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Author Topic: How does your faith co-exist with government?  (Read 1357 times)

Leaf2001br

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How does your faith co-exist with government?
« on: April 19, 2006, 08:21:12 PM »
This is actually an offshoot of the same-sex marriage thread that I thought was worthy of its own thread.  On that thread, deltaHUSL posted: "i disagree with it on a moral basis as a catholic, but if the court finds the right to privacy covers it, so be it."
I found being confronted with this kind of decision interesting, especially in today's political climate, so I responded (below) before just deciding to paste it here on a new thread.



deltauHUSL,
How do you personally deal with your religious beliefs being abridged when it comes to the rights of others?  As a law student you surely must also have some appreciation for the importance of individual rights.  I'm just curious how you manage to balance this conflict.  Or anyone of any religion for that matter.

Just so you know where I am coming from, I am personally about as non-religious as they come.  I think that the singlemost tangible effect of organized religion is divisiveness and the ironic spread of hate through conflicting messages of love.  I believe that morality exists independently of religion and is not necessarily a product of it.  Please understand that I would never push this view on anyone and I afford all due respect to those who choose to practice an organized religion. My own grandparents have both gone to church and Sunday school their whole lives and I don't think I will ever meet their equal in terms of selflessness and compassion for others. Yet the nuts and bolts of organized religion is not something that I can fully understand.

Anyway, what I really want to know is how someone of faith in America reconciles this belief with a belief in American government.  There are many very outspoken Christians these days   but unfortunately many of them are also relatively uneducated so it's often hard to get a truly objective viewpoint.  This is just my experience so please don't take it the wrong way.  I know this is not ALL Christians.  It is just a simple fact that most of any population is not going to be college-educated and Christianity just happens to be the majority religion in this country. I know that there ARE also educated people who are religious which is what I assume you to be.  It just follows that since there are fewer educated people there are also fewer religious educated people.

So anyway, I am just curious.  To admit to holding Catholic beliefs while at the same time giving deference to the judicial system (though I don't think same-sex marriage is necessarily a right to privacy issue) is an interesting point of view. And what about sharing space with others of differing religious beliefs?

I understand that this can be a delicate subject and as you can probably tell, I'm trying to be as respectful as possible.  I think intelligent law school students are mature enough to have this discussion so have at it.  I am really interested in hearing opinions from students of the law who also have faith in a religion, so I hope it doesn't turn into bashing.  If that happens, it will only drive away those whose opinion I want to hear in the first place. 
"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G

Leaf2001br

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2006, 11:08:38 PM »
By the way just for clarification, I am generally thinking of at least college-educated when I say "educated", I understand this is relative.

Actually, I was trying to say that there are more uneducated people in general, whether religious or not, and that it is a mere accident that Christianity is the majority religion in this country.  As a result, the most often-voiced opinions I tend to come across are those of uneducated Christians.  I was essentially trying to defuse any link between the two because I am not saying there is one, and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea.  If there is a link, I am certainly not trying to claim one, at least not a causal one.

As far as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the like, maybe so, but I was referring more to people I encounter everyday, not so much the media stars.  It's difficult to establish an accurate sampling either way and I don't want to make generalizations, but I will say that it appears that those who are most vocal, protesting, etc. often seem to me to be lesser educated.  Before I start upsetting some of the educated Christians, this isn't exactly where I wanted to go with this so let me change direction.  (This all arose from my attempted disclaimer!)

The real opinions I am interested in are not just the ever-touchy Christian issues of school prayer, evolution, abortion, same-sex marriages, etc.  But also things like the original Catholic poster I responded to who was ultimately willing to defer to a judicial decision on same-sex marriages even though his religion forbids it.  Can a religion really be piecemeal in that way?  Is it not an all-or-nothing belief that requires the existence of only one God?  Most would compromise and say of course not.  But if that is the case, does it not indicate that religion is ultimately a personal experience and not an almighty one?  Shouldn't a true believer feel charged to dispel or convert non-believers?  By no means do I mean to limit this to Christianity, though it probably makes the most readily-available example.

