Faiths and Public Affairs
Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has made an impassioned pitch in favor of rejecting the famous doctrine of the separation of church and state. He made his position clear on the ABC-TV program, "This Week," on Sunday, February 26: "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum noted. "The idea that the church should have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical of the objectives and vision of our country."
Of course, the exact statement he made is sadly hyperbolic since no one has ever advocated that church should have no influence on the operations of the state or government. Religion clearly has influence through its role in the formation of individual opinions, which in a free country play a crucial role in guiding public affairs. As a matter of the faith of the citizenry, religion's involvement in public affairs is ubiquitous.
The idea behind the church-state separation is that when it comes to public affairs or the official edicts of governments, these are not supposed to be based on church policies or doctrines but on the secular ideas of the country's constitution, ideas that any human being is capable of grasping and criticizing, no matter his or her religion. Let us see what lies behind this position and why it is sound.
When we discuss political economy, resting one's case on faith places one's ideas on wobbly foundations. By "faith" is meant a mode of belief based on the will to accept or commit, often despite systematic evidence to the contrary, or on belief not based on supporting evidence of the sort available for systematic, organized, public scrutiny. Indeed, faith is often taken by its champions and adherents to be something extra rational. Its merit lies, supposedly, in the fact that it is not based on evidence or reason but often contradicts both. Thus it is harder to sustain – and it is this difficulty that is supposed to make it a noble achievement to have and keep such a faith. If it were a conviction or belief based on evidence and reason it would lack this element, or so some theologians and religious leaders maintain.
The problem with faith is that, especially concerning matters of public policy but even vis-a-vis personal and social problems, it is rather hopeless to expect congruence or agreement to arise among very different people with different experiences, traditions and religious convictions that are based on faith. How, then, can faith be used to reach common or public convictions?
Faith is a very private mental disposition. In many theological systems it is supposed to be at God's discretion whether someone will have faith or not. Augustine, for example, saw it as something that people acquired by the grace of God. Within this tradition, human beings are in a sense impotent when it comes to gaining faith – they are either graced with it or not.
But in matters of importance to all people, to the citizenry as a whole, it is futile to rely on such a method for reaching understanding and convictions. Indeed, there is a virtual guarantee of discord when faith is invoked. It may be appreciated, in this light, why there are nearly 4,200 different religions in the United States alone and why so many of the public conflicts around the globe find much of their source in religious views, and why religion is something that many people refuse to debate or argue (since, again, one either has or doesn't have it). The religious based conflicts across the globe occur mostly where religion and the public sphere are thoroughly intertwined.
To be sure, religion has been present for most of history. As George Orwell illustrates in his classic book and indictment of communism, Animal Farm, there is always a priest or minister around no matter what politics happen to dominate (represented by the omnipresence of the raven through his story). Thus, Roman Catholic and other churches didn't even collapse under the self-proclaimed atheistic system of communism and managed to live peacefully within others.
The presence of religion in nearly all epochs and societies, however, is no argument for the truth of much of what these religions proclaim – after all, most societies adhere to widespread superstitions, such as astrology, as well as all kinds of dubious practices and institutions, which arguably rest on various false beliefs about the world and about how we all should live. The pervasiveness of these doesn't render them true.
Nonetheless, it is probably because religions consider a good deal of what is important to human life, like codes of conduct that resonate so sufficiently with common sense, that they have staying power. And there is also the plain fact that secular philosophies haven't been sufficiently attentive to ethics or morality – often claiming that these, too, along with the descriptive parts of theologies, are myths. This isn't a credible view and religions have thrived by holding that they alone can provide people with ethics for guiding their lives.
There are also many heroic acts by religious people against various forms of tyranny. But these don't render the general outlook of the heroes true. For example, Roman Catholic Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary opposed the Stalinist regime in his country, invoking grounds that any secular liberal thinker could appreciate. Lord Acton's liberalism isn't especially wedded to religion even though he himself was Catholic. Although the real concerns many religious people have about tyrannies and totalitarian regimes needn't be based on any specifically religious convictions – unless, of course, everything one believes rests on those – the ethical leadership provided from within religion has been significant in fighting such systems.
The bottom line is that what makes us human, most of all, is that we use reason and need to do so to make headway in our daily lives. In a country fit for human survival and for thriving, religion can't be a basis for public policy. That's why resting beliefs on the common capacity to reason, instead of on faith, and the need to discuss with others how one should lead one's life, has greater promise for peace and justice, especially in organized human communities inhabited by very different people.
So one crucial reason that religiously based public policies have dubious merit is that their justification can't be examined along lines available to us in virtue of our humanity alone. A human community, as opposed to a sectarian or religious one, can't rest its institutions on what arises from faith – especially not if those institutions aim to be considered fairly and openly by all those who might be citizens, including members of very different religious denominations as well as many who lack any such membership.
Nonetheless, in a multicultural, highly diverse society such as those in most of the advanced civilizations today, especially the famous melting pot that's the United States of America, the realm of public affairs cannot be approached from a religious viewpoint. Doing that would necessarily result in constant internal conflicts that are in principle unresolvable.
