Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why it's a Bad Idea to Mix Policy with Religion

(more playing catch up)

First example, the recent release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi. On the surface the decision for release sounds reasonable given the circumstance. And you could argue that it’s better to err on the side of compassion (you only need to point towards the debate over the world’s view of the US during the Bush administration to see how important “good will” is to many). However, the pomp and circumstance when he landed in Libya tells the rest of the story. I don’t know if there was a backroom deal or not. But by releasing al Megrahi, the UK gave Libya a bargaining chip and a boost to their own patriotic ego. In that context, I don’t think the cost was worth the price of being compassionate.

In the second example, a family is denied adoption because they are atheists. There’s nothing about this case that makes sense to me, from the family waiting 17 years after their first adoption to adopt again (I’m sorry, but for personal reasons I take adoption very seriously), to the legal statute being used to deny this second adoption. It is an interesting statement in the state Constitution, but if applied broadly would give child-welfare agencies the right to remove children from non-believing households. Where do you draw the line? If a family misses church two Sundays in a row, can the state take custody of their children? That’s as ridiculous as that right being applied in this case. You could even go so far as to call this judge an “activist judge”, but that rhetoric only comes from one side of the spectrum. So it’s unlikely you’ll see this decision derided by those who rail against judicial activism.

In both cases, the prevailing religious motive has some merit, but the application is not thought about broadly or long term. Religion has no place guiding policy. There, I said it. However, religion informs morality which can, does, and should guide policy. Yet the application needs to be weighed against the broader context of a democratic, pluralistic society. The problem with either the Religious Right or Religious Left is that this thought process is in the wrong order. For the religious politician, politics informs religion which then guides policy. Note how this is circular. The Christ-like way should look like this instead: morality informs religion (see the change in order) which guides action. The notion that morality defines religion, not vice-versa, is foreign to American Christianity ™ and thus confuses the religion-in-politics debate.

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs..." (2 Timothy 2:3-4a)

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