Check It at the Door, Please

I’m officially sick of reading about religion in the political news.

This was the straw that broke this camel’s back: New Pope Could Influence Political Life in America. That’s the headline of a column by Adam Nagourney in yesterday’s NY Times, discussing Catholics’ role in American politics, which of course follows dozens? hundreds? of stories—especially when one adds in television coverage—examining the increasing role of religion in American politics and the alleged mandate given the president by religious conservatives. (And now I see the President will be attending the Pope’s funeral, even though he has yet to attend a single funeral of a fallen American soldier.) Although I’m all too aware of the church’s history of interference in political issues, the question is why, in a country that grants and protects freedom of religion, yet makes a provision for the separation of church and state, does the Christian church—in all its forms and denominations—continue to try to stick its big nose into the political sphere, and why do we, as a country, continue to engage the escalating noise coming from the religious? Religion simply shouldn’t play any role in the public discourse.

Despite its dodgy history of political activism, religion is meant only to inform the morality and ethics of its adherents, who can then bring their principles with them into the public (governmental) sphere—while leaving their religion behind. Easier said than done, Shakespeare’s Sister, someone, surely, will tell me, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s true.

You see, one of the things that irks me about the religious is that god-fearing people tend to decide what they believe, then shop around for a religion that suits. It’s rarely, in my experience, that someone tries to discern an objective truth about religious laws and beliefs and then adjusts their behavior accordingly. Rather, behaviors and beliefs are formed, either within or outwith a religious context, and then a denomination is chosen based on its ability to approximate the chooser’s existing beliefs. And even then, passages of the holy text of choice which conflict with personal values are generally ignored, with preference given to teachings that reinforce preexisting opinions. Hence, religion’s all-too-common role as a justification for ingrained beliefs.

I know this isn’t categorically true of all religious people, and I don’t mean to suggest that it is, but it’s true of enough people (and examples of those who can do just as I'm suggesting are plentiful enough) that I find specious the claim that a religious person cannot enter the public sphere and leave one’s religion behind.

The problem, obviously, is that we’ve permitted religion to become untrumpable. No amount of rational or scientific evidence is allowed to supersede faith, and simply by virtue of being “religious” is one assumed, even within the public sphere, to be a good person, even if they are resolutely unethical. There is no regard for a personal moral code derived from earthly sources; an atheist will never be president, in spite of the fact that someone who seeks to be a good person purely out of respect for other people, without promise of eternal reward, is arguably more altruistic.

Though it is not my personal choice, I won’t identify defining one’s sense of right and wrong using religion as intrinsically faulty; I do, however, strongly believe that the belief system one brings into the public sphere, even if molded and informed by religion, should be able to stand on its own without invoking its source. If you have no other justification for your political position than “God says so,” it doesn’t belong in the public sphere. Not in this country.

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