Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on religion and politics

The two forces in society shouldn't be ignored, can indeed form common good

Religion is a beautiful thing to many people, and inspires a great force of good for millions around the world. It is true, however, that it has done a lot of bad too, usually when placed in the hands of those who choose to abuse the practices of a belief structure to an extreme, carrying out a skewed version of their faith’s principles in a way that causes harm to others. But for the most part, religion serves a common good for a like-minded community to engage in, oftentimes enhancing the notion of charity in order to help those truly in need.

Politically speaking, religion is a mixed bag -- while seen by many as a positive influence on several peoples’ lives, the use of religion in government can mean an endorsement of one belief over another, an unfair advantage by one group of people versus a different group with equally valid “truths.”

The liberal view on religion is quite simple: it’s a choice to be made on an individual level. No force beyond personal preference or spiritual conscience should dictate your beliefs to you, should demand you worship a certain way over another. On that same thought, nothing should stand in the way of how you choose to worship or whom you chose to pay homage to, so long as your choices or actions cause no direct harm to others.

You should even be permitted to try and influence others, but your influence cannot come at the detriment of their rights -- that is, you can actively convey the benefits of your beliefs and the negative aspects of failing to adhere to them, but you cannot determine the choices of another individual to believe in your personal religious structure. Rhetorical argument is one thing -- forceful adherence is another, and should never be deemed acceptable.

There is no definitive answer as to which religion is the best -- and the majority opinion, though worth a certain amount of respect within society, cannot be said to be “true” without clear-cut evidence proving so. As a Christian, I feel that my religious beliefs are superior to all others, and that the tenets I live by are the truths that all others should live by as well. But my rationale for my assertion is the same rationale that a Muslim individual might have, or that a Jewish person might posit, or even an atheist might suggest. In short, my “proof” of Christianity being the proper belief to follow is the same that all other beliefs have provided, and is hardly “proof” at all.

This isn’t to say that all religious structures that lack proper evidence are wrong; on the contrary, it provides for us the fact that no belief structure can truly ever be proven false (at least in the eyes of those who hold onto specific beliefs). The falsifiability of all religious organizations, however, requires us to treat each structure as equal to the next. Just as Christianity cannot be proven false, so too Shintoism cannot be proven false, nor Judaism, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or atheism.

So does religious belief deserve a place in our political dialogues? It does -- if it’s done so in a proper way. My Christian morals, for example, are part of the reason why I support a single payer health care system. But my morals must be applicable to everyone involved in the debate, if not for politeness’ sake then for practicality. My belief in a Christian God won’t justify the moral obligation to treat those in need to an atheist; and yet it’s possible that the two can have a common belief that those in need deserve access to adequate care. When framed in those terms, religion can transcend a singular morality to affect the beliefs of a multitude of different faiths.

Another question that often gets asked is whether government should subsidize religion when a faith-based initiative can do good for a community. This is a source of contention within the liberal community itself -- any special favors granted towards a religious belief is seen by many as an endorsement, but at the same time if the faith-based initiative does good for others in a non-religious way we shouldn’t necessarily dismiss it automatically. A program to boost blood donations within a community, for example, sponsored by a local church organization, shouldn’t be denied assistance from any government if the program itself is secular in nature.

The moment the program starts to involve religious matters, however (such as requiring those who give blood to listen to Scripture during the procedure), a church-and-state conflict arises. Money shouldn’t be dispensed to religious organizations if it will be spent disseminating the group’s beliefs or practices; no church-and-state conflict exists, however, if the religious organization doesn’t require those that participate in a government-funded program to be persuaded one way or another on their specific tenets.

Religion and politics are hard to talk about because they happen to be two separate subjects that people tend to be sensitive over to begin with. Combine the two, and the sensitivities of those involved are elevated. It shouldn’t be this way, however, and if a debate is to be had, it should be held openly with respect for all beliefs present within the dialogue.

Both religion and politics have their places within society -- oftentimes, the two intersect. But when they do, we shouldn’t shy away from open discussion, shouldn’t halt the debate on the merits of one belief over the other, but rather embrace the idea that a multitude of belief structures can possibly come together to form a consensus on certain matters.

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