Monday, February 01, 2016

Why We Must Have a Secular Government-Election 2016

We need to get religion out of politics and it should in no way be codified into our government.  That statement is undoubtedly controversial.  We have after all, since the Republic was born, had massive reliance on religion and faith to make our political points.  It seems to be used more for campaigning than governing, which is a very good thing and there is a very good reason for that.  The framers, when writing the constitutions went to great pains to keep religion out of government except to make two specific statements on the topic.  The first, in Article VI, clause 3 says specifically that "...but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  Indeed, the sentence right after that clause requires the officer holder to take oath of fidelity to the Constitution, and no religious deity or doctrine.  The 2nd mention of religion is probably the most famous:  The first amendment which includes the Establishment Clause says this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;".   The framers (Madison, et al,) went to great pains to avoid what they had seen from history with respect to a state mandating or supporting on religious faith over another.  Hundreds of years of conflict within the Christian religion between Catholics and Protestants were a warning sign to not allow the State or Religion to interfere too much with one another.   Adams, Jefferson and other founders went to great pains to suggest that America was not governmentally affiliated with any specific religion.  That said, our country is a religious country.   About 80% of the population of the country claims some religious affiliation.   By and large, Christianity and its various denominations and sects make up about 70% of the religious population with Jewish, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and others making up the other 10% of the country who claims religious affiliation.  The fact that we have a secular document guiding our governance has been lost on a lot of the people in this country.  Many, who haven't really studied the government or its genesis, are oblivious to the efforts on the founders to create a secular government that would provide protection for the faithful.  So, it is not surprising today, as in almost every campaign season since the country was founded, to see the Almighty invoked in one way or another.   I think this has been and continues to be a dangerous blurring of the lines between that which should be between the person and their god, and the government that must make decisions for all people, believers or non-believers.

 In any election year and campaign, candidates will invariably invoke or be coerced into talking about their religious "faith" and or affiliation.  Usually, if the candidate comes forward and discusses their faith of their on accord, it is to make a point.   An example of this was shown in the last Republican debate when Marco Rubio responded a statement from the moderator that Time Magazine had declared Rubio the "savior" of the Republican party.  Rubio, before speaking to the article had this to say:

Mr. Rubio may have been speaking from genuine conviction.  He may have been playing up to the evangelical community in Iowa as the caucuses are tonight and religion, particularly evangelical Christianity is of significant importance to many Iowans.  We may never know the extent of Mr. Rubio's convictions on the topic and it doesn't really matter.  Many of the candidates vying for the Presidency this go round have made through either volunteered testimony or in the response to a question from the media or interested voters a profession of where they are from a religious perspective. Many of the candidates, such as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie have made overt declarations of faith.  Senator Sanders, has recently told us that he is not particularly religious.  

It is not surprising that the candidates speak about  faith.  It generally helps them and in particular when their faith is cut from the same cloth as the voters whose support they covet.  So, we are overtly Christian in our campaigning.  Regardless of how faithful and observant a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Shintoist, a Taoist, etc. might be, they will find minimal support from the electorate should the espouse their particular faith as the guiding principle for their decision making.   This is the problem.  We have a mixture of faiths in this country.   6% of the people in this country, roughly 18 million people, are of a faith or belief system other than Christianity.  A leader of a country with such varied philosophical vies must be the leader of all the people and not just the ones whose faith he or she agrees to.   A Pew Poll conducted in 2014, showed the spread of religious affiliation across the country and describes the variety of faiths that make up our nations population.  When a candidate speaks to a point of their religious faith, they will not do so in a half-hearted manner. They will not generally go out of their way to suggest that other faiths are equivalent in terms of being genuine to the believer.  They will speak to the audience and pander. If they are in Dearborn Michigan, which is home to a large population of Muslim Americans, they will not castigate their faith because they want their votes. If they are in Boston, if they are smart, they will not deride Catholicism because they want their votes.  If they are in Boca Raton, Florida, they will not say anything bad about Israel, will go to synagogue and speak in positive terms about the Jewish faith, because they want their votes.   To be sure, some of them are genuinely respectful of other peoples beliefs and faiths.  Most are not. Most are cynical, likely atheists, or agnostics, and are simply trying to gain trust by illustrating either their piety or at a very minimum, a profound respect for the believer.  

