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Accessible to All

In Politics on June 30, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,


In comments here, Hitch argues the following:

Secular does not mean without religion everywhere, secular just means that religion does not define/influence/interfere/be intertwined with government.

Tulse makes a similar argument here (Comment #8):

No atheist cares about the community that religion offers, we care about the truth claims it makes. If religious folks want to get together for bingo and have potlucks and visit each other in the hospital, that’s just dandy. The problem arises when they demand changes to school curriculum or abortion laws or marriage laws based on their theological position. The problem in Western society with religion is not its community aspects, it is the interference in public culture based on beliefs.

These comments reflect a common misconception about how religious belief can properly impact public policy.  I don’t want religion to co-opt the state in any way.  I don’t want the state to interfere with how I express my faith and I don’t want any church to interfere with the proper running of government.  I think the First Amendment is clear about that.

Yet my faith reflects who I am, most fundamentally, as a human being.  I simply cannot and do not want to divorce that reality from my thinking at any point.  I think my Christianity makes me better.  It informs my thoughts and thinking at every level (I hope).  Moreover, only some form of thought censorship could enforce a desire to keep faith from influencing public policy, and that would violate the First Amendment.

President Obama’s statement on the issues and questions surrounding church and state as well as religion and politics within his Call to Renewal speech during the 2008 campaign expresses the key point nicely:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

It doesn’t matter whether my view of murder (or the hunger problem, or slavery, or any other potential policy issue) is predicated upon religious conviction, some other conviction(s), or a combination thereof or whether that view impacts public policy.  There is nothing inherently wrong with faith influencing the state, which influence might be good, bad or indifferent.  We have examples from all sides throughout our history.  What matters is if I can adequately justify it in terms everyone can understand and that are accessible to all.  If I can, religious influence needn’t be merely acceptable, it can be a tremendous benefit.

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7 Responses to “Accessible to All”

  1. Religious views can properly and improperly impact government. Religious people never lost their vote.

    But in the sense that religious views are in conformity with good principles they are likely in conformity with secular humanist ideas.

    In the sense that religious views are detrimental there is perhaps a chance that the religious justification gets in the way.

    But more specifically secular society means freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

    Note that this means that multiple religions are present! The beauty of a secular society that each view point has the possibility to advocate.

    But back to Obama, he is right. As far as your views are explained and well reasoned you will win the marketplace of ideas. But don’t expect to win simply by saying it is religious.

    That is exactly what we are saying. Or to put it in other words, your arguments are of interest exactly to the extend that they are not religious. And to the extend that they are religious they are empty.

    Most atheists support plurality and freedom of ideas, that includes freedom of religion. We welcome any ideas. If you call it religious or not is quite irrelevant. But the more ideas are brought and scruitinized the better. People should advocate for their self interest. But hopefully they will also hear arguments and evidence and make good judgments!

    • That is exactly what we are saying. Or to put it in other words, your arguments are of interest exactly to the extend that they are not religious. And to the extend that they are religious they are empty.

      Empty to you might be exceedingly meaningful to me. That’s why we need to make our respective cases in ways that are accessible to all.

  2. I’m fine with that.

  3. Signal,

    I don’t see any real disagreement here; you, me, Hitch, and Obama all seem to be on the same page — along with Jefferson and Madison, for that matter. Contrast that with recent candidate Mike Huckabee, however, who campaigned on the platform that we need to “amend the Constitution to bring it into alignment with Scripture.” THAT’s the kind of religious participation in government that makes atheists start gnawing their fangs.

    Interestingly, I noted three types of resposes from Christians to Huckabee’s stance:

    (1) “I might not vote for him, but I admire his faith and hope he does well in the elections.”
    (2) “Go, Mike! This is a Christian country, and we need to give it back to God!”
    (3) “Huckabee obviously has no grasp of ‘rendering unto Caesar.’ Christians are better off choosing to walk the path of righteousness for themselves, instead of wanting government to it for them.”

    Those groups are listed in order of prevailence. In other words, from Christians I talked to, more supported than disagreed, and more still didn’t necessarily get all gung ho about it, but had no real problems with his approach, either. Admittedly, “Christians with whom I talk politics” is a small sample size relative to the U.S. electoral population, making any conclusions extremely tentative at best, but it was still food for thought.

    • My views are much closer to those of Roger Williams. Since we Christians have a long track record of attacking each other more consistently and perhaps even more viciously than we do non-believers of whatever sort, we’d be wise to avoid (like the Plague) any attempt to turn the USA into anything like a theocracy. Any group of ten Christians has at least 15 different opinions on any given subject after all….

  4. “Since we Christians have a long track record of attacking each other more consistently and perhaps even more viciously than we do non-believers of whatever sort, we’d be wise to avoid (like the Plague) any attempt to turn the USA into anything like a theocracy.”

    Please move to Texas! They need you here!

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