February 4, 2007

Politics and Religion, Part 1

This is a great post from Preemptive Karma. I'm linking to it because I think this is something all Christians in the public arena should think about.

However, I would go even further than Becky. I believe people who call themselves Christian should not be involved in politics at all. For myself, I have never voted, and while I definitely have opinions (obviously, or I wouldn't be here!) I don't think the existence of an opinion makes anyone special. Hey, we all got 'em, just like anuses. Unfortunately, the peculiar penchant of Christians (and other religions for that matter, but in this country we're mostly talking about Christianity) to assume their way of thinking is the One True Faith makes mixing religion and politics very problematic--and, frankly, dangerous.

Please understand, I'm not slamming anybody for believing. If we don't think our beliefs are the Real Deal, why bother? But there's a big difference between talking about what you believe--and even then, I think it behooves you to be careful, lest you come across as a proselytizing jackass; respecting the listener and above all, knowing when to shut up are the requirements--and trying to legislate it.

This is where anyone calling themselves Christian needs to bow out, and fast. In my mind, there are three reasons for this.

a) it doesn't work.
b) it cheapens your faith.
c) Jesus Christ--you know, that fellow you claim to follow?--did not tell his disciples to do this; in fact, he said exactly the opposite, and the life he lived proved his intent.

Let's take these reasons one by one. (I was going to do this all in one post, but I can already see it's going to veer into too long; didn't read territory. So I'll do (a) today, and give the other reasons their own entries.)

a) Legislating religious beliefs Does Not Work.

I'm not talking about basic ethics every society on earth has shown, no matter what gods they worship. Prohibitions against murder, rape, stealing, child abuse, and so forth are agreed on by everybody, even those who believe in no gods at all. Where we get into difficulties are the grey areas religion brings into the picture.

A classic example is abortion, which incorporates two of the basic ethics listed above: murder and child abuse. The questions abortion turn on are 1) whether or not the embryo is a person; and 2) if so, does this person (quasi-person, in my mind) outweigh the complete person that is the mother.

For most Christians, the matter is settled. The Bible states life is precious to God, which is actually a reasonable position for the Creator of the universe to take, seeing as zie made everything. However, what militant pro-life Christians forget (and this is so basic, I feel silly having to point it out) is that not everybody believes in the Bible or God. If you do, fine. If you don't, someone telling you that you can't have an abortion because of the way God feels about it, when you don't even accept that God exists, is absurd.

(I know there are some atheist groups who are also against abortion, and some religious opposers try to tone down the rhetoric by saying, "Human life is precious." Which it is. But if you don't believe the embryo's life is precious and/or important, then I don't think anyone has the right to force you to behave otherwise.)

Therefore, Christianity's rules should apply only to those who want to accept them, and no one else. Remember--as I wrote before--God wants willing worshipers. In the end, we are responsible only for ourselves. This would rule out someone's trying to force a tenet of Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) on society at large.

I've heard some trying to sidestep this point by claiming that *insert country here* is a Christian nation, founded by Christian men, said country is favored by God, and because it is, we have a duty to follow God's rules. This is also absurd. Without getting into too much theology here (that's going to be later) Christ did not tell his disciples to go forth and establish countries. What he did say was this.

"Therefore, go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)

So people in every nation are acceptable to God. Zie is not dealing with countries, but individuals. There is no "Christian" nation, and anyone trying to legislate this country--or any other--into one is contradicting what Christ intended.

This isn't to say that Christians can't accomplish a great deal of good out of the political sphere. Obviously they can and do, and I think we would garner a helluva lot more respect if we concentrated on helping people rather than attempting to force our beliefs on others. Each side might even learn to respect and tolerate the other, which is certainly not happening now. We can have good ethics and standards in this country without imposing Christianity upon it.

Of course, this might lead to (gasp!) a secular humanist government. If it does, so what? It's not going to change what I believe, or how I live my life. But if I don't want anyone who doesn't believe as I do forcing their non-belief on me, then I am duty-bound to respect their desire not to impose my standards on them. Any student of history, and human nature, knows that it doesn't work--the basic human desire to think for oneself will always reject it. It seems to me, then, that Christians should take the hint and stay the hell out of the political kitchen.

(Parts II and III to follow.)


Rootietoot said...

I am so incredibly glad I found your site.

Anonymous said...

You started with an interesting premise, that christians should not be involved in politics at all. I am sometimes of that viewpoint as well. I share your disgust at how many pro-lifers have tried to use politics as an avenue to force people to stop abortions (which is morally wrong according to them). But I wanted to ask you if you also wish liberal/leftist christians were less involved in politics as well? Should Sojourners be distributing guidelines on how to vote (advising christians to assess candidates based on certain principles)? It seems to me that Jesus was neither a hierarchist nor a feminist, a pro-lifer nor a pro-choicer, etc. So when you say Christians in politics should bow out, are you talking all christians (including the ones who share your political/social values) or just the ones you don't agree with?