The recent history of the 21st century has inflicted a large amount of religious polarization an intolerance.  Fanatics, acting in accordance to what they believed killed thousands of people in New York on September 11, 2001.   Additional terrorist attacks stemming from radical islamists against other Muslims, other faiths, have been a common occurrence for the past 16 years. It's nothing new, but given the fact that our country was injured so greatly, it has been a common topic of great discussion now for almost two decades.  The West, which is from a majority non-Muslim have countered with military action in an effort to defeat or stop the terrorists from harming us again.  Leaders in the West have been very careful to avoid calling this a war against a faith, rather it is a war against "bad actors" in the faith.  However, we have seen from a political point of view a sharp contrast in that perspective.   We have legislatures in state governments writing anti-Sharia laws on the books. These same legislators, who are so strident against Muslim religious law, attempt to codify Christian religious law on the books and see no level of hypocrisy in those decisions.  Why?  Well, they will say that we are a "Christian Nation" and therefore we should be governed by God's Law. Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas who wants to be President said "I'm a Christian first and an American second".  This statement should immediately disqualify him from the Presidency because it means he will violate his oath of office should he become the Chief Executive.  Why? Because "God's Law", at least the Judeo Christian God's Law, often comes into conflict with the US Constitution, which is what the President is bound to uphold and protect.  The First Amendment is completely counter to the First Commandment, and therein lies the problem.  Which law will the Chief Executive adhere to?   We've been fortunate through our relatively short history that we have not been a theocracy.  Our government has by and large protected religious thought and freedom.  It would be a sad blemish on this country should we regress towards one particular point of view and codify that into our governance.  

For more than casual observers in our politics, we expect to see a certain amount of pandering to religious people, just as we see pandering to other groups, whether they are focused on an ethnic group or on another group such as an industry association or an environmental organization.  With the pandering to the religious community, the motives may be the same, in that they politician is attempting to get elected, but I believe there risks of significant damage to our community as whole.  From just a purely selfish perspective on the part of the politician, there is an enormous amount of energy coming from the religious community on specific issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, and this will drive activism which will drive money and organization which will drive voters to the polls.  Politicians, whether genuine or cynical, have used this energy throughout our history in order to gain election to the positions they desire.

The damage in  of melding religion and politics is that religion is exclusionary.   This is counter to the thought of how our Republic works where we recognize democratic principles, but have put safety nets in place to protect the minority's opinion.   It is hard to do this with religion and especially when religion is turned into law that people of other faiths have to live by.  Because religion is principally a matter of faith, and faith is based on belief, it is hard for the faithful to be true to their beliefs if the laws they live under run counter to them.  So, when a religion gains control of a government as exemplified by Iran or other theocracies, then the minority is generally not protected and is subject to persecution.  Apostates are in danger of losing their lives, religious minorities are subjugated to secondary classes losing rights or having to pay for the right to their faith.  We've seen this throughout history  regardless of which religion it might be.  Jews, have been persecuted by Christians and Muslims alike.  Catholics and Protestants have persecuted each other for centuries. Shia and Sunni Muslims have persecuted each other.  Whether interfaith or intrafaith, when one specific religion or dogma or doctrine gains control over another, bad things usually happen to the group who is not in power.  It is only through secular protections such as our Constitution that a religious minority be somewhat confident that they will be able to believe what they want to believe without fear of harm or ostracizing.

This is why it is important to not only keep the wall of separation intact, but to shore it up and strengthen it.   When a kid is  bullied or mocked by other kids because they are of different faiths, it doesn't serve the religion from the bully well.  When an adult is shunned or condemned for believing in a specific religion counter to the more popular religion it creates a schism between people that are really more alike than different.  When we highlight a flaw in another person's belief without looking hard at our own, we're being hypocrites and complicating the opportunity to understand each other.  It makes it harder for us to go about our daily lives. It makes it frightening for the minority to believe they have just as much right to be an American as the majority.   Suspicion grows, distrust grows, anger grows.   This is not what we espouse as being an American.  We somewhat arrogantly claim this is the greatest country in the world, we have the best opportunity for people to better their lives, etc. etc.  It makes for great speeches, and in most cases we are indeed the benchmark for how a nation should govern itself.  If we maintain a secular society with respect to our governance, there is ample room for faith and religious piety. If we as some want, move towards a governance structure delivered by "God", then we lose one of the characteristics about this nation that has made us in some respects, the best country in history.

Tell me what you think.


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