Friday, July 26, 2013
Some thoughts on separation of church and state
It has recently struck me how many liberals have spoken in favor of getting rid of laws with a religious basis. In the name of separation of church and state, many liberals try to get rid of laws against gay marriage by pointing to the religious basis of many arguments supporting them.
This seems to me a fundamentally flawed interpretation of separation of church and state, for the following reason: Many laws supported by atheists and agnostics are, for many people, grounded in religious belief. The Ten Commandments say "Thou shalt not kill" (the basis of laws against murder), "Thou shalt not steal" (the basis for laws against theft), and "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (the basis for laws against perjury). If we were to discard any law with a religious basis, we would have to do away with laws against theft, perjury, and murder, which are supported largely on the basis of religion. The harm to society of doing such is self-evident, and so clearly, discarding laws with a religious basis is unwise.
It might be objected that such laws can be opposed on non-religious grounds. But I would dispute this as well - and before my atheist and agnostic friends do the online equivalent of stomping out of the room dismissively, ask yourselves if you can measure morality objectively the way you can distance, time, or temperature. Is there a yardstick, a ruler, a stopwatch, or a thermometer that can quantify how moral something is? Can we say that stealing from a candy store is five units of moral good or evil, or fifty, or five hundred?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you will see that the quantitative methods of hard science, despite their value, are of no use in such measurements. Something else is required - a faith in an intangible, so to speak. And what is this but religion?
Anyone that makes value judgments - such as gay marriage is good, or opposing it is wrong - is being religious. Few atheists or agnostics will admit this, of course, but I've yet to meet one who could refrain from value judgments for an hour, let alone permanently. Their opinions on everything ranging from politics to Christianity to music testify of their faith in an intangible - namely, values. As my wise father once said, "All people are religious, but not all of them know it."
So the idea that theft, perjury, or murder could be opposed on non-religious grounds is, to me, absurd. The minute you speak of such things as "wrong," "harmful," "immoral," "unethical," or "unwise," you are entering the realm of religion. The interpretation of separation of church and state saying that any law with a religious basis should be opposed is thus fundamentally flawed, and should be rejected without shame in the rejection's religious basis. The irresistible human urge to put faith in intangible values should be considered as a source of pride, and worn as a badge of honor. And this concludes my discourse on the separation of church and state.
The First Amendment: Protecting religion from government (and not the other way around)