Monday, February 12, 2007

Have Faith

What is the role of religion in the public life? Should the government marry religion? And if so, which one? And what do voters think about, say, Barack Obama's religion?

Atrios points out in a recent post on Eschaton that though the current right-wing framing tries to distinguish the religious ("people of faith") from the nonreligious ("the dregs of society?") the truth is that few religions agree on what to believe and that there is no such voting bloc as the "people of faith".

It is largely the conservative Christians and Jews who argue that religion should play a larger role in the public sector, the government and the judiciary, and when they say "religion" they mean "my religion". They also appear to desire this influence without any reciprocal opening of those religions to nonbelievers' criticisms. Just consider the recent brouhaha started by William Donohue of the Catholic League on whether the Catholics are denigrated or oppressed by having their dogmas and customs and their wider influence questioned by bloggers.

But this one-sidedness is an unfair demand. Think of this silly example: Suppose that the Muslims and the Jews joined forces to have pork banned as a human comestible in this country. Given the multi-religious nature of the United States, how should they justify such a proposal?

Something having to do with the health benefits or environmental benefits of reduced pork consumption might work, or something which appeals to statistical evidence open to members of all religions or none. But if the justification was based on what the Holy Books of these religions say on the matter, wouldn't this mean that nonbelievers would have to be allowed to publicly discuss and debate the dogma of those religions? I see no way around this: If religion is to enter government decision-making in this manner then government is going to enter religion in a manner very different from anything seen yet in the history of this country.

Those who now complain about religious oppression, even in cases where there is none, are often the same people who advocate a more political role for religions. I'm not sure if they have thought this through.