Humanists don’t agree on everything, but one area where we’re pretty close to unanimity is revulsion at the thought of America being officially (or even unofficially) declared a “Christian Nation.” Even those among us who consider themselves Christian believe that government should not favor Christianity over any other religion or the lack thereof. This view is directly contrary to that expressed by 57 percent of Republicans on a survey released last week, who supported establishing Christianity as the national religion.
What would being a Christian nation mean? The label by itself would have no impact on daily life. It would, however, foster an attitude or a framework for dealing with issues that would contrast dramatically with humanist values. A Christian nation would spend its citizens’ money to pay Christian God experts. It would plaster Christian advertising—like crucifixes and Ten Commandments posters—in every available spot. It would indoctrinate public school children into Christianity and might forbid their indoctrination into any “false” religion. It would censor blasphemous speech and works of art. Legislation on social issues such as divorce, contraception, abortion, fertility treatment, the teaching of evolution, civil rights for blacks, gays, and other minorities, vaccination, and embryonic stem cell research would be dictated by the Franklin Grahams of the world in accordance with biblical principles. Non-Christians wouldn’t necessarily be exterminated or expelled, but we would definitely be reduced to second-class citizenship. It would make no sense to allow non-Christians to hold office, serve on juries, pay the same low taxes as Christians, or even vote. Maybe the Christian God industry wouldn’t get its way on every single item, but enshrining in law that we are a Christian nation would dramatically shift the paradigm.
That’s what being a Christian nation would mean. What about a Jewish state?
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was in Washington, DC, this week. Officially, he was here to complain to Congress about our negotiations with Iran, but that’s a little silly because he said nothing that hasn’t been said a hundred times before. The real reason he’s here is that Israel has an election coming up in a few days, and he wants to boost his “statesmanlike” polling numbers. And the reason Israel is having an election is that last fall the ruling coalition suffered a fracture over a proposal by Netanyahu and his religious party cronies to change the country’s basic laws to officially declare Israel the “Nation-State of the Jewish People,” a move the head of the second-largest party in his coalition called “anti-democratic.” The proposal, which also commands that Jewish religious law “serve as an inspiration” for legislation, generated a huge backlash, with the head of the Israel Democracy Institute predicting it could open courtrooms to discrimination: “Judges could learn from this bill that the Jewish foundation overrides the democratic foundation and draw inspiration from it to hurt equal rights all citizens are entitled to.” As Israel’s top Catholic cleric once put it, if “there’s a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against.” Even Israel’s recently retired president, Shimon Peres, opposed it.
But Netanyahu wouldn’t have called an election if he didn’t think he would win, and recent polls (taken before his speech) are indicating he made a good bet. If his side wins, then there will be a mandate for the Jewish state proposal, and it will become law. Then what? Nothing will happen overnight, any more than it will in the United States if 57 percent of the Republicans get their way. But there will be a paradigm shift toward more and more theocratic control, and less and less emphasis on pluralist, humanist values. As one Israeli teacher bluntly put it, “Israel is a democracy for Jews only, not for Arabs.”
Israel is already many steps further down the road toward theocracy than we are, even without this law. Matters as personal as marriage, divorce, and burial are strictly controlled by Jewish God experts, not by civil authorities. In some parts of the country, women are (literally) forced to sit in the back of the bus, as well as to endure gender-segregated health clinics, playground hours, and grocery store checkout lines. Public school students are force-fed twelve years of compulsory Bible study.
Once the basic law is changed, the theocratic bulldozer will accelerate. Yaakov Neeman, who served as Netanyahu’s Minister of Justice for four years, says that the Bible contains “a complete solution to all the things we are dealing with. Step by step, we will bestow religious law upon the citizens of Israel and transform religious law into the binding law of the state.” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to pay non-Jews to “encourage” them to leave—and as an added nudge, force them to swear a “loyalty oath” to the Jewish state if they choose to stay. Those who do take the loyalty oath and stay will have to heed the teaching of the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef: “Non-Jews were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the people of Israel.”
Getting back to the original question, there really is one big difference I can see between a Christian nation and a Jewish state. A US Christian nation pays its own bills or at least arranges for its grandchildren to pay them. The Jewish state does not. Israel would not exist without annual billions of dollars of free gifts from US taxpayers—Christians and nonbelievers alike. The United States has given over $100 billion to Israel since 1974, more than to any other country. By the most conservative estimate, direct US aid to Israel now adds up to 385 US dollars for every man, woman, and child in the country, every year; adding indirect aid would push the total far higher. Remember the great 2013 “sequester” that struck America’s budget, furloughing thousands of federal employees while slashing services from drug testing to snowplowing? Aid to Israel actually went up, not down, following the sequester.
It’s a free planet. Israelis can do whatever they want. But they should do it with their own money, not with mine.