premises.
Speaking of off base premises, I shall segue to same-sex marriage.
My position on same-sex marriage has shifted from where it was several years ago after I read The Abolition of Marriage by Maggie Gallagher and The Meaning of Marriage by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Both books are incredible and have more than enough rich content to make one’s brain melt from information overload.
From a religious standpoint, same-sex marriage is typically against most ideologies. Personally, I don’t care about that. Not in this context, at least. The religious practices and beliefs of other people doesn’t bother me, as long as they don’t bother me. Meaning I don’t care what the beliefs of other people are as long as it doesn’t infringe on the liberty and freedom of myself or others.
From a governmental standpoint, and this is where things changed for me, I don’t think same-sex marriage, or traditional marriage for that matter, should be a thing. Marriage is pre-political. Meaning that the government doesn’t “create” marriage; marriage should only be acknowledged by government and not granted, rejected, or defined by it. George and Elshtain elaborate much more in The Meaning of Marriage, but here they say,
Given the pre-political nature of conjugal society, the state regulates it rightly by recognizing it as a natural fact with its own norms and purposes. The state ought not treat conjugal society as its own creation. Where there is evidence that parents are failing in their duties to each other or to their children, the state may intervene. Absent this, however, the state ought to leave conjugal society, rooted in the union of one man and one woman, alone.The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals. Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
People have been doing marriage since long before the United States Federal Government existed, and it has largely been a religious union, at least historically.
In a surprising twist of fate, I actually kind of agree with this part of the meme. Marriage, both same-sex and traditional, shouldn’t be a political issue. However, marriage shouldn’t be a political issue not because of the incorrect and out of context use of separation of church and state, but because marriage is pre-political (pre-government) and the government shouldn’t be involved with it in the first place.
Based on my understanding of the founding documents for the United States and the intentions of the Founding Fathers, the federal government was originally supposed to be relatively small, leaving most of its now-excessive power to the states, and to only have a handful of actual responsibilities, with one of those responsibilities being the protection of its citizens.
The protection of citizens federally usually refers to having a strong military, having federal laws in place, and having federal law enforcement agencies. On a state and local level, it’s generally the police, state laws, other state law enforcement agencies, public safety departments, etc.
If one person is unjustly killed, then the government has a vested interest in pursuing the assailant and bringing them to justice. If there are unjust laws in place that unrightfully endanger the lives and wellbeing of its citizens, then the government has a vested interest in changing those laws to improve the livelihood and safety of those citizens.
Virtually everyone agrees that slavery in the United States was awful. Those few people who disagree are terrible humans. But everyone should agree that slavery was an atrocious evil that was rightfully ended.
Slavery demeaned a select population of people, declared them as being “less than human” and inferior (partially based on known-to-be-inaccurate science), stripped them of their humanity, treated them as private property, perpetuated many extensive physical and emotional abuses (often resulting in death), and then, amplifying that blatant evil, it was all enshrined into law.
In addition to slavery being an ethical and moral cancer, it was also a political issue. It was a political issue because not only did it violate the principles in the Founding Documents and the American Ideal, but it actively harmed the country’s own citizens.
Fortunately, slavery was eventually abolished, as it should have been from the beginning. But I can’t help but wonder, while it was still active, how many of those enslaved could’ve been inventors, entrepreneurs, or the Einstein before Einstein existed if they weren’t slaves.
We’ll never know now. But the laws were changed and slavery was rightfully ended, in part because of the ethical and moral predicament, but also because the government had a vested interest in protecting its citizens.
Fast-forward to now, 2020. We’re living in the freest, wealthiest, most technologically advanced country in the history of the world. All available science that I’ve seen clearly indicates that when a woman is pregnant they have a living, human life growing inside of them. Therefore, logic seems to indicate that the unborn baby actually is a living person, completely separate from the mother and not merely a “clump of cells” or whatever euphemism the kids use nowadays. And since that unborn baby is a living, fully-human person, then the government actually does have an interest in protecting them and keeping them alive. And since the unborn are just as alive and human as born people, then they ought to be afforded the same rights.
The state has reason to be against abortion in a strikingly similar way it had reason to be against slavery. Aside from the obvious ethical and moral drawbacks of killing the unborn, the government should be against it because it would literally be killing off its own population and all of the potential that future population would bring with it. That future population could easily be the next group innovators, Einsteins, entrepreneurs, scientists, or cancer-curers.
That being said, there are rare circumstances where abortion should be considered. Specifically, there is only one circumstance I’m aware of where abortion should be considered and permitted: If the life of the mother is in legitimate danger. Meaning if the mother is legitimately going to end her own life or if she’s so ill from the pregnancy that she has a high likelihood of death unless the baby is killed. In both situations, if the pregnancy would continue then both mom and baby would die. The odds of either of these situations happening are incredibly rare, especially since we’re in the United States, which happens to be incredibly advanced medically.
The church also obviously has reason to be against the killing of unborn babies. There’s this whole “You knit me together in my mother’s womb/remarkably and wonderfully made” concept from Psalms 139, in addition to the overall belief that life is intentional, valuable, and made in the image of God. And since all life is intentional, valuable, and made in the image of God, and since God is God, and we’re not God, then we probably shouldn’t play god and extinguish the remarkable, wonderfully made, valuable, and legitimately innocent-of-all-things life of the unborn baby.
I greatly enjoy memes when they’re done well. I don’t enjoy ones like this where people believe it at face value because it “feels right” when it actually perpetuates historical inaccuracy, promotes governmental overreach, and advocates for killing people.
What are your thoughts? Comment below!
And please, be a kind and grammatically decent person.