Accordingly, Rick Santorum's call for what would amount to a substantially theocratic society must be rejected by all reasonable citizens, especially those who realize that religion is vital to their own lives regardless of how little that religion is shared by their fellow citizens. The best defense of religion and its free exercise is not to allow any particular faith to become dominant via the political system.
Posted by DwightJohnson on 03/02/12 05:01 PM
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
Government is about force. The first amendment was written, not to protect government from religion, but to protect religion from government, as the Founders understood that individual faith was something that could not, and certainly should not, be forced. Libertarianism, based on the non-aggression principle, uses reason to propose a proper limit to government, i.e, to the limit of force in human society. Rothbard and others were correct to propose human nature and natural law (for which reason is a sufficient guide to understanding) to be the foundation for human society, and to provide guidance on how force, necessary in certain situations, could be limited. Faith in God, or any of the things believers claim to be revealed by God and so held by faith, are not necessary for the proper understanding of human nature and natural law, and are not necessary to the limiting of force in society (though they could very well contribute to a better understanding). That being said, faith, and those who have faith, have an important role in human society, in promoting the virtues that lead to peace. As the author correctly says, "to allow any particular faith to become dominant via the political system" would not lead to peace.
Posted by Jeanna on 03/01/12 06:14 PM
There is much to take exception to in this article. All of it is based upon assumptions that faith is blind. Human reasoning is the be all? Human reasoning is the source of our problems. Let me try to explain.
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report." Heb 11:1-2. Hebrews 11 goes into much detail about how the patriarchs heard God's word, and believed what He said. They based their actions upon that knowledge, knowing that as their creator, He was trustworthy. They did not take a leap in the dark.
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Romans 10:17.
Evidence is required for faith. That means that faith is based upon knowledge. How can you have faith in something you do not know? Consequently, how can you have faith in anyone or anything you have not heard? The only way to have this knowledge is to read and study His word, the bible.
Faith is not blind! It is knowledge that is gained through testing, to see if these things are so. God commands us to test the spirits. We are to discard anything that is not according to His word. If anyone preaches anything other than His word, it is anathema, accursed.
Since God has commanded that we check out what people "preach" or "believe", and see if it agrees with His word, then we can KNOW whether or not it is true. If it does not agree with His word, it is false. So, why should there be over 4200 "religions" in America? Is it because they do not KNOW God's word? Is it because they decide to believe anything they want? That isn't faith. That is rebellion.
And, it is this prideful, human rebellion - human reasoning - against His word that has deprived us of all moral standing, and why we are faced today with a government that is hellbent on destroying as many of us as possible.
Religion is a belief system. Just because someone says they have a religious faith should not make it sacrosanct. If I believe that I have faith in a devil spirit that tells me to murder every fifth person I see, will most people agree that I have freedom to practice this religion? So, what basis or standard are we to use?
In point of fact, we are not free to believe what we want. God commands that we believe in Him, and as our creator He has every right to make this command. He commands that we read and study His word, so that we can KNOW what he commands, and we can live our lives in peace with charity towards others. It is the Bible that is the standard.
As He has stated that anything other than what Christ has brought, the Gospel, is anathema, then anything else is wrong. The knowledge of His word is faith. The more you know, the more faith you have.
Faith is not religion, and religion is not faith.
4200 religions? Blind religion is more like it.
"... it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Jer 10:23. Human reasoning is limited in scope and power. It is through God's commandments that we attain the best hope for living in this world. Without them we are lost. We have no concept of right or wrong without His commandments. We would not know that murder is wrong, if He had not told us.
I may respect another person's free will to believe anything he wants. But, I do not have to respect that belief, if it is contrary to God's word, nor do I have to accept it being imposed upon me or superimposed over God's word. And, yet, in the name of religious freedom, that is exactly what has occurred.
God has been tossed under the wheels of religious freedom, which was never intended to accept all humanly devised belief systems, but was only intended to keep the government from persecuting Christians. And, today we are persecuted.
According to this article we will continue to be persecuted by the pinnacle and power of human reasoning.
Posted by EdwardUlyssesCate on 03/01/12 05:01 PM
Who cares what religion or faith anyone believes, as long as they don't lie, steal or murder. I don't think it says in anyone's religious book that it's okay to lie-to, steal-from or murder those that don't have one's particular faith. We've been through all that back when The Church thought it was the center of the universe. Did all their victims die in vain? In light of current world events, I'd guess they did.
Posted by D19 on 03/01/12 03:25 PM
I'm not foolish enough to fall for the Christian doctrine. I believe in Zoroaster, the one and only God. Believing in the trinity of ghost, father and son breaks the ten commandments which came from Zoroaster and reissued under Moses. Any state that recognizes the trinity is a devil worshipping state.
Posted by Merridth80 on 03/01/12 07:51 AM
I agree with you whole heartedly! But, knowing this, & I'm sure we are not the only ones, how is it that so many are so bewildered about these facts?
Doesn't it stand to reason that:
guiding our Gov't is done by reason, not blind Faith. Sorry about this analogy, "Blind Faith" doesn't put food on the table or pay the rent, "Human Action" does!!!