Monday, May 16, 2005

Faith and Politics

This is a repost from my previous blogsite -- this was too good for someone to miss...

My friend, Chris raised an interesting question on his blog, and I needed to respond… Here’s an excerpt of the relevant material from his post – you can read the rest at this location.

And now for something that has vexed me for quite sometime--the relationship between faith and public policy. WHAT? Yeah, I'm serious. Lemme put it this way: What impact should my faith in Christ, which I strongly believe to be right, have on my analysis of public policies? …

…First of all, the United States, as a government, is a secular institution. Yes, at its founding, the framers of the constitution did invoke the name of God and ask his blessing. Yet they also, shortly after ratifying it, passed the Bill of Rights, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or promoting the free exercise thereof". This phrase was meant to make sure no religion was made the state religion, as the Church of England is in Great Britain. It also allows people here to worship as they see fit. The government is here taken out of the religious realm. How can I use my faith, then, as a basis for my opinions about public issues, when from the get-go the government has said they don't respect one faith above another? Why should they respect my faith-based reasoning any more than a Muslim's or Buddhist's or Mormon's?

I have thought about this issue a lot, too. I could argue, as Augustine did, that the Christian not only has the right, but the responsibility to compel others to live in accordance with Christian teaching, and even to make them attend the services of the universal Church. Of course, on this issue the venerable saint was wrong.

Along with my opinion about Augustine's reasoning, Chris both misquoted the first amendment, and forgot his colonial history. The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Let's not deal with issues of congress abridging freedom of speech, the press, peaceable assembly or petition of government at this point -- let's just deal with the relevant two clauses.

In terms of the first clause, members of the Constitutional Convention knew what established religion was -- it was, in many of the colonies, and still is, in much of Europe, an official religion sanctioned and funded (at least in part) by the state. Let us remember that the 14th amendment did not apply the Federal Bill of Rights to the States until AFTER the Civil War... because several of the States maintained their established churches for some time after the ratification of the Constitution, and presumably, until the passage of the 14th amendment, the States had the right to establish or disestablish religion as they saw fit. That is the real problem with strict-separationist arguments...they fail in the face of the historical realities.

So, the real issue (in light of the first clause), is what the second clause means. Nothing whatsoever is said in the first amendment about promoting religion. However, there is some question as to what the Constitution means by "prohibiting the free practice thereof..." May Congress limit the practice of religion, by banning it from the public sphere, or limiting the rites religious organizations might practice, or by compelling people to behave in ways that defy their religious convictions, or by compelling religious organizations (or their duly-appointed clergy) to provide taxes to the state to use in ways contrary to the teaching of those bodies (thus forcing those institutions and their representatives to behave in ways that violate their fundamental teachings)? That might not prohibit religion, per se, but does it prohibit the free practice of religion? I think so... The real issue isn't whether religion should influence government or government policy, but whether government should be able to interfere with religion (in a positive or negative way), and the first amendment seems abundantly clear -- Congress has no right to do so (and after the 14th amendment, neither do the States).

Should your religion influence your politics? Well, there are really two questions involved in that question: first, should Christians participate in politics (let’s leave that for another blog); and second, can people separate something central to who they are, how they think, and how they live – in short, can people separate a major portion of their worldviews – from their politics? I’d hope asking the question would be sufficient, but just in case someone reading this far missed the point: Nobody can, nor should anyone try – to do so would cause existential crisis!

As a great fictional anarchist philosopher once said: “never whistle while you’re pissing because your mind would be in two places at once,” which is to say, if you were to attempt to separate your fundamental worldview from your political positions, you would (at least temporarily) be suffering from self-induced schizophrenia. So Chris, if you can (in good conscience) continue to participate in politics as a Christian, you must participate in politics as a Christian…

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