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.

Creationism coming to a school near you in the US

While the UK has effectively banned the teaching of creationism in sciences courses through an application of incentives, the US is going the other direction. Recently, Indiana’s Senate Panel just OK’d the teaching of creationism in science courses. It’s not completely confirmed yet, it still needs to be ratified by the full State Senate, but this is a step in the incorrect direction.

I’m not saying this because of any religious beliefs on my side, which I’m against creationism as a whole, but because it will have a massive impact on any scientific future for these students. None of these students will have the proper understanding of biology to be a doctor, biologist, virologist, biomedical engineer and the list goes on. These are just professions that they are being directly impacted on. The secondary professions will be most of science and engineering professions.

Why? Well as Neil de Grasse Tyson argues, the moment you start saying God did it, you’re useless in the lab. Not because you can’t research or you’re religious, but because that means you’ve lost the burning desire to know “why?” A researcher needs to have a desire to explain what has been unexplained. To investