Politics without Religion is Futile
Alongside an increasingly secularized society, American liberalism has begun an all too familiar chant: religion has no place in politics.
This could not be further from the truth.
Without religion, politics is aimed arbitrarily and easily misguided.
The argument over whether and how religion informs politics often runs into a similar question from political philosophy: should governments strive to achieve order or right order? For this question, order is basically the absence of chaos. For a country to be in a state of order, it must be able to enforce its laws. Whether the laws are good or bad does not matter. Right order is achieved when a country is able to enforce laws that promote the common good.
Although some argue that government should strive exclusively for order, nearly all political beliefs are held in pursuit of the right order. For example, the abolition movement was aimed at achieving the right order instead of merely order. Society was already in a state of order under the current regime, but abolitionists wanted to overcome the lack of justice arising out of the institution of slavery. Ultimately, politics should be the search and debate for what the right order is.
Those who believe that government ought to focus solely on attaining order typically argue that morality is not for the government to decide but for individuals. This concept is self-defeating. When asking why government ought to do anything, opponents of the right order theory necessarily enter into a moral discussion. Even saying that government should achieve and maintain order so that humans can do what they wish is a moral viewpoint that people should be free to utilize their own conscience to make their own moral decisions.
Order is necessary to achieve right order. It is the first step in the process of achieving right order. But for a society that is not in constant chaos, the focus moves from attaining mere order to how to utilize that order to achieve true justice. The question then is how to determine what laws are good and would promote the “right order.”
To arrive at what the right order is, individuals make judgments based on their moral beliefs. For religious individuals, the right order is premised on moral precepts derived from their religion. For agnostic or atheistic individuals, the question of right order is still a question guided by morality. Even if their system of morality is not one premised on the existence of a higher power, they still import that morality into law. For example, the claim that people should be able to marry whichever sex partner they would like is a moral argument premised on freedom and equality.
The lack of a deity does not make their moral system any more worthy of being implemented in law. In fact, since their underlying moral system is based on an incorrect or incomplete premise, it is less worthy of being implemented. To say that a moral system can only be used for politics if it does not believe in a higher power has no support. Perhaps agnostics and atheists would argue that a belief in a deity is wrong, so it is less worthy of being instituted as law. But that is a blog post for another time. Other than this attack on the validity of the premise (of a higher power), there is no reason to keep religious beliefs from informing politics.
Trying to separate religion and politics is based partially on a fundamental misconception of what religion is. Modern secularists view religion as a way to help people find “their” truth so they can attain individual happiness. This is not what religion is. Religion is a search for objective truths about statements that are either universally correct or not. Examples include how the universe came into existence, the divinity of Christ, and the characteristics of God.
People conflate religion with individual feelings, but religion actually purports to answer questions that are as true and universal as the questions answered by science. Clearly, scientific observations about universal truth should make their way into the political decision making process. They help us be informed so we can better pass laws that are effective in achieving their goal. Religious truths that are objectively correct deserve the same political consideration as scientific truths that are objectively correct. Sure, a belief based on religion can be incorrect just as a belief based on science. But that is the ultimate goal of debate: to strive to achieve the objective truth. Once the objective truth is found, it should be implemented. For individuals who are certain of the objective truth as derived through religion, they should absolutely import those beliefs into the political realm. (As an aside, this is one reason why Catholics who say they believe that a fetus is a person and abortion is morally wrong but should be decided by the woman make no sense. We use law to exert moral power over other people based on moral beliefs all the time (murder, rape, robbery). To say “yes, the fetus is 100% a person in my view, but you should be free to decide whether it is a person to you” is the equivalent to saying “yes, the 40 year old woman in perfect health who spends all her time volunteering is a person in my view, but you should be free to decide whether it is a person to you.” Obviously, this is not the only pro-choice argument (though I find none convincing), but it is the most nonsensical).
One fallback argument by those wanting to keep religion out of politics is that the US Constitution requires the “separation of Church and State.” This argument is an oversimplification of what appears in the Constitution. The words “separation of Church and State” do not appear in the Constitution. This vague phrase refers to two parts of the First Amendment. First, the government may not pass a law for the “establishment of religion.” Second, the government may not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion.
People incorrectly assume from these provisions that religion and politics must be completely separate. Clearly, the free exercise clause does not categorically prevent law from being guided by religion. A law based on religion that hinders someone else’s free exercise would be unconstitutional, but that would be the only type of unconstitutional law under that provision. This provision does not require keeping religion out of politics. It requires keeping politics out of religion.
Opponents of religion informing law would more likely point to the establishment clause. They may argue that instituting laws based on religious and moral beliefs would be prohibited because it would go to furthering the moral authority of that religion. This criticism fails on two fronts. First, this is not the type of scenario that was supposed to be prevented by the First Amendment. The First Amendment prevents the government from adopting an official religion of the state and places funding restrictions on government payments to religious bodies. These prohibitions do not mean that the law cannot be based on a certain system of morality. The second failure of using the establishment clause to prevent the use of a religious moral system is discussed above. In order to pursue “right” order, some system of morality must be used. It does not matter if that system of morality is based on the belief in a deity or not. This provision does not prevent any moral belief arising out of “religion” from becoming law. As such, the Constitution in no way requires “keeping religion out of politics.”
To keep religion out of politics would be applying a different standard to moral systems premised on the existence of a deity. Doing so would be arbitrary unless the objective truths espoused by the religion are incorrect.
As such, the discussion must turn to three fundamental questions:
1) Does a deity exist?
2) If so, what does that deity want humans to do?
3) How should the law best be tailored to achieving what that deity wants humans to achieve?
In this way, religion’s place in politics is essential to creating the best laws. Without religion, politics is randomly aimed with no guarantee of reaching the right answer.