Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’

The pre-release buzz for this indie film has brought to my attention a war that I don’t remember hearing about before – and it happened only 90 years ago, in a neighboring country, with staggering loss of life. I’m a bit embarrassed that it took a movie to put the Cristeros on my radar screen, but I guess I’m not surprised, given the approach to ‘history’ that reigned in the public schools and college that I attended, which simultaneously disdained religious belief, while polishing the brass for bloody communist and socialist experiments.

I’d like to know more. I’d also like to see some oral history projects launched in the United States, while people who are only one generation removed from the conflict are still alive to tell the stories their parents and grandparents told them. We have lots of immigrants from Mexico. Surely many of them have family stories to share.

As for the movie, here’s a bit of commentary from people who saw early cuts. And here’s the official website. The film opens in theaters June 1.

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Some American history, from Citizen Magazine (emphasis in original):

…Today, there are some — mainly on the Left — who paint the Founders not as Christians but as Deists, believers in an impersonal creator who left his creations to fend for themselves. But while that description fits less than a handful of the Founders, to varying degrees, it clearly doesn’t fit the vast majority.

Of the 55 signers of the U.S. Constitution, “with no more than five exceptions, they were orthodox members of one of the established congregations,” wrote the late University of Dallas historian M.E. Bradford.6 “References made by the Framers to Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God … are commonplace in their private papers, correspondence and public remarks — and in the early records of their lives.”7

And this wasn’t just lip service, Bradford noted: The faith the Framers professed played a large role in their lives.

Thus, both James Madison and Alexander Hamilton “regularly led their households in the observance of family prayers.” Roger Sherman “was a ruling elder of his church.” John Dickinson of Delaware “wrote persuasive letters to youthful friends conserving the authority of Scripture and the soundness of Christian evidences.” Richard Bassett, also of Delaware, “rode joyfully with his former slaves to share in the enthusiasm of their singing on the way to Methodist camp meetings.” Elias Boudinot of New Jersey “was heavily involved in Christian missions and was the founder of the American Bible Society.” 8

The Wall That Never Was
Why would such men have written a First Amendment that sought to purge religious expression and values from the public square? Simple: They didn’t.

The Founders wanted to preserve the many vibrant Christian churches that were thriving in America. So they provided in the First Amendment that no Congress could squelch the free exercise of religion or establish a national church body— as had happened in England, driving many of their ancestors to the New World.

They also created a decentralized system that left states free to pursue diverse policies. Some (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina and Maryland) gave funding or property to churches. A few state constitutions contained religious requirements. Pennsylvania and New York required officeholders to pledge belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture.

To be sure, that wasn’t the norm. Most states guaranteed religious liberty, on the principle that government compulsion was an affront to true worship. But the very language in those guarantees testified to the prevailing faith. Many used terms of praise like “Almighty God.” Massachusetts spoke of “the right, as well as the duty, of all men in society … to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe.”9

And the federal government itself, though much more limited in its religious involvements, did things that would make an ACLU attorney blanch. Even one of the least religiously orthodox Founders, Thomas Jefferson, used federal funds during his presidency to build churches and to support Christian missionaries working among the Indians.

That’s especially meaningful since it was Jefferson who authored the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association — words now commonly misused to claim that the Founders would have supported an ACLU-like approach. But as Dreisbach notes, “The absurd conclusion that countless courts and commentators would have us reach is that Jefferson routinely pursued policies that violated his own ‘wall of separation.’ ”10

In truth, the Founders never dreamed that, one day, the government they helped establish would so often be hostile to the faith that most of them — despite their many other differences — held in common…

Read the whole thing.

I was raised with the ‘founders were Deists’ idea pounded into my head again and again, which suited me fine (at first) since I was bouncing around from agnostic to atheist to deist myself – and since I was historically illiterate. But then I found more of the old documents, and contemporary accounts of the American Revolution and the decades before and after it. Thinking that the religious tone and references showed a different story than the one I was being told, I asked a teacher or two about it. I was then assured that the Founders wrote and talked that way because the masses were so ignorant as to still believe all that God garbage, and our Founders were wise enough to humor them.

Then I discovered letters that they wrote to each other, and to young people they were mentoring. So much for that ‘humoring the masses’ idea. Upon hearing this objection, my teachers told me that although the Founders were products of the Enlightenment, they were of course early in the process and so were of course poisoned by the social conventions of their times. They didn’t really believe in God, they simply didn’t know how to talk or write or think any other way…

Uh, huh.

While I will agree that we are all influenced by the culture in which we are raised (witness the fact that I actually believed my teachers for a while, even on that last point), at some point I had to decide that my teachers were protesting too much. The Founders – who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the cause, and stayed the course at tremendous sacrifice, and who prayed and praised God both publicly and privately – made sense only if I ignored the very odd, and very recent, spin put upon them by my teachers. The original documents, the earlier textbooks, the art around official buildings in Washington D.C., the policies of the government – pretty much everything put out by people who hadn’t fallen into Social Darwinist thinking (or its near cousins) – argued against the intellectual fad I was taught in public school, and then in college.

