One of our country’s great thinkers — OK, it was Linus from the Peanuts comics — famously said, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” I’ve never had much problem staying quiet about the last one, but those first two have been very much the topics of discussion as we prepared this issue.
Religion and politics, faith and government, church and state: They’re strands of our national DNA, and a bit of a paradox — separate yet intertwined. Our freedom to practice any faith (or no faith) without interference from government is a freedom guaranteed by our government. As a nation, we’re far from achieving a perfect balance on church-and-state issues, or even always appreciating how the First Amendment helps maintain that balance. But we’re learning. As writer Jack Feerick shows us in our “Faith in America” feature, just as our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom has evolved over the years, so we as a people have evolved with it.
I certainly learned a lot from this story, about how different religious groups (or groups who hold to no religion) have challenged and shaped our laws, and how the interpretation of our laws has changed over time. For instance, I always thought that once our Founding Fathers ratified the Bill of Rights, it pretty much laid down the law on separating church and state nationwide. But I was surprised to find out individual states still had established, taxpayer-supported churches well into the next century. Then again, the Framers of the Constitution might be surprised to learn that their efforts would one day make us the most religiously diverse nation in the world, so I guess we’re even.
As we head into a season whose hallmarks are ones of thanksgiving, peace, and goodwill toward others, it’s always inspiring to see examples of people, particularly families, who act according to the dictate of conscience and reach out to those less fortunate than themselves. It’s a theme you’ll find in “Henry’s Christmas,” by author Gary Svee (in our Fiction section), and even more poignantly in our second feature, “Tis the Season for Giving Back.” Reading these true stories of men, women, and children doing good for others, I felt my heart glow — you will, too. It’s more than inspiring, it’s enough to restore your faith in humanity.
Stephen C. George
Editor-in-Chief, The Saturday Evening Post