A Blind Trust for Religious Belief?

Posted By Stefan Monsaureus

Earlier this month John McCain, in an interview published on BeliefNet.com, infamously said:

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation… We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

Jon Meacham, in the New York Times on 7 October 2007 wrote that A Nation of Christians is Not a Christian Nation, and provided numerous examples which frankly contradict such a ridiculous assertion. The not infrequent claim by the Christian right that America is a “Christian Nation” is also thoroughly addressed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State , and handily dispatched at Daylight Atheism:

In sum, the basic principles of American democracy cannot be found in either testament of the Bible. This is hardly surprising: America’s founders drew their ideas from the rational philosophy of the Enlightenment, as well as from the English common law; they said so themselves.

Even Gary Randall, president of Faith and Freedom, an organization committed to preserving traditional Judeo-Christian values in America’s public life, took issue with McCain’s statement:

America was not founded to be a “Christian Nation” per se, but was created by Christians, influenced by their deeply held Biblical beliefs and structured to provide maximum freedom to worship and practice their religion. This included tolerance and freedom for those who choose not to be Christian and not to worship.

The idea that one would support or oppose a candidate solely on the basis of religious affiliation seems somehow troubling to those of us who treasure the separation of religion and government, and who fantasize that we live in a democracy (if not a meritocracy). And, as noted on Irregular Times, there are more important factors to consider.

As John McCain sees it, war, global warming, the dwindling of American liberty, economic crisis, health care, Social Security, education, crime, diplomacy, and any other political issue that you can think of, should take a back seat to religion.

Still, even though the foundation of our government is wholly secular, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that religious belief can be uncoupled from public life. We may not permit religious tests for public office, but this does not mean that religious belief or philosophical outlook are beyond consideration by the electorate.

Any elected official with deeply held religious beliefs cannot be expected to place their principles into a blind trust while in office. That is a standard that might be fairly applied to judges, asked only to interpret existing law and render impartial judgment, but should not be imposed on those asked to make moral and ethical decisions.

Even liberal paragon Dennis Kucinich, in an interview in the Christian Science Monitor a few years ago (and subsequently in other venues), made the following point:

“My politics derives an understanding from this,” Kucinich explains. “While our fathers understood well the importance of the separation of church and state, they never meant America to be separate from spiritual values. Spiritual values can improve our own health, our spirit, our nation, and the world.”

One might quibble with the use of “spiritual” in this context, but the message seems to be that values, however derived, travel with the politician. The difficulty, then, is in deciding the acceptable limits for imposing a religiously-based belief on others through legislation or enforcement, and in determining the circumstances under which a secular rationale should be prerequisite to policy development.

Since few candidates for public office are overtly atheist or humanist, some guidelines to dissect the role of religion on a given candidate’s positions may help to see how far that individual has drifted from reality-based thought process, or how much of a danger they pose to religious liberty and the separation of religion and government. Therefore, I have drafted these “guidelines for the secular voter.” These should be considered preliminary criteria, intended only for the purpose of generating discussion. Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

  • Absent a compelling and reasonable proposition of public harm, politicians should not be permitted to impose their morality in situations where the supposed “sin” is without victim. The mere knowledge that another enjoys a particular behavior that one’s own religion considers taboo is an insufficient basis for a determination of harm. Using such a criteria, attempts to prohibit gay marriage are obviously unacceptable, while research on human embryonic stem cells is considerably more complex (the argument against centered, of course, on the stipulation that human embryos are worthy of protection as human persons).
  • Asking a candidate about their religious affiliation is fair game, provided such questions are couched in terms related to specific policy decisions. Given the broad ideological heterogeneity among professed adherents to any religion, the absence of such qualifiers renders any response uninformative. Thus, a candidate’s statement that “I am a Catholic” is not necessarily enlightening, while a statement that “As a Catholic I believe that ensoulment occurs at inception and that abortion is murder” suggests vehement opposition to legalized abortion compelled by religious belief.
  • While opinions colored by a religious framework are to be expected, and even tolerated, decisions based only on faith are anathema to rationality. Religious piety might lead to virtuous behavior, but faith in supernatural forces, divine intervention, or imaginary beings with noodly appenadages is not a virtue. The goal should be to separate faith, not religion, from government. There is much beauty and value in religion, however it is defined. Faith is utterly without merit.
  • Belief in an afterlife is detrimental to life on this planet. Similarly, apocalyptic theology and long-term environmental concern or enlightened foreign policy are incompatible.
  • It may be best not to get too exercised about expressions of civil religion, and reserve our ire and leftist indignation for more substantive cases involving the imposition of faith or dogma.
  • No morality based solely on ancient scripture or religious dogma may be imposed on others. That is, even if a view is shared by a majority of the population, absent a secular justification it should not be codified as law and imposed on others.

Surely there are others. But this is a start.

Possibly similar posts:

    None Found

Be Sociable, Share!
15 October 2007

2 Comments to 'A Blind Trust for Religious Belief?'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

:: Trackbacks/Pingbacks ::

  1. Pingback by Carnival of the Godless 79 — Pie Now on Earth [Aardvarchaeology] · New York Articles - on November 12th, 2007 at 04:03

  2. Pingback by Bay of Fundie » Blog Archive » Carnival of the Godless and Politicians of the Godful - on November 12th, 2007 at 07:04