Government, Religion, and the Pipe Dream of Freedom

8 11 2006

Today I was musing upon religion and politics and how the two shouldn’t but do, mix. There’s an interesting essay herein which the author asks some questions about Christians (specifically Anabaptist’s) and how they manage to be both Christians and politicians.

The way I see it is that there is at least one fundamental difference between politics and religion that puts the two in conflict. And that is that religion is basically discriminatory and politics (in principle) is basically inclusive.

In this country (the U.S.), we welcome people of all faiths, skin colors, sexual orientations (kind of), etc – in the theory that we do not want to be discriminatory against any group – that we are all equal and therefore deserve equal rights under the law. The US government then, has the interesting task of governing a diverse people – striving to accommodate all. (I know that is a fairly idealized view of the current US government, but stick with me here.)

Religion however is not inclusive. Religion does not attempt to organize many diverse peoples, but rather it tries to unify them under one god. Note that I am not saying that religious people are therefore intolerant of peoples of other faith, but that you can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in Vishnu instead of Jahovah. (That would make you Hindu.)

Now consider a politician who is religious. How does he respect the truths of his faith while also ignoring them? (Since they are not necessarily the truths of his constituents). I don’t know if you can.

And yet, you might point out, people seemingly do.  I think that while they may try to do both, all they end up doing is being good at neither.  As the writer of the aforementioned essay asks, how can a politician (whose very job is compromise) still manage to be a christian?

Now I know some of you may be thinking that you’re religious, and you think of yourself as very tolerant of peoples with other belief systems (or none at all).  To that I say, ‘congratulations’.  It is, however, beside the point. There is something to your belief system that makes it exclusive of your particular group.

And what about those atheistic devils among us?  I would like to believe that the majority of atheists are atheist because there simply is no reason to believe in the existence of god.   As with all things we think we know, it may change with time.  If science can prove god – well so be it, we’ve learned something new.  Atheists operate on the principle that there is only two kinds of laws in the universe.  There are those laws made by men – and those laws that seem to be true of nature.  Neither of those two types of laws have any inherit reason to be biased to one religion or the other, to one group of people or another.  Divine law by contrast, is by definition biased towards a specific group of people.

I think this is a similar argument to why I find patriotism somewhat disturbing.  While I recognize myself as a United States citizen, I tend to think of myself as a citizen of the world.  Boundary drawing, no matter what form it may take, inevitably sets up a classic us against them situation.  Look at the fence that is currently being constructed along the US – Mexican border.

It gets even more complicated when political boundaries and religious boundaries intertwine.  For instance, what is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict if not a conflict between two distinct groups (us, and them)?

While the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is not in conflict with the state’s constitution – all over the country amendments to ban gay marriage are passing.  This is one example of a discriminatory religious belief ruining what in principle is an inclusive civil stance.

I do not think we will have a truly free society until ‘us’ actually means ‘all of us’.  Now we tend to group ourselves and squabble over which group should have which rights.  We are not a people – we are ‘democrats’, we are  ‘republicans’, we are ‘Christians’, we are ‘citizens’, we are ‘non-citizens’. 

The phrase, “All men are created equal” which appears in the United States Declaration of Independence, is not followed by the phrase, “unless you’re black, gay, or Mexican, in which case you are second class and should not be permitted the same rights as everyone else.”  And thank god it isn’t.

But lately that seems to be the unwritten rule.  I guess you could say that we have lost what it means to be ‘humanist’.  We grant our citizens certain rights and then we make sure no one else can get them.  We feel a need to protect what’s ours.  As if freedom is a precious stone, only valuable because of its rarity. 

My point is that there is an ideal for this country – an ideal of inclusion, of equality.  It is unfortunate that this ideal seems so far away.  Perhaps it is part of our nature that when we find something good we don’t want to share it with others.  This is not all the fault of religion.  But I am convinced that religious views are the #1 road-block to freedom and equality – not only in this country but in the world.

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