Every year at Christmas, this question comes up relating to the issue of religious displays on government properties.
This is a part of the broader discussion about separation of church and state that also includes prayer in schools and community board meetings, and public funding for religious schools.
These issues are governed by the First Amendment to our Constitution, which reads, in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” wording which was included because of the unpopular imposition of the Church of England over other denominations in the Colonies.
Thus, although our system of government does follow Christian principles, the United States was not established as a “Christian Nation.”
A more important question is: “Are we a Christian society?”
This is a soul-searching question we should all be asking ourselves as we celebrate Christmas.
What are we as a people doing to alleviate the plight of the 50 million Americans living in poverty in the richest nation in the world — and the declining prosperity of the Middle Class — as all of the growth in our nation’s wealth in the past decade has gone to the top 1 percent?
True Christians should recall that in the Bible, the Book of Matthew, contains several references to the concerns of Jesus for the plight of the poor and about the indifference of the wealthy. He taught that our first duty should be to share with the poor and alleviate human suffering, and that obsession with the pursuit of wealth is an evil.
An increasing number of voices, including our president’s, are beginning to be raised in protest of the growing economic gap that is leaving millions of hard-working Americans behind.
Recently, Pope Francis (just named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year) has spoken out on this issue, decrying the injustice of the “new tyranny” of “unfettered capitalism” and citing the growing disparity of income and wealth between those at the top and everyone else as evidence that the current economic system is basically unjust. He condemned what he called an “idolatry of money”, and exposed the fallacy of the “trickle-down” theory that makes the claim that free market economics will bring prosperity to everyone (which it has completely failed to do).
His remarks were directed toward all of the Western economies, but nowhere are they more true than here in the United States.
Although it is not correct to refer to the United States as a “Christian Nation”, it can very definitely be described as a “Capitalist Nation,” because capitalism, for better or for worse, is the system on which our economy functions. Beyond any doubt, capitalism has proved itself to be the world’s most effective economic system for the production of goods and services, resulting in the production of enormous wealth.
However, although that wealth comes from the marketing of those goods and services to the working masses (whose labor is essential to the creation of that wealth), capitalism in no way assures an equitable distribution of wealth among all those who are contributing to its success. Capitalism, per se, has no moral imperative to embrace any such policy, so that is left up to the goodness of those who accrue the wealth, and with it the power that derives from that wealth.
All too often, that goodness is found lacking, so a truly democratic government, if it is to serve all of the people, must assume the responsibility of regulating capitalism to assure that all who contribute to its success will share in its profits, instead of it all going to those at the top, as is now the case.
If we are to be a truly Christian society, we must live up to the teachings of Jesus and heed the messages of the Pope and others who have adopted the same cause — and not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.
Living in a democracy, we can make our voices heard for the cause of saving the middle class and restoring dignity to the poor by guaranteeing everyone a fair share of the wealth they are helping to create.
Then we will be living the true spirit of Christmas, and will have a well-deserved Merry Christmas, knowing that those words will no longer have the hollow ring they now must have for too many among us.
— “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.