I also wonder why certain more popular religious moral beliefs tend to carry more weight than others.  Such as why the Christian lobby believes that stem-cell research is murder while simulataneously supporting a war-mongering administration.  And whether Muslims, Jews, and Christians really believe that their beliefs will bring peace on earth when it seems that sticking to these beliefs seems to in fact be the biggest barrier to peace on earth.

Also, the religious right, who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, are always the most opposed to taxation and social services for the needy.  One might argue that they make contributions in other ways, such as to the church.  Is the church more efficient at allocating resources than a representative government?  Perhaps some believe that it is.

I also have never understood how one "selects" the religion of their choice as the answer to the universe's mysteries.  Is this not mere chance related to where you live geographically?    From my observations it seems that organized religion is merely handed down from one's parents.  Surely this correlation is unavoidable even for the staunchest believer.

And how strong is the correlation between morality and religion?  Is Pat Robertson morally good?  Is George Bush?  Is Ghandi?  Are Catholic priests?  Osama Bin Laden?  What do followers believe would happen if they renounced their faith? What would the prophets of the great religions say about the United States if they were here today?

I have many questions like this, but I suppose that's quite enough for now.  As you see, this topic can shift broadly to the spiritual, poltical, moral, psychological, legal, historical, etc.  So I'll back off a bit until someone nudges it towards a more narrow scope. 

Once again, it is not my intention at all to offend or judge.  My point of view, though I believe it to be firmly objective, is merely my own.
"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G

Leaf2001br

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2006, 12:32:14 AM »
Well nate, I'm starting to think we should have named this thread "Who likes titties?".  It would have been a lot less lonely here anyway!
"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G

Jumboshrimps

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2006, 03:44:02 PM »
I, also operating under the influence of a the threat of a looming Contracts II exam, shall respond so as to avoid the treachery of the Uniform Commercial Code, and all of its "reasonableness" tomfoolery.

Religious Americans don't attempt to reconcile their religious beliefs with thier government. Rather, they either work to make government more like their religion (at best), or they eat Taco Bell while complaining about how their government is not more like their religion (at second-best).

In all seriousness, the line between religion and government, while complicated, is really a fiction. If you trace America to its origins, you can identify two general sets of ideals which led to the "New World," the Revolution, and beyond. The first set is the tradionally "religious" set of ideals- belief on God(s), puritanism, celibacy, temperance, honesty, faith, loyalty, the Golden Rule, etc. The second set includes those concepts which we identify as peculiarly American- Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of happiness, democracy, intellectual freedom, physical freedom, ambition checking ambition, free commerce, etc. Comparing these lists, once has to notice that the similarities are more striking than the differences. I'll put it this way: when you think about the golden rule, and then think about the right to liberty, do your emotions travel to a similar place? Now, if the origin of these two sets of ideals is similar on an idividual level, how can we say that they now deserve distinctly separate treatment when it comes to living by them?

If I believe in the pursuit of happiness because it affects the very essence of humanity, should I refuse to discuss it with the pope because it is inapropriately secular?

If I believe in Zeus and all his mighty powers, should I be ashamed to say so at a city council meeting because my belief is inappropriately religious?

But the proof is in the political pudding. No American who has been paying attention lately could point at the President and say "look at that nonreligious man who makes decisions without regard to ideals and values." Nor could one point to Congress and say "there is our legislative body. They make decisions based entirely on logic, economics, and the needs of Americans, never on beliefs, principles, or ideals. But, perhaps most poignant... Antonin Scalia...

lalala

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2006, 06:50:13 PM »
My short answer (with finals also looming over my head):

"What is legal is not always right; what is right is not always legal."  It is possible to believe very strongly that something is immoral (e.g., gay marriage) but respect government authorities who decide that it is legal.

