NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 5, 2013

Why believe?

In the Spirit
The Rev. Robert M.J. Hagopian

---- — I am a child of the 1960s. The April 8, 1966, Time Magazine cover asked “Is God Dead?” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is_God_Dead%3F). That tumultuous decade included the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. I believe these and other events caused many to believe that God had died. How could God allow these horrible things to happen?

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote in his work The Gay Science (Section 125, The Madman): “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” (http://www.philosophy-index.com/nietzsche/god-is-dead/).

Many in our world consider the very existence of and need for God to be absurd. Science and ethics are all we need. Believing in God or in any manifestation of God is more than just “old-fashioned.” It is archaic, ignorant and downright stupid. It is also deemed unconstitutional! Really? Is all this what our founding mothers and fathers intended for us as a nation — to become a relativist society where we feel that we can do whatever we want without consequence, that it is our right to not believe and to force others to not believe in God as well?

In my humble opinion, this all started with the 1960s generation and with the inability of organized religion to make itself relevant to an ever-changing world where answering the questions of life with the response “It’s a mystery” no longer suffice. We as people of faith have failed God and each other by not keeping our faith relevant and meaningful.

Faith — belief — religion — all help to modify human behavior. The basic tenets of our laws are founded in the Judeo-Christian religions. This cannot be denied. Thomas Jefferson’s concept of the “wall of separation between church and state” does not resemble its modern-day interpretation. Jefferson used that phrase in a letter he wrote explaining that the First Constitutional Amendment protected religious freedom from any government interference or suppression. The atheists and secular-humanists have twisted Jefferson’s words into a war-cry against any public expression of faith or any public prayer. The concern is that it is “offensive” to people of other faiths or no faith. As a good friend of mine, Roger Merry, asked: “Where in the Constitution does it say that we have the right not to be offended?” Whatever happened to being respectful of all people’s faiths and people who have no faith? Whatever happened to being polite? Whatever happened to free speech — freedom of religion — it is not freedom from religion!

Consider this quote from Benjamin Franklin, who publicly called for prayer during the 1787 Constitutional Convention: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’”

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The Rev. Robert M.J. Hagopian is minister of the First Congregational Church of Rowley, United Church of Christ and also serves as the chaplain of the Rowley Fire and Police Departments, the Newbury Police Department and as a chaplain with Brookhaven Hospice.