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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

War On Religion Or Theocracy

Republican politicians have been notorious for their theocratic tendencies since at least the 90s with George W. Bush, though it might go further back to his father who allegedly said atheists should not be considered citizens. Their infamy lies in a coalition they have formed with preachers to implicitly or explicitly support certain candidates as Godly and Biblical leaders who will not disappoint America. While there’s already an issue of churches getting involved in politics on the grounds that they could lose their tax exempt status, what’s more troubling is how much this rhetoric has permeated the Republican Party. Virtually none of the candidates, even Ron Paul, can or will separate themselves willingly from their faith, especially in terms of legislation they support and also in drawing supporters. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both strong Catholics, make it a practice to affirm they are motivated by their Catholicism to be politically active and reform America to be a better place. I wonder how good of a place it would be if they were in charge and started doing things that are ironically against the Constitution they hold in fairly high regard when it’s convenient for them. Santorum is reported to have said that if he were elected President, he would overturn Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, there’s no precedent or permission in the Constitution for the President to do that. Both Gingrich and Santorum also decry Obama and his supposed “war on religion”, Christianity in particular being the target they whine about with such things as the recent birth control mandate and likely going as far back as Obama’s declaration that America “is not a Christian nation,” Romney and Paul also speak fairly frankly about their faith, though both of them are more reticent, either because their faith is not considered mainstream enough in the case of the lone Mormon candidate or they feel that their faith is not pertinent to their legislation when adherence to the Constitution will suffice.

There is no war on Christianity, only on what might be called Christofascism, a general idea that Christians get from politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, that Christians in America are persecuted and should force themselves upon American culture, excluding non Christian and non-traditional groups, such as atheists, homosexuals and other minorities still treated badly for being different without harming people in any concrete sense, such as American Muslims. The idea of basing your politics on the teachings of a person that was fairly non political in his overall goals is counterproductive and ironic in that conservatives tout themselves as following what God tells them to do in the political field.  Jesus advocated a sort of separation between church and state, at least in terms of what you donated, though he also spoke of his kingdom not being of this earth. Therefore, any real attempts to bring forth Jesus to earth is, again, highly likely to backfire on you or miss the point.

If there is a war on Christofascism, then there are other associated ideas that are also in conflict with the ideals of a religiously diverse, yet impartial and secular, democratic republic. These include Dominionism, theocracy, theonomy and practices resultant from it. Some of the big ones include school sponsored prayer, placing the Ten Commandments in the context of law as only religiously based, as Roy Moore did in Alabama, and trying to restrict the notions of family and marriage to only those founded under particular faiths, especially monotheistic ones. People say prayer was entirely removed from the schools, but it wasn’t. When the school endorses religion or irreligion in their actions, it is not right, but students and teachers can pray as individuals, since they are not infringing on others’ rights by doing so, with some rare exceptions. They say the Ten Commandments are being systematically erased from federal buildings, and they technically aren’t, since there are Supreme Court cases where they ruled a display of the Ten Commandments alongside other examples of historical jurisprudence were constitutional. And I seriously doubt that many modern reasonable Christians would take you seriously at the claim that gay families are somehow destructive. The normalization of gay people being good parents and also able to have committed marriages is not going to lead to normalizing marriages between people and animals or the like.

Conflicts of church and state, religion and government, are important in that they are concerned with a right that we all seem to take for granted. Misinterpretation abounds as to the extent to which an individual has freedom of religion, which has not been the understanding of the Supreme Court and wasn’t likely what the founding fathers intended either. Church has a boundary it is expected to not cross in practicing religion, which includes entanglement with the government as well as not breaking any civil laws. Regardless of whether an individual believes those civil and secular laws are binding upon them as an adherent to a faith that believes something contrary to that is irrelevant in that the person is still breaking the law in practicing something such as polygamy. While I think making it illegal is harsh, the law stands as it is. More relevant examples might be human sacrifice as part of a religion’s practices. This would not be protected and this is just one instance of many where religious freedom is inhibited for the compelling interest of the state, to preserve life, liberty and property of other citizens. The government is not trying to tell the churches who they should marry in making a constitutional amendment that determines that secular and civil marriage is not just between a man and a woman or declaring certain discriminatory practices unconstitutional and therefore illegal even on individual state level. The church is free to discriminate in terms of sanctifying any marriage or refusing to serve people in their house of worship, as it is their right being an organization that is privately funded, unless otherwise demonstrated. It would not be infringing upon religious exercise to prohibit direct church participation in politics, since it’s not a stretch to claim the church itself believes it shouldn’t become involved in the politics of the “sinful” world. If we don’t understand the limits of the church in relation to the government, then we risk overstepping the boundaries that exist both by observation and reason. Impartiality to religion by the federal government is not favoring atheism, it is being fair to everyone of faith or no faith.

As someone who studies religion, but nonetheless doesn’t believe in it as truth, I have an obligation to defend religious freedom even with those I disagree with strongly. Protecting the rights of others leads in turn to protecting your own, at least by association of common courtesy. Kill them with kindness, as the saying goes. If theists think I’m an evil or amoral person, I’ll demonstrate otherwise by showing compassion in their suffering discrimination, for instance. Disagreement should be put aside in terms of following and upholding the law. Even such reprehensible people as Westboro Baptist Church should be protected in terms of reasonable exercise of their religious beliefs. Of course there are limits, but sometimes the limits can border on censorship, which is contradictory even to principles of secularism. If we are to truly have a free market of ideas and people using their reason to come to conclusions about the world, then we can’t suppress beliefs that are disagreeable in that they are, by rational consideration, patently ridiculous. The more we let them demonstrate how foolish their beliefs are by comparison will at least suppress the fanaticism and theocratic ideas that they represent.  Religion may never disappear in its influence on people’s legislative decisions, but we should strive to educate others as to finding comparable and compelling secular arguments for their cause. Religion should not be the motivating factor for voters to consider in terms of candidates, but their positions, as I said in “Mormon Candidate Discrimination” Morality is one thing, but justice shouldn’t require religion to motivate someone to stand for a cause in spite of differences. Politics and religion are inevitably connected at the border that exists with our moral considerations derived many times from religion and applied to secular contexts. But they should never become entangled excessively or it creates a place where either the government dictates religious practice or religious practice and communities dictate government and law. Neither of those should come to be in the future, if we can prevent them. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

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