Let’s make a deal. Promise me that you’ll do everything in your power to read this entire article (all 800 words of it) before you start mentally formulating the comment/email/death threat you’re going to respond with.
If you can make that promise, read on. If not, go find an website that reinforces your current dispositions on the matter and read that instead. We’ll both be happier for it.
In a society where most people (politicians in particular) have some sort of faith that guides their decisions, it’s impossible to have a true separation of church and state. That’s fine. I don’t think we need to only elect atheistic representatives. In fact, I’m candidly against that idea.
What I am suggesting is we create and support a system where political decisions are made based on arguments that stand on their own merits without a religious crutch. Or, to put it another way, “the Bible tells me so” is off limits as an argument. But that doesn’t mean what you’re arguing for will have to change. All it means is people need to use objective, measurable evidence to defend their arguments, instead of just referring to their faith and leaving it at that.
If something is bad, or will lead to a lower quality of life for folks, or — God forbid — a “moral landslide,” explain to me why. And do it without a single reference to dogma.
Why is this important?
Because not everyone shares your faith, and it’s a politician’s responsibility to represent their constituents. Arguments made solely based on a particular faith don’t mean much to people who don’t share that faith. They do, however, serve as a great catalyst to polarize arguments and create two groups that have no common language, are unable to actually discuss a problem, and just generally hate each other (e.g., pro-choice people vs. anti-choice people in the abortion debate).
It’s important because conversation is a necessary component for discussion and democracy, and you can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t speak the same language.
How might the alternative work?
As an example, a commonly-argued, religiously-slanted issue is marriage equality (and one you don’t have to guess my bias on). Right now, the most compelling and popular argument against marriage equality is “marriage is between a man and a woman, because the Bible says so.”
You can be opposed to marriage equality, but under the political system I’m suggesting politicians would have to debate it with secular reasoning that can appeal to people of all belief systems (like the members of their constituencies they are supposed to be representing). A common, secular argument against marriage equality is the “same-sex parents are unhealthy for kids” one. Fair enough. Let’s debate that. That’s something we can all agree is important, and something that can be approached with research and logic (and has been) to find a solution that’s best for the country as a whole.
Removing the religious crutch in political debates and discussions will do a number of helpful things:
- It will create a common denominator. Many issues are so religiously loaded that it’s near-impossible for people of varying faiths to discuss them without the “discussion” turning into a “whose belief system is better” pissing contest. Let’s yell at each other about the issues at hand instead.
- It will cause people on all sides to think about the issues critically. Whether you know what is right because of your religion, or you know it’s wrong because a particular religion shouldn’t matter, knowing is the problem. In order to have an actual debate to figure out what’s right, people need to know a bit less and be willing to wonder and examine a bit more.
- It will turn down the heat. I was always taught that it’s impolite to discuss religion or politics at a dinner party. Why is it that we think it’s helpful to merge the two into one supercharged, emotionally-unstable, multi-headed media monstrosity? If we can separate the two concepts, at least in discourse, it’ll help — at least we’ll only be pushing one hot-button at a time.
Removing the religious crutch in political debates and discussions will also not do a number of things (consider this my pre-defense to the comments/emails I know I’m going to get):
- It will NOT create an immoral, Ayn Randian, dystopic society. In fact, I would argue it will help prevent us from this. Removing religion from political discourse doesn’t remove morality or value-based decision-making.
- It will NOT lead to persecution of Christians. Unless you’re one of those who already think this is happening, in which case read this.
- It will NOT slippery slope now we’re marrying toasters and we elected a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to office and other similar nonsense. Seriously, the “slippery slope Hungry Hungry Hippos” argument is so lazy.
So that’s it. Mull it over. Discuss it with a friend. Bring it up to your religious congregation. Then, once we’re all onboard, let’s do it!
Also, if you’re going to email me (my inbox is always open), please refrain from telling me I’m going to burn in hell. It’s not that it ruins my day reading dozens of those emails (it does), it’s just that I don’t know how to respond to them (“thanks for the heads up?”).