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“…I never imagined that my skills as a lawyer would be used to defend Christians for following their faith in 21st Century Britain…”- Andrea Minichiello Williams. Full article here. (The article also “appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 24th April, 2011.”)

hat tip: Alliance Alert

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… but doesn’t know quite how to deal with it. For instance, they start off telling of a movie currently in production about “a spoiled young American who goes on a partying trip to India and gets pulled into the search for a little girl who was sold to human traffickers. The film was partly shot in India and centers around Dalits, the so-called “untouchables” on the lowest rung of the traditional caste system.” The profits from the film are earmarked to help the Dalits. You would think liberals would be falling over themselves to praise a project that aims to selflessly help some of the most oppressed and poverty-struck people on Earth, and that champions a fight against modern day slave traders. But here the praise is muted, and countered by people who just really aren’t sure churches should be in the movie making ‘business,’ regardless of intentions. And then there are those who just wish silly old “conservative” Christians “would look more closely for spiritual themes in Hollywood’s movies”. Because, you know, sometimes they’re hidden in there. (OK, sometimes they are. See this BreakPoint list of recommended films, for starters. Not that I agree with all their recommendations or thumbnail summaries, but, hey, it’s their list…)

On the upside, at PBS, there is some actual reporting mixed in with the hand wringing; for instance, that Fireproof was the highest grossing independent film of 2008. And, although the reporter ‘balances’ the story by talking to people with strange, hypothetical concerns (one of my favorites was the gentleman who frets that if these movies are too successful, a genre will spring up, which will somehow then cause the films to be cut off from the mainstream…), on the upside, a handful of people working on church productions were allowed to have their say, and successful movies were given their due, if perhaps grudgingly.

There did seem to be undue concern, I thought, about these films not being done in Hollywood by the entrenched film industry. To which, I say: let the best movies win.

Years ago, my husband and I were driving to a nearby city to pick up business supplies, and midway there we saw a long, and I mean long, line of people outside a shopping center complex: all ages, families, singles, richer, poorer. Amazing. We stopped to investigate, and traced it to a movie theater. The film that had drawn the attention was Driving Miss Daisy. We hadn’t heard of it, but since we were on a shopping expedition, and not keeping an appointment, and had some wiggle room as far as time went, we blocked out the time to see the movie. Chatting with people in line, some were back for the second or third time to see it. Others were there because friends had suggested it. We really liked it, too. Is it a classic? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a good movie, head and shoulders above the trashy amusement so often delivered by Hollywood in recent decades.

For that matter, as I remember it, it was a nice mix of musement and amusement. And don’t tell me that musement isn’t a word. I don’t care. Muse means to think. A-muse means to not think. (Literally. It means that. Atypical means not typical. Amoral means not moral. Amuse means to not engage your mind.) Driving Miss Daisy was a film that not only entertained, it asked you, politely but firmly, to consider a few things carefully. Musement. Definitely.

Please understand. I can understand that some people might not like the movies being produced by churches. That’s fine. Before I became a Christian I rather deplored Christian themed movies myself, and these days there are some sorts of Christian films I don’t think much of, either. We all have our tastes.

Please understand. I can understand how people who make their living making films might feel undercut by films being made largely by volunteers, as so many of these church films are. I have a love-hate relationship with ebooks; whatever I may think about their merits (and, frankly, I really like ebooks), I am afraid they might spell the death of the already beleaguered brick and mortar bookstore industry. I also know of previously robust traditional publishers who are sweating, not sure yet how, or if, they can stay afloat in an age of ebooks and print-on-demand technologies that have unleashed self-publishing on a scale never before seen. I used to laugh at stories about buggy whip makers resenting the rise of the automobile. I no longer laugh. But I don’t wish we didn’t have cars. And I also don’t wish that we only had films made by Hollywood.

On Facebook yesterday, at the page of a Hollywood insider who professes to be Christian, I stumbled across a conversation where participants were coming undone over the movies discussed in the PBS article. That’s where I found the link, actually. (I have long since stopped looking to PBS for much in the way of useful information.) And I do mean undone. The opening salvo, from a guest, was “Trying to figure out if this is yet another example of yeast congealing… instead of leavening the lump.” The hostess came back with, “This is yeast hating itself and its place in the cosmos and rebelliously deciding that it wants to be something else entirely.” To which the man who had launched the opening salvo said, “Ah, yeast committing suicide rather than being a martyr. What a waste.”

What a waste, indeed. But not the movies they are deriding, some of which have brought cheer and joy and inspiration and, dare I say it, musement, to many.

If I remember right, St. Augustine had experience with people acting like this, and described them better than I ever could. I was skimming The City of God this morning, looking for the precise quote or two I wanted, but so far am falling short. I came across a reference to one of the banes of the Greeks being that they loved contention more than truth. That sort of fits, perhaps. But what I wanted was the part where he talks about the literati who love wordplay so much that they wildly applauded ‘wit’ if it struck them as original, and lost pretty much all correspondence with reality along the way.

Anyway, it struck me as sad, and sorry, and nasty, what they were saying. And I wonder if it says more about them than they mean for it to. “We are the gatekeepers! You can’t have anything happen outside our gates!” Perhaps? I don’t know. It also reminds me of girls who don’t get invited to the prom, and respond by sneering at the very idea of proms. Sour grapes, you know. But I don’t know. I can’t translate stuff about yeast supposedly hating its supposed place in the cosmos. I’m not really sure I want to. Do I? And how it fits into a story about people who are, as it happens, trying to make movies not leavened with the ungodly yeast that’s taken over so much of the movie industry, just beats me.

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A Rare and Tenuous Freedom: An Interview with Nina Shea discusses political and religious freedom, and the suppression of same, past and present.

(Closed circuit for family: See paragraph two. Check out the Romanian poet’s name. Heh. :))

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It seems there was a fight this year to include Christmas themed ornaments on this year’s National Christmas Tree. No, really. Children in Arizona were told they could not use religious themes on their ornaments for the tree in Washington D.C. – but one mother didn’t settle for that and got legal help so her child could make Christmas themed ornaments. (Hooray for her!)  Marcia Segelstein, blogging at Worldmag.com on Oct. 2, has the story. (via “related news” sidebar at ADFMedia.org, which has a number of other links.)

Whether the ornaments in question wind up on the tree, I guess we’ll see.

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