Ray, 11-27-2021

Guest Commentary: Michael Flynn is wrong: We don’t need one national religion

(Orlando Sentinel November 27, 2021)

“If we are going to have one nation under God — which we must,” Flynn told his enthusiastic listeners, “we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”

Flynn was speaking at the latest stop of the “Reawaken America Tour,” held in the sanctuary of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Obviously, I jest about our nation’s historic heroes shifting in their graves. But what Flynn advocated is no laughing matter. It’s un-American — diametrically opposed to the far-sighted vision of our nation’s founders.

Flynn’s contention is also contrary to what the overwhelming majority of both religious and non-religious Americans think would be good for our nation.

And it’s certainly opposed to the golden rule, which Jesus said should be at the heart of all religious teaching and practice.

Thomas Jefferson, prime architect of the Declaration of Independence, would have been appalled by Flynn’s pronouncement. Indeed, Jefferson argued that religious freedom is the right of every person — ”the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel.”

Consider also a comment from his colleague James Madison, prime architect of the U.S. Constitution: “Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which pervades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.”

It’s fair to ask which religion in Flynn’s formula is going to be “the one religion under God”? Will it be Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Judaism?

Again I jest. It’s clear that in Flynn’s vision for a religiously brave new America, Christianity would be the one religion surviving when all others have been subjugated, banished or eradicated.

Just how does Flynn envision that such a change would be brought about? He doesn’t say. But it doesn’t require deep reflection or a great knowledge of human history to recognize that only one entity would be capable of bringing about even a semblance of such wholesale change: government. But at what cost — a cost that would impact nearly every sphere of life?

It’s worth noting that James Madison didn’t say merely that a pluralistic religious landscape is the prerequisite for true religious freedom. He amplified his position in even more pointed terms.

“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.”

It seems Flynn’s philosophical forebears were a clear and present danger even in Madison’s day.

Declaring Christianity our nation’s “one religion under God” doesn’t magically do away with religious tension. Allow me to point out that Christians have been fighting for centuries about which one of Christianity’s segments — some 40,000 of which exist currently — is the one that has it right. James Madison recognized this complicating fact when drafting the Constitution.

He stated: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Madison, like the majority of Americans today, believed that “the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and that it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

We should be listening to Madison, not Flynn.

Robert J. Ray, a risk management specialist, serves on the board of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.