Those of us who come from religious traditions that emphasize free will see a great correlation between free will and the very traditional American ideals of liberty.  God has given us free will, and we are free to choose our own path -- sin or virtue. You cannot force a person to live righteously.  Encourage, yes, but not force.  The choice belongs to each individual.

Jumboshrimps

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2006, 07:12:11 PM »
"What is legal is not always right; what is right is not always legal."  It is possible to believe very strongly that something is immoral (e.g., gay marriage) but respect government authorities who decide that it is legal.


Possible, yes. But not very practical, and definitely not very American. Our particular form of government actually depends on our becoming "squeaky wheels," otherwise we'll never get the "grease." Hence, the difference between our beliefs and our government is one of political force.

Of course, if you mean that we respect the law because otherwise we lose our liberty (go to jail), I agree. Or are you suggesting that Americans would respect the law if not coerced into doing so by law enforcement?

Wild Jack Maverick

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2006, 07:29:53 PM »
ah, well. I'm not religious either. I think if someone wants to practice unbiased law, the person should avoid religion.

Otherwise, you have Jews defending Muslims, Muslims upset about the Zionist judges, Christian judges who don't really understand where the Jews are coming from and who really don't like the Muslims. The Christians and Muslims think the Scientologists are crazy, the Jews are all going to Hell, and who don't understand the Buddhists and Hindus at all. The Baptists don't like the Mormons, the Methodists don't like the Jehovah's Witnesses, ---and basically a court room full of various religions cannot be unbiased; it would also make it difficult to find a jury of actual peers.

Now, what about religion in the Supreme Court? Are our Justices really unbiased? Are they lawyers first, Justices first, or advocates of their religions first?

Now, I'm not saying that some religious people are not good lawyers or judges. In fact, only those with some experience in such matters would understand clients and their religious persuations and beliefs. However, religious people are often concerned more with morality and rightness and wrongness, not laws and legality. As someone once told me, some of the most religious and moral people are incarcerated. Just because a guy wouldn't cheat his partner or cheat on his wife doesn't mean that he wouldn't intentionally rape or murder someone.



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yukongold

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2006, 08:43:49 PM »
My God tells me not to vote for Bush and to dislike Cheney.

Leaf2001br

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2006, 01:20:52 AM »
Also very busy studying, but I think nate is hitting on the more narrow issues I think are more interesting, although the broader background on the general relationships between religion and government are certainly not irrelevant. 
I feel like many people (at least in this country) use the politically untouchable sanctity of religion for credibility in reinforcing only the values they choose to believe in, while disregarding the stance of their religion on views they personally disagree with, or at least are indifferent about.  Isn't this a bit underhanded?  If you are truly "pro-life" because you subscribe to the teachings of Jesus, (not to pick on Christians in particular) can you really decide that certain people need to die in order to preserve your nation's supremacy?  Or can you face your faith about supporting slashed taxes while children down the street from you go hungry?  Am I the only one who notices that the politicians who cultivate support from a religious base do not mention religion (or even morality) when it comes to taxing (or rather not taxing) the disposable income of the wealthiest society in the world?

As lala said, Jesus did not advocate avoiding Caesar's taxes.  Would he also endorse Caesar in his military invasions?  Can you truly use religion as an authority for only those values that fit conveniently in your lavishly wealthy lifestyle? (by human standards that is, unless you prefer not to count *all* humans).  Isn't there something in the Bible about casting the first stone, etc? 

I have really tried, but I just can't seem to understand the message.  I have heard the phrase "What would would Jesus do?".  But I don't think I have ever seen anyone who says this actually do what Jesus would do.

Of course I assume all religions have similar incongruities, which is why I believe religion itself is an outdated concept that counters human cooperation.  Is there something I am missing here?  Is it evil to think about trying another approach for everyone's benefit?  Should a single religion dictate whether same-sex couples may marry, whether stem cells should be used to cure disease, whether planes should be crashed into buildings, or what should be taught to children in a public school?  Am I going to burn in the center of the earth for asking these questions?

