Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Establishment and Free Exercise

This is the first person I've read - Charles Krauthammer's "An Overdose of Public Piety" - who really has found the balance in the establishment vs. free exercise debate; and someone commenting on it - Rick Moran's "Drunk with Religiosity" even improved on that. For my friends at Street Prophets reading this - that it comes from the secular right is probably not going to make them happy. They, if they read it, may react like this person in the comment section at Rick's post:

It really irritated my Leftie sensibilities that Krauthammer said something rational and intelligent. I’ve gotten so used to hating his work that I had to read the column three times to make sure I didn’t miss something. It makes being radically partisan much more difficult when there’s intelligent discourse on both sides. That damn man is going make me think!
The context of all of these columns is Mike Huckabee's showing in Iowa - suddenly the secular right is coming out loaded for bear to make sure he doesn't get the Republican nomination: the venom is both interesting and predictable.

However, right now let's look at Krauthammer's main points:
Now, there's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place of religion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.
There can be no privilege for any set of ideas in the public square. As Jefferson said in the body of the "Virginia Statutes for Religious Freedom"
That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
That cuts in every direction - Jefferson's argument was in favor of absolutely free debate:
truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them
Back to Charles:
A certain kind of liberal argues that having a religious underpinning for any public policy is disqualifying because it is an imposition of religion on others. Thus, if your opposition to embryonic stem cell research comes from a religious belief in the ensoulment of life at conception, you're somehow violating the separation of church and state by making other people bend to your religion.

This is absurd. Abolitionism, civil rights, temperance, opposition to the death penalty -- a host of policies, even political movements, have been rooted for many people in religious teaching or interpretation. It's ridiculous to say that therefore abolitionism, civil rights, etc., constitute an imposition of religion on others.

Imposing religion means the mandating of religious practice. It does not mean the mandating of social policy that some people may have come to support for religious reasons.
Exactly. Before my liberal friends that read this fluff to much - notice that Krauthammer does not paint with a broad brush - and accurately portrays the position of those "certain kind of liberals". Since I have had multiple arguments on a long-term and on-going basis with this "certain kind" I can personally attest to the accuracy of the remark. Now, he adds the balance:
But a certain kind of conservative is not content to argue that a religious underpinning for a policy is not disqualifying. He insists that it is uniquely qualifying, indeed, that it confers some special status.

Romney has been faulted for not throwing at least one bone of acknowledgment to nonbelievers in his big religion speech last week. But he couldn't, because the theme of the speech was that there is something special about having your values drawn from religious faith. Indeed, faith is politically indispensable. "Freedom requires religion," Romney declared, "just as religion requires freedom."

But this is nonsense -- as Romney then proceeded to demonstrate in that very same speech
Exactly. This is where Rick Moran adds to the discussion:
But there is a huge difference between being inspired or animated in your politics by religion and thrusting your religious beliefs forward as “proof” of your superiority as a candidate. Or that your faith gives you a privileged position in a debate over public policy issues.

And that, boys and girls, is the problem with this GOP field. The Democrats have their own agenda when it comes to trying to appeal to Christians. Witness Barack Obama’s efforts in South Carolina where he staged a “Gospel-fest” featuring some of the country’s finest Gospel singers. But Obama seems to wear his faith like an old coat – comfortable and roomy. Candidates Romney and Huckabee wear their faith like a straitjacket, the tenets of which limit their worldview while binding them to positions on social issues that brook no opposition because they are based on holy writ.
Back to Krauthammer: I cannot even fault his next statement because he does not confuse faith and religion as many do:
In some times and places, religion promotes freedom. In other times and places, it does precisely the opposite,
Again, he is right - religion has done both.

His summation parallels Jefferson above and is, to me, the key quote here:
In this country, there is no special political standing that one derives from being a Christian leader like Mike Huckabee or a fervent believer like Mitt Romney. Just as there should be no disability or disqualification for political views that derive from religious sensibilities, whether the subject is civil rights or stem cells.

Now, when Rick Moran started to talk about relgion and natural law in the last part of his piece - he gave me some things to want to look at a bit closer. However, that is another diary.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly