I get mail
A fan of the show sent me this letter:
I recently observed a “lunch-table” debate regarding religion, which I thought had a slightly different twist on morals. The debate quickly heated between a Muslim woman and a Christian man over why hard alcohol cannot be purchased on Sundays. The Muslim women, seeming a lot more level-headed, asked how this was not an affront to the separation of church and state. This was followed by several back-and-forth comments, but one of the comments made by the Christian man really intrigued me and I thought I would see what you thought. In defense of this absurd law, he said that all politicians bring in their own morals that are based on their own world views. He continued that whether you are an atheist, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or anything else, that you have certain beliefs that make up your worldview. Thus, because these individuals are being elected, means that people want them to govern with their world view. It isn’t about separation of church and state to him because he views it as just another alternative background for moral teaching. I think he was trying to separate laws that are specifically indicative of the religion, like posting the 10 commandments at public buildings, or prayer in school, and those that are more disguised like, no alcohol on Sundays, no gay marriage, no abortions, etc. Not wanting to inject myself into a conversation with several colleagues, I sat back and listened.
Do you have any insights on how to address the Christian man’s assertions, or how to address the moral authority of the religious in general, specifically in a quick, succinct argument?
First of all, I have to fundamentally disagree with the Christian man’s opinion. In most countries, politicians are usually elected because they belong to a specific party, or because their political platform appeals to voters. It’s mostly in America that you find “value voters”, and these are merely religious folks masking their theological ambitions. The rest of us take a much more pragmatic view of politics.
Once they are elected, politicians have a duty to serve the interests of all their electorate, not just the people that voted them in office. Politics is about compromise; the ability to get the best results for the most people. Ideologues are the dangerous ones. The already fragile gears of bureaucracy can quickly come to a grinding halt if people refuse to play ball because of their “convictions”. That’s why your government has effectively stopped functioning. Rather than try and reach a consensus, the portion of American politicians who were voted in based on their “values” continue to undermine the system trying to square off their beliefs with the way politics works. As a way of leading, it’s an unmitigated failure.
If you’re engaged in an argument about religion “as an integral part of morality”, you’ll simply get caught in a different discussion altogether. It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain and a proper education in history that religion has NOTHING to do with morality. If it did, witch burnings, genocides, pogroms, infanticides et al would never have been a problem at all. How many religions can claim to have no blood on their hands? Why have they failed to provide the answer to such a simple question?
The simple fact is the separation of church and state is the only way that our society can work for the good of more than the people in charge. What is their alternative to secularism? How would they feel if a religious minority dissimilar to them was suddenly in power? I bet you they would be much less excited about their “moral views” then…