All opinions welcome.
"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G

Leaf2001br

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Re: How does your faith co-exist with government?
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2006, 04:24:18 PM »
Well giving up all religion is an incredible leap that I don't really see as realistic.  Religion still plays a role in even the most advanced societies today.  It plays an even greater role in less developed countries, which still make up a majority of mankind.  Eliminating religion "cold turkey" if you will, is something people just aren't ever going to be ready for, and is proabably likely to elicit backlash.  However I do think that beginning with the more developed developed societies, a decrease in the relevance of religion is a possibility.  I think that it already goes without saying that most people are less religious than they were 100 or even 50 years ago.

I think what is really important to realize though is that religion is ultimately a personal experience.  It is institutionalized religion that I see as problematic.  There is no reason why anyone should be entitled to their own personal philosophical beliefs.  What tends to frighten me is the recent reversal in repect for secular government in certain places, no where moreso than in the United States, although there is a strong minority fundamentalist movement in many Muslim nations like Pakistan as well, though it seems nowhere near strong enough to result in a religious revolution like the one in Iran in 1979(?).  In fact, the Islamic government in Iran may even be losing support as most obsevers see a generational disconnect with the younger generation which seems much more interested in secular freedoms and individuality than fundamental Islamic tradition.  Remember, up until the 1970's Iran was one of the most progressive Muslim states in the world.  If it weren't for the meddling of the U.S. and western nations, things might have been quite different.  However, as is true anywhere, young people are not the ones in power.

The step I think needs to be taken is a reduction in in the importance of religion in government.  This may seem like an obvious statement, yet many Americans do not embrace this view, including at times the current administration who has openly admitted to relying on the Christian faith and prayer in deciding where and how to commit our fighting men and women.  Surely people of faith can understand why this is so frightening for others who don't share the same faith, not to mention the soldiers who don't.
 
Solution: a secular compromise?
Perhaps a prohibition on religion-specific campaign platforms for politicians would be helpful.  Just as the Constitution does not allow religion-specific icons in government buildings, maybe they should not be allowed in government campaign ads either.  This would allow voters to make decisions based on empirical solution oriented platforms and not vague ideas of faith.  A similar prohibition on religion-specific lobbies might be an efficient means to this end as well (Admittedly, I am not a big fan of lobbies in general).  This does not mean that voters could not continue to support candidates who are pro-life, or anti-same-sex marriages, or even for that matter, strongly religious.  It simply means that the justification for these views would be based in moral and practical beliefs, as opposed to Christian beliefs, for example.  Voters may very well continue to make decisions because they are Christian, but not because the candidate is Christian, if you follow me.  All the voter knows is that they share similar moral beliefs.  I understand the reality of this and that most people will know what the candidate's faith is, but they wouldn't be able to advertise that as an issue.  Just like you know what a candidate's ethnicity is, but it would not be healthy for them to campaign on the isolated fact of their race.  It would also free up candidates to be competitive on platforms such as pro-life/anti-war or pro-life/pro-environment.  I would think both of these examples would be appealing to true Christians, but they are currently unrealistic options as long as religion remains intermingled with party politics. 

Through this process religion would still be tolerated, but it would encourage religion to remain personal, which it should be.  I believe this would help to downplay religious tensions and at least somewhat reduce the effect of people voting blindly based on religious affiliation alone instead of on specific issues.  I am sure that most people of faith would not want those of another faith imposing it on them.  When you impose on government, you impose on us all. 

I am curious to hear what issues anyone of faith might have with such an implementation.  Do you feel it is fair?  Would you consider it an imposition on your rights, or simply a protection of the rights of others?  What kind of effects do you think it would have on voting patterns?
"What is Legal?  What is Illegal?  What is 'Barely Legal'?"  - Ali G