The proper interaction of religion and politics (or government, which is what politics is mainly about) is an important question and hotly debated in the blogosphere. However, much of the debate tends to be dogmatic. Those who are "religious" seem to argue that religion is good while those who are not religious seem to argue that religion is bad. I have occasionally expressed the view that when I get promoted to God, and have to decide what scourges to eliminate, I will first look at religion and cancer and then eliminate religion first, because it has done more harm than has cancer. I now have a few doubts about this position, and the purpose of this article is to stimulate some discussion of the matter.
A suit was recently filed claiming that the Federal Government
violated the Constitution by contracting [with] a Roman Catholic entity to help victims of human trafficking.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was imposing its beliefs on victims of human trafficking by not allowing federal grant money to be used for contraception or abortion. . . .
The suit asks the court to stop the department from allowing its grants being spent in a way that is restricted by religious beliefs.
Contracting with a religious organization to provide humanitarian assistance which is consistent with its religions doctrines, even though the organization declines to provide ancillary services which are inconsistent with those doctrines, strikes me as neither bad or unlawful; there are doubtless many other organizations, religious and otherwise, willing to augment the organization's services along those lines. More to the point, I don't understand how Governmental support for an organization which declines to do something contrary to its religious beliefs (as distinguished from insisting on doing something solely religious in nature) constitutes anything approaching an establishment of religion. The situation would be quite different if an organization required, for example, that recipients of Governmentally supported benefits attend mass, confess their sins, or pray in order to receive those benefits. Still, there must be some valid basis for the notion that religious doctrine should have absolutely no impact on Government. Right?
This subject cannot reasonably be discussed (should that even be possible) without first attempting a working definition of religion. That is difficult, because it is quite easy to be excessively inclusive or exclusive. The following attempt at definition is based primarily on my perceptions of Christianity because, although I am not one, I think I have a better understanding of Christianity than of any other religion. And, of course, in the United States Christianity is at the moment and has historically been the most widely professed (if not all that widely followed) religion. For the purposes of discussion, Christianity will serve as an exemplar for religion, although it is not the most widely professed in the world. This is also useful because for most of us Judeo-Christian tradition is probably the most familiar.
My offered definition is:
A dogmatic attachment to and acceptance based solely on faith of statements of "fact" as expressed in or somehow derived from a Holy Text or other recognized authority, such as the Old and New Testaments, the Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed, coupled with specified moral prescriptions and proscriptions, such as those expressed in the Ten Commandments and in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Some moral prescriptions and proscriptions are taken more seriously than others, but nevertheless widely recited. This also appears to be true of the dogmatic but amoral beliefs. Expressions of the dogmatic beliefs seem not to change very often, although some of the moral views do change somewhat with time.
The moral precepts of religion in the United States appear to have a far greater impact on social issues than do the related dogmatic precepts. The doctrine of the Trinity, although an integral component of Christianity, appears to have little if anything to do with practical morality or how people interact. The other doctrinal teachings seem to have equally little to do with practical morality, with the exception of the existence and purposes of Heaven and Hell. These are seen as rewards and punishments for good and bad moral conduct, and hopes and fears of going there can be powerful inducements toward morality for those who seriously believe in them.