“Don’t bring your religion into politics.”
We’re hearing it more and more these days. But I find the admonition inherently flawed, and as we fly headlong into Election Day, I’d be negligent to avoid making the case why.
Jane Ahlin’s Oct. 9 Forum piece, “Personal religious faith in realm of public policy,” may echo the cultural mantra, but its faulty base belies reality and deserves to be checked.
In her essay, Ahlin references the recent vice-presidential candidate debates, at which the moderator broached the issue of religion in the public square.
The journalist had asked the two major-party running mates, Sen. Tim Kaine and Gov. Mike Pence, to share a time they’d “struggled to balance (their) personal faith and a public policy decision.”
The fact that the question was posed in the first place highlights the public interest in observing how these two topics work together. But Ahlin challenges that, insisting on a “conflict between religion and the public sphere,” then criticizing Republicans for failing to acknowledge it, “much less the importance of a compromise in a pluralistic society …”
In our diverse culture, Ahlin continues, respectful dialogue and the acceptance of differences, including among secularists, must prevail. “Beyond the problems of religious law-making, no personal faith journey is made better by forcing religious beliefs on others.”
I agree, including with the need for respectful dialogue. Whenever we can apply grace rather than an onslaught of nasty words, walls come down, and I find the greatest hope in these moments.
It’s also true we can’t “push” our religious beliefs on others. Authentic faith works on the premise of love and free will, not coercion.
But Ahlin fails in her own confusion regarding the finer points of religion and morality, the latter of which any ordered society cannot avoid. Though perhaps unknowingly, she brings us off course in taking aim at the debate’s very inclusion of what she calls “religious” matter.
It’s important to note that religion is simply the expression of our morality, and also that every individual without exception lives by a moral code. The secularist “Good without God” movement testifies to this; atheists want to be recognized for their good contributions toward society, too.
Our morality, which stems from our more complex intellect, is one of the primary characteristics distinguishing humans from animals. A family pet can offer unconditional love but cannot philosophize on the source of that love, nor why it is better to be good than bad.
We humans, however, can discern right from wrong. Some of us just happen to call the source of that morality “God,” believing it derives from an actual being; the same being who created the world and each of us.
But denying objective truth won’t do. As I heard it said recently, doing so leaves us with “might makes right.” “Without the Creator the creature would disappear,” was how a speaker, referencing a papal document, recently put it. “When God is forgotten, the creature grows unintelligible.”
Even those who wish to remove God from the public square will confront, at some point, the truth that without morality, the human being grows unintelligible. Ignoring our moral compass will find its end in our own self-destruction.
And extricating morality from the public square will bring disastrous consequences. It already has. We are currently facing two of the most immoral presidential candidates in our nation’s history, largely because we’ve not formed our consciences well.
We can do better, and our flourishing depends upon it. We don’t have to agree on the source of morality to live morally and act prudently. We only have to be honest with the fact that objective morality does exist, and that it must be applied, and well.
Politics exists to serve humanity. In order to progress sensibly, peacefully and freely as moral beings, humanity must make room for moral/religious thought.
Those who understand this appreciated, for example, Pence’s views on the inherent dignity of human life: “… for me, the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that — that ancient principle that — where God says before you were formed in the womb, I knew you.”
We all yearn to be known and loved, and expressions like this reach our inner core. We shouldn’t shush them away. Such truths need to be articulated and considered as we go about the business of creating public policy.
Many sense the quicksand on which our society is currently standing. Casting into the corner the only voices that can pull us from the mire will prove calamitous.
We are thoughtful, moral beings. Let’s use those capabilities rightly, for the good of all.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 29, 2016.]