Disestablishment means the taking away of official government support for a particular religion. In the American way, this is a good thing. In a polity that values liberty, and a culture whose strength is diversity, we don’t want a government to favor, abet– or worst of all, to compel– a particular brand of religion. Voluntary religion is our way, and has been for nearly 200 years: New Hampshire (where I live), for example, disestablished in 1819.
For those of us who believe that a healthy dose of religion would improve the well-being of our political and cultural life, there is a temptation to yearn for a quasi-re-establishment of Christianity– a desire more deeply rooted in nostalgia for the 1950s, I would say, than in current reality. When some well-intentioned folks get in a froth about “Christmas” trees versus “Holiday” trees, for example, the underlying issue is about trying to maintain Christianity as the unofficial official religion. Even if we grant that there was a time when Christianity was the official religion of the culture, those days are gone. Increasingly, to follow Jesus means to be counter-cultural.
This truth is very uncomfortable for many Americans who claim to be Christians. The old certainties are gone, but that only makes sense: the death and resurrection of Our Lord was, is, and always will be about the disruption of certainty and the re-creation of new possibilities. Lived Christianity (as opposed to a system of Christian belief), is always about the new life that God is bringing into being on the edge of now.
The following news tidbit, relatively trivial in itself, is a sign of the increasing distance between the culture and “official” Christianity (and “official” Judaism, for that matter). While the aged and ossified Church (of whatever catholic, orthodox, or protestant flavor) may see this increasing distance as a threat, a vibrant and counter-cultural Jesus Movement will see this increasing distance as an opportunity:
University Ends Scheduling of Breaks Around Religious Holidays
“Christian Post” reports today on the decision by New York’s Stony Brook University to end the practice of scheduling the academic calendar around major Jewish and Christian holidays. In the past, the school closed for Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It will no longer do so, and will end the practice of scheduling Spring Break to always coincide with Easter and Passover. Instead Spring Break will be the seventh week of the semester. The school says it is ending the practice that honored only some religions. However the American Center for Law and Justice says that the change demonstrates hostility toward religion and fails to accommodate religious practices.