Friday, May 18, 2012

Religion, Morality and political stances

This morning on KUT (local NPR station) there was a local interview between the KUT host and an author of a book that discussed how religion has been playing a larger role in the public forum in the United States and that people are basing their political stances more and more on religion. I am skeptical of this for several reasons. First, the morality these stances are based on are sometimes dubious at best even within the religious context. Secondly, some of these moral stances aren't actually based on teachings in the specific religion, but are much more cultural in origin than religious.

Let's look at the first issue. There are many issues that we can examine to see if the validity of the moral stance. How about the death penalty. Many Christians (not all) strongly support the death penalty. This stance clearly violates one of the Ten Commandments (thou shall not kill). Supporting this type of policy is not congruent with this belief. In addition, it conflicts with the belief that all life is sacred, which is the argument against abortion. I personally don't agree with either stand, I'm against the death penalty and pro-choice (by which I mean I support the woman's right to choose if she wants to be pregnant or not).

I arrived at these moral stances outside of the Christian frame work. I find that life is sacred since we only have one. Ending a person's life for whatever reason is a horrible thing. It destroys everything that they are and could be, it destroys their potential. Now some people may think that this is ok in the case of people that are beyond help, but who defines "help"? Or perhaps it's ok to kill people that are more committing horrible crimes against other people and they can never be reformed. Well, first there's a lot of things we need to look at as to the why they were doing what they were doing. We should investigate what changes we can do and what sort of environment we want them to be living in after the we've given up on them.

In terms of abortion, it's a trickier matter than the death penalty. However, women should have control over their on bodies and when/if they ever want to have children. Sure killing a fetus is killing a possibility, but every time a person has sex there are thousands of possibilities that are destroyed by a condom or other birth control. It's just a matter of time and why you chose to stop the pregnancy. In some case the baby can destroy the potential of the mother or could end up being a huge drain on society. These can cause larger issues than if the fetus was aborted when the woman wanted it to be aborted.

Issues of morality may not be easy, but there are also moral issues that happen to conform to a specific outlook on life. In the case of gay marriage, this is more of a cultural issue than a religious issue. The very book that proponents quote as the reason for denying this right is ignored on a routine basis (eating shellfish is a killable offense). Marriage has long been something sanctioned by the state and has a level of cultural normalcy that has moved it from the realm of religion alone. In some states it's possible to be married through time spent living together and getting it approved by a Justice of the Peace. Marriage is a way that cements a relationship in your own mind, the mind of your community and with the state. A civil union doesn't have the feeling of importance and smacks of differences in rights and demotes a person to a second class citizen.

There are definitely some policy stances that could easily be seen to be rooted in religious beliefs such as supporting welfare, turning the other cheek, being a pacifist and giving your money to the poor and needy. However, there are many people that are against abortion and against welfare. These wildly different stances  for a Christian smacks of a cultural belief structure driving many of these policy stances rather than their religious beliefs themselves. This doesn't mean you aren't a Christian or that have to be against abortion and for welfare, but it means you should be honest about the source of your morality in regard to your policy stances. You need to look inward and really investigate why you stand for something and why you're against something. Look close enough and you may find that it's due to your social and cultural influences rather than your religious beliefs.