In the first part of this series I presented a simple question, do you believe in the literal interpretation of the bible? That question generated several responses but the general theme of every comment was that each individual had come to his or her own understanding and made the Bible relevant to that understanding.
If religious philosophies existed only in the realm of personal beliefs and in individual actions, then there would be no need to debate this issue any further. But since those personal philosophies eventually make their way into the public realm via political discourse or legislations, then we must delve into those philosophical interpretations and how the literal interpretation of the Bible impact said legislation.
Like in Part I, I would like to defuse some basic debatable items whenever the discussion of the role of religion in politics is brought up.
1. America was founded on biblical principle. Although it has yet to live up to those principles, the fact that the founding fathers acknowledge those guiding principles provided a means for different movements to force America to evolve and live up to those stated principles.
2. The separation of church and state does not mean the exclusion of religious symbols and religious traditions in the public square. Only that the state is not to create any laws that establishes a particular religion or restrict the exercise of any religion.
Often times the role of religion in our society is symbolic in nature and their arguments don’t affect our everyday lives. The fight over the posting of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms or display of a cross on the Seal of towns really doesn’t mean much to the average Joe. Then there debates that affect our lives in the most profound manner: The fight to include Intelligent Design in science curriculum, the debate over prayer in school, the use of public funds to finance religious education stem cell research and the battle to allow political discourse from the pulpit without the fear of the church losing its tax-exempt status.
The reason that these debates are on the rise is because the Evangelical Christians changed their philosophy about not mixing itself into politics and declaring a cultural war. They pursue this war under the guise of freedom of religion. As though the exclusion of Intelligent Design in public schools is a restriction of their right to practice their faith. This is not the case but it makes for a compelling debate.
An argument can be made that our Christian foundation sets the standards for many of our rights so it is appropriate to reference them when facing new issues. But the reference of principle is different than the reference of biblical interpretations.
Lets take gay marriage as an example. This debate is strait out of the Bible as there are several passages on the subject. But is it right to use Biblical references to establish or restrict the rights of a certain segment of our population? The Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
When something is self-evident, it means that it is comprehensible outside of religious doctrine or philosophical bent. Therefore, it is not necessary for a moral code to be derived from the Bible to make it applicable to our moral standards. So through an interpretation of the Bible some conclude that gay marriage is an abomination, it is fair to apply that private interpretation to society at large? Is it especially fair when the government recognizes marriage not as a religious union but as a legal union as it pertains to property, taxes and other civil procedures?
Prayer In School: I’m not sure why this is a controversial issue. It seems rather obvious to me that children have the right to pray, read the bible or have bible study groups as long as it is student led. The argument for a moment of silence is ridiculous. I remember high school very well. There were never any moments of silence except with remembering the passing of a classmate. Should a student be allowed to lead a prayer at a graduation ceremony? Sure, if a Muslim, Jew or Hindu is allowed to lead a prayer. But the issue is deeper than this but I will have to save that for another post.
There are a host of issues like these and it seems as though religious groups are making an effort to place Biblical passages on the same plain as the words written in the declaration of Independence. As we tailor more laws to accommodate those Biblical passages, are we not wandering down the path to creating a quasi theocracy?
In Part III, I’ll look at the “movers and shakers” behind the cultural war and how religion became such a part of the political landscape.
1. What is the proper role of religion in creating laws on a religiously diverse society?
2. Would a greater role of religion in the political arena result in more or less liberty for Americans?
3. Does religion even afford us the freedoms that we now enjoy?