I was at an event for work that had various speakers. One of the speakers was obviously religious since he mentioned being blessed in general and blessed by God. He always closed his remarks the many times he was on stage with the phrase “God bless you all”. It gave me an opportunity to think about this and what I normally view as an unnecessary public display of a personal religious belief. It also gave me the opportunity to think about the viewpoint that he shouldn’t be allowed to talk like that since this was a person in the government with some amount of power over some of the people in the audience. Does all religious speech cross the line into endorsement and coercion that infringes upon our freedom of religion?
As a recipient of the speeches I didn’t feel like there was any coercion or intent for me to change what I believe. There wasn’t an expectation of participating in his expression of belief or any judgement of what the audience may or may not believe. It wasn’t any different than politicians on TV saying “God bless America”. Everything he said and how he said it sounded like his personal good wishes for us from his viewpoint as a believer including other casual statements about his own beliefs. If I had said “I wish you all well” with the same feeling and inflection then it would have been an equivalent expression without the backdrop of a personal religious belief. It was simply the fact that he was a religious person that his “well wishing” included his God. In that context, I would think it would actually be less meaningful of a wish for us if he left his God out of it since that was his most sincere form of wishing well to others if you knew that was what he believed.
I don’t believe his words were an endorsement or included any type of coercion to agree with his belief. However, I still don’t think he should say those words as a matter of personal choice even though I know I’m in the minority on seeing it as a bad choice. The reason it is a bad choice is that I don’t believe as he does so his expression of belief leads me to think a certain way about his ability to use logic and judgement to make decisions based in reality. I naturally view such devout believers as potentially close-minded to anything that might conflict with their faith-based beliefs. I have less of a desire to follow such a person since they usually place faith above fact when the two conflict.
Interestingly enough, it’s these religious beliefs that makes the religious people in the audience see him as being more worthy of following since he appears to put his trust in what they think is the same faith as their own. Simply using common Christian phrasings really doesn’t tell anyone about what he really thinks about any given topic. I always hear about how clear the Bible is as a moral guide but what does “God bless you” tell you about a person’s views on issues such as abortion, civil unions, birth control, slavery, women’s roles/rights, suicide, death penalties, war, divorce, working on Sunday, etc. etc. etc. A religious person could instantly put the speaker in a better light just because they say the word God regardless of what that person really thinks or does.
The person saying “God bless you” doesn’t harm me or anyone else. It does negatively impact what nonbelievers think of that speaker. That isn’t a big impact currently since we’re in the minority. However, I also think it negatively impacts believers as well since they make positive assumptions about the speaker that are based on faith and have no relation to how that person really thinks or acts. This happens far too often when faith is viewed as more important than facts when the two are in conflict. Add this to the list of the many ways that religion and a reliance on faith does not help you in your life. Faith leads people to follow others based upon faith instead of reality. That’s a potentially dangerous reason to follow another human without question or critical thought of your own. Even if you are religious, please don’t do anything based on faith alone!