On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

Public Churches


Join me, if you will, in a flight of imagination, a thought experiment. I promise, you'll not regret it. You'll find it opens up a whole new way of thinking, about one of today's most perplexing problems.

Suppose that, 150 years ago, part of Amendment #1 had been repealed and instead of letting everybody start and operate and attend churches at will, Congress had decided to provide a place of worship for everyone free of charge.

Yes, I know it sounds silly but bear with me, please. I have a purpose in view and it only sounds silly because nobody has suggested it before, or not in this country. (In China they not only suggested it, they did it.)

So for the last six generations, all Americans would have become thoroughly familiar with the idea of attending a government church from time to time; and of course to having its expenses paid out of their tax dollars. Possibly there would have been laws passed to compel attendance every week; possibly not. But they would all have been maintained, for public use and at public expense.

Since nobody in living memory would have any experience of any other religious arrangement, few if any people would speak or even dream of anything different. The difficulty you may feel at this moment in imagining a system of government churches would be experienced exactly in reverse, in such a society, if someone like me were to come along and propose that Amendment #1 be reinstated.

It would appear crazy that henceforth, all churches should both be 100% independent of government control, and that taxes taken for funding them should be returned to those who earned the money for use as they see fit. Absurd!

You might even describe me as a nut case, a religious freak.

Yet that's precisely what we do have, today; and it doesn't seem to me to have done a heap of harm. People choose their own religions. They attend church, or not, as they please. They introduce their own children to their own religious ideas, exactly as they see fit. And unless the government interferes (as it did at Waco, with Army tanks and loud sounds of tortured rabbits) everyone gets along very happily.

There are of course a few exceptions, to this as to every rule: some religious leaders lead their flocks astray. One causes them to take poison in a South American jungle. Another rips off their savings. But by and large, hundreds of thousands of preachers serve tens of millions of followers and all manage well.  


To continue our thought-experiment: if all churches were government-run and I came along to suggest that they all be cut loose, it would not be surprising to see some solid opposition, especially if I began to get a following. Just like the Establishment always does with every bright new idea, first they would ignore me, and then when that stopped working they would ridicule me; although after that didn't work they'd fade away and everybody would wonder why and how government ever got in to the church business anyway.

Opposition would come, for example, from the National Clergypersons' Association. Their reason would be simple: in a business funded compulsorily by taxes, there is likely to be more money to pay more clergy higher salaries than in a system where all churches have to run only on donated dollars; and since the "NCA" takes a percentage of all that clergypersons earn as Union Dues, we can easily see that its officers would resist privatization like poison.

That's not to say that individual clergy would always agree; for they would be at the sharp end of the business and would be keenly aware that with money comes control, and a good minority of them would be fed to the teeth with the weekly Bull from the Federal Department of Religion (FDR) that specified what they could preach, and to whom, and how. Very stifling, many would find it all, and if it weren't for the salary and benefits and vacations negotiated for them by the NCA over the years, they'd be outta there and in some foreign mission.

Then of course there'd be a heap of opposition from the bleeding hearts who would say that it would be UNFAIR to expect everyone to put some of their own money in the collection plate each week, for some are richer than others, and so it could happen that some might be prevented from attending a comfortable church, and that's all wrong because are we not all created equal?

Lastly there would be formidable opposition from the Sermon Writers' Bureau up in the FDR, for this would be a direct challenge to their monopoly on what all worshippers would hear each week, and would wholly terminate their intoxicating degree of control over what everyone believed and learned. Why, they'd ask, how can we possibly allow people to believe whatever they want??  

Truth, Stranger Yet

With just a single change, the silly scenario above is not fiction at all; it's precisely what we have today, it's true truth in real life. All you have to do is to go through it and change words like "church" into "school".

About 150 years ago, in this country the people had a free choice in schools and paid their own way; and the few who could not afford elementary schooling had one provided by the many charities that existed for the purpose. That had always been so, since the Nation was founded; and in 1812, more children (96%!) were getting such an education than they are today, and more of the graduates could read and figure than they can today.

The present movement to re-separate government from schooling is gathering apace, and is already looking a long way from ridiculous to any still able to think with half a brain. A few more years, and the government-school monopoly will be where it belongs: in some obscure history textbook about mind control.

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