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Sacred Texts and Public Policy - Bedfellows or Archenemies?

Separation of Church and State does not mean that those who hold to positions on stem cell research, abortion, foreign policy and alike should find non-religious reasons for those positions. So argues Oliver Thomas, who wrote an article in USA Today entitled, “Would God back universal health care?” He wrote, “Mixing church and state might be inexcusable, but the influence of religion on our political views is inevitable. Accordingly, the First Amendment does not prohibit laws that reflect our religious values as long as they have a secular purpose and effect.”

It seems that others are less prepared to listen to reasoning that contains reference to deity and religious texts. Even President Obama, a professing Christian, is nervous to allow religiously motivated debate to make it to the floor. During a conference prior to the election, then Senator Obama proposed, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”
The implication of the President's rhetoric is that a religion-specific argument is not amenable to reason. On the one hand, according to Obama, we have universal values amenable to reason and on the other hand we have religion-specific values. However, could we not have religion-specific values which are also universal and reasonable? Indeed, according to many Christians, universal truth is only to be found within its own religion. Furthermore, they would argue, God is entirely reasonable, as He is the source of all reason. Therefore, the Christian can argue that ethics based on God’s revealed will are by no means unreasonable.
Secondly, religiously motivated concerns require no translation, they only require a vote. A voter who wishes to outlaw abortion due to religious conviction may vote for an official who best represents that view. The elected official must adhere to the constitution and protect the separation of church and state, but this in no way inhibits religiously motivated concerns. In defending the First Amendment and the separation of church and state, we should not redefine representative democracy. If representative democracy is the election of officials to represent the values and opinions of those who elect the official, then those values may certainly be religion-specific concerns. The elected official may also share those views due to a religious conviction.
However, as Oliver Thomas' article reveals, those with a religious motivation toward a policy do not necessarily reach the same conclusion even within a single religion. Thomas writes firmly that all three major religions in America—Christian, Jewish and Muslim—would support universal health coverage based on their sacred texts. I am writing this in a small town in the mid-west where I may not find such support for the president's health-care plan. The Christian community here are more likely to espouse small government and the churches'—not the government's—responsibility for welfare. They may also cite equally authoritative texts which provides their reasoning.
Nor should we turn the tables and require that policies are exclusively discussed in religious terms. This would be more akin to a theocracy. A country, such as the United States, should be wary of man's claims to be the voice of God on a policies such as health care. Especially if the religious position also contains an explicit agenda to form a theocratic state.
Even this scenario provides little reason to silence the religious man who opposes abortion, gay marriage or even universal health care based on his reading of scripture. As Harvard professor, Micheal Sandel argues, “I don't think we should constrain, or rule out, any sources of moral argument, whether informed by faith traditions or whether they may be purely secular.” Sandel argues that it is not a question of ruling out all sacred texts in debate, but a question of choosing what texts are to be treated as sacred. If one rules out religious underpinning for debate, one must find an alternative “text” or source from which to form the basis for decision making. Consequently, Sandel argues whilst turning President Obama's metaphor on its head, “I don't think that we can properly weigh and asses and take seriously the range of moral convictions that citizens bring to public life if we require some citizens to shed, as if it were an article of clothing, their moral and religious convictions before they enter the public sphere.”
For the Christian, values are nearly always, at least in part, religiously motivated and subject, not to the corrupted wisdom of man, but to the incorruptible wisdom of God. If God is without evil, and He is able to speak and reveal His wishes to us, and if we are able to understand this revelation, we would be wise to adhere and not ignore it. If man is corrupted, then we would do well to recognize our own affinity for evil and therefore our liability to make bad choices in public policy. Christians should approach the public square with their ideas, opinions and formed policies with just as much humility as conviction. The Christian should not be discounted from the legislative processes merely on account of their motivation and, just as their conviction of what is true should not lead to arrogance, the Christian's nervousness of dishonoring God with their mistaken opinion should not lead to lifelong silence.
Sandel, Michael. "What Shouldn't be Sold." Interview. Audio blog post. Philosophy Bites, 28 May 2009. Web. 27 July 2009. <>.
Thomas, Oliver. "Would God Back Universal Health Care?" USA Today 27 July 2009: 9A. Print.
Obama, Barack. "Call to Renewal." Speech. Building a Covenant for a New America Conference. Call to Renewal Building, Washington, DC. 28 June 2006. Barack Obama U.S. Senator for Illinois, 28 June 2006. Web. 23 Oct. 2008. .


Anonymous said…
Christians & "Hate" Bills

If "hate bill"-obsessed Congress [and Obama] can't protect Christians from "gays" as much as it wants to protect "gays" from Christians, will Congress be surprised if it can't protect itself from most everyone? If "hate bills" are forced on captive Americans, they'll still find ways to sneakily continue to "plant" Biblical messages everywhere. By doing so they'll hasten God's judgment on their oppressors as revealed in Proverbs 19:1. (See related web items including "David Letterman's Hate, Etc.," "Separation of Raunch and State," "Michael the Narc-Angel," "Obama Avoids Bible Verses," and "Tribulation Index becomes Rapture Index.") Since Congress can't seem to legislate "morality," it's making up for it by legislating "immorality"!