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United We Stand - Dragging religion into politics

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

The presidential candidates are missing the point by pandering to evangelicals - revised

In the over two thousand entries on this blog, there are certain things I talk about constantly. That's not an accident, it is a politics blog and mostly reactive. Some topics come up again and again and again and again...

So when I run into things like Governor Mitt Romney's recent speech, I have this overwhelming feeling that I have been here before.

I'm a big believer in the separation of church and state. One of the reasons I started this blog was to show people that you can be a "person of faith" interested in politics and history without being a member of any of the "Big Three" monotheisms.

The way I see it, faith and religion are personal matters while politics is public. If you choose to study the Bible and try to live your life according to what you believe is demanded of you, more power to you. Honoring your faith is admirable. Demanding that I honor your faith is despicable.

That's why we need to find things we share rather than using faith to define the morality of our society. We can agree to outlaw theft and vandalism, we can't agree on marriage. We can agree that people shouldn't drive under the influence, we can't agree to ban all intoxicants. We can agree that people should be free to make their own choices, we can't agree which choices should be eliminated.

Rather than eliminating choice, we should make sure that the consequences are clear.

When I talked about the roots of government power, I told you about mala in se laws and mala prohibita laws.

Mala in se means "bad in and of itself." Something is mala in se if and only if it threatens or results in measurable damage to life, liberty, and property. Mala prohibita means "bad because it is prohibited." Something is mala prohibita if and only if the state has forbidden it. I would add regulation as well.

To prove mala in se, you have to show measurable damage. Mala prohibita means that the government will impose morality and ethics by force.

That brings up the crux.

Which morality?

Hang on, I'd better emphasize that.

Which morality?

To hear Governor Romney and the other candidates talk, the only morality that matters is a Christian one, or at least a Abramic monotheistic one. By their speech, they believe that morality must be imposed from above.

Codswallop. Horsefeathers. Nonsense.

Their own religion says otherwise. If they didn't choose the faith, then you won't find them living by it's rules. "Moral" laws that prohibit come from religion.

We can agree on the mala in se but we can't agree on the mala prohibita.

Why should I be expected to live under their beliefs if they aren't willing to live under mine?

It's the old parity test again. And it is the surefire method to tell if a law is mala in se or mala prohibita.

If someone wants to forbid gay marriage, what would they do if the law only allowed gay marriage? If someone wanted Bible study in schools, what would they do if the law only allowed the Koran in schools? If someone wanted a Christian president, what would they do if the law prohibited a Christian president?

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, any government powerful enough to require a morality is also powerful enough to forbid it. Impose your morality by force of law today and don't be surprised if someone else imposes theirs on you tomorrow.

Religion cannot be allowed the coercive power of government. Government cannot be allowed the moral justification of religion. It's that simple. No, wait, it's even simpler.

Free choice. Choose your beliefs, just don't choose mine. And I will do the same. Faith imposed is no faith at all. The only faiths and beliefs worthy of freedom are those freely chosen.

If you have to make the "right choice" for someone, you're taking away their freedom. You're taking away their right to be wrong. You're taking away their opportunity to learn from their mistakes. You're taking away their judgement. You're saying they aren't fully human. You're saying that they can't be trusted.

And you're saying that your beliefs can't compete.

So where does that leave us?

We can't afford a religious test for President or any public office. We have to measure an individual's morality and ethics by their deeds, not by their words. We'll never agree on the mala prohibita laws. If ethics have to be forced, that's pretty immoral right there.

We should go back to the original national motto. "In God We Trust" is so divisive, and it takes the responsibility away from the individual citizen and puts it in the hands of an unseen overlord. That is a big part of what led to this nonsense. I always preferred the original National Motto. E Pluribus Unum is Latin for "one from many parts" but I prefer another translation.

“United we stand.”

Addendum: There is one brief bit of historical context that should be considered.

Back in the Roman Empire when Christians were being sacrificed, it wasn't because they were Christians. It was because the Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman state gods. Technically, that was an act of treason. Christians weren't singled out for special punishment, they were punished in accordance with the law.

Just something to remember.

Posted: Sun - December 9, 2007 at 02:01 PM 

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