Oddly enough, I have always liked riding public transportation, especially the subway (Metro in DC) and the bus. I think it is because it gives me a window, literally and albeit briefly, into the reality of other people’s lives. I live and work, as most of us do, among people like myself. But on public transportation we are all mixed together traveling past unfamiliar homes and businesses. On trains and buses we can overhear each others’ conversations (especially on cell phones!) and can see what people are reading and carrying, and we all read the same advertisements and information posted at stops, on walls and overhead. Being a bit extroverted, sometimes I engage in a conversation with the person sitting next to me and hear a comment about information posted overhead. Last week when I was riding a Metro bus, I was struck by a poster with Thomas Jefferson’s picture that featured a quote attributed to him, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” I noticed others looking at it, too. I felt sad realizing that this large poster challenging the riders to question the existence of God was facing people who were obviously struggling to get to work, carrying groceries, hanging onto their children’s hands, or aged or frail and hoping for a seat. To be told to “question even the existence of God” in the midst of the hustle and hassle of life is mean-spirited. The poster reminded me of the Dante’s inscription at the entrance to Hell in Divine Comedy – “Abandon hope, all who enter here.” Suddenly, the crowded bus appeared as a community of people anxiously traveling together in need of hope and assurance that God does exist. They needed an itinerant preacher of “Good News”, or at least a poster to counter this ominous message.
The organization that posted this ominous message is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Of course, they omitted the remaining half of Jefferson’s sentence and the paragraph in the letter that he wrote to his nephew, Peter Carr. “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love.” It is always inappropriate and dangerous to lift sentences from longer passages of any document to prove your own point, be it from scripture or Thomas Jefferson’s personal correspondence. Jefferson was encouraging his nephew to include reason, which is a God-given skill, in his religious quest. To use reason in one’s quest for God does not make one an atheist, nor is reason an approach used only by atheists.
As John Lawrence recently wrote in his Daily Cup, “Scripture, tradition, and reason have been described as the 3-legged stool on which we base our (Anglican) theology. Each one of those legs is equally important in upholding our core understanding of Christian belief. Like the divine Trinity itself, each part is essential and thoroughly interrelated, one with another.” Christians and Anglicans consider it important to include reason in our collective and personal quest to know God in all of God’s manifestations. The Wednesday evening Theological Book Group is currently reading, Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore. In his book, Migliore says that faith should be interrogative rather than doctrinaire, and seeks understanding using our intellect as well as scripture and tradition. He states, “Inquiry is elicited by faith in God rather than an attempt to arrive at certainty apart from God. Christian hope is not superficial optimism, but well-founded hope.”
The nonprofit organization, Freedom From Religion Foundation, lists their purpose as “to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism, and to promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state. The Foundation is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics and skeptics) with over 16,400 members.“ You can even order a “DeBaptismal Certificate” from their website. If atheists, agnostics and skeptics are getting so organized and publicizing their positions, religious leaders and communities of all faith traditions had better ramp up their publicity to bring hope to those who are anxiously traveling through this world and have not yet heard the Good News of God in Christ. Be a messenger of God’s presence wherever you are, wherever you travel.
Well written. I liked your appeal for action at the end. I heartily agree.
Thank you for this reminder of who we should be. We of the community of faith have, for far too long, let our nation be bullied by a tiny group of nay-sayers. It is time for us to reclaim this “One Nation, under God”, and strongly recall this country to the remembrance that this is a nation founded by Christians on Christian principles, guided and directed by our understanding and interpretation of God’s instructions to our Founding Fathers.
Let’s take back our country now!