Politics and Religion

I was browsing on Arts & Letters Daily (again, as I do daily) when I found an article about the so-called “Brights” and the politics facing them. A snippet:

What do you call someone who is not religious? Is there a need for a new name for such people? And should not politicians acknowledge them?

Well, I have two thoughts on this.

First, the term “Brights” to mean nonreligious people was just a stupid choice. It’s far too like to push too many sensitive buttons. I’ve met a number of really obnoxious atheists who think they are atheist because they are smarter, less credulous, or basically just “brighter” than most people. I also have the experience of having met some very bright religious people, as well, and I would pretty much understand them taking offense at the idea that “Bright” is a sensible word for “nonreligious” people.

But… that aside, I do think that in America, it seems to have been forgotten, at least by the Republican party, that Church and State are much better off separated. Religious initiatives have basically no business trying to legislate their group’s belief system and rules of conduct into law. What these people need to understand is that it’s one thing to expect adherents of a religion to follow that religion’s idiosyncratic moral codes, and it’s another to expect a society to follow a more basic and rights-based set of behavioral codes. Government in no situation ever legislates morality… government is not in a position to do so, nor should it ever, as a flawed, political, and inherently biased human organization, have that responsibility given to it.

(And, I should add, the same goes for religious institutions… they are generally too flawed to dictate morality, which is anyway far more accessible by those of honest intention by a sensible reading of the basic teachings of that religion.)

In any case… governments are inherently amoral institutions which exist to ensure the stability of those societies that instantiate and support them. Governments aren’t supposed to deliver us from Babylon or into heaven’s clutches. And if one makes a government a theocratic institution, the gravest risk of all is the sacrificing of the principle of religious freedoms and rights. For, after all, the very rights that protect me from having you force your religious beliefs and practices onto me, are the same rights that protect you from having those of others imposed on you. Christians in America would do well to observe that Mormonism and Scientology are growing at a somewhat shocking pace, and would do even better to recognize that, in such a climate, the first and most important thing for them to do is make certain that religious freedoms for all are absolutely sacrosanct now, before it gets to be too late and everyone is paying a tithe to the Scientologists or to Salt Lake City.

And I think that, given the pressures to hide areligiosity in the American political scene today, this is exactly the kind of thing that nobody in politics feels he can afford to say in public. Which is too bad, because it’s a very dangerous game that’s being played… one that involves the gambling away of hard-won freedoms people realized we needed hundreds of years ago. It’s unfortunate and, on the historical scale, I daresay it’s more than a little embarrassing.

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