Saturday, September 21, 2013

Persecution Better than Tax Support for Religion

   Bernard Lewis noted that Christianity survived in the Middle East only where Christians had experience being estranged from state power.  In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, several Christian denominations endured begrudging toleration and sometimes even persecution by the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire.
    The Maghreb, Arabic for the "West," is a region that includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  In the Maghreb, Christianity disappeared under the persecution by the un-Islamic Islamic regime of the Almohads.  Maghrebi Judaism survived, despite suffering similar forced conversions under the Almohads.
   North Africa's Christianity enjoyed a special link to the Christianized Roman Empire.  Maghrebi Christians were accustomed to the patronage of government, while the Maghreb's Jew were accustomed to sporadic persecution.  Accustomed to government persecution rather than government favoritism, Jews had experience preserving their religion, even in secret.
   A few Christians make the government an arm of their religion, using public school football teams as an opportunity to make converts, unaware that a link to government auspices often makes a religion vulnerable.
   In the 1780s, advocates of ending tax support for religion often reached the conclusion that government persecution was better for a religion than government support.  
   In 1785, James Madison noted that "experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation."  Madison suggested that if you ask the Christian clergy when their religion appeared in its greatest glory, "
those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy."
   James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) was one of many petitions against a proposed Virginia law Virginians to pay money to support a Christian preacher of the taxpayer's choice.  The Bill exempted Quakers and Mennonites, in deference to their qualms about the state requiring religious contributions and their preference for voluntary contributions.  A flood of petitions against the bill helped convince the Virginia legislature to not enact the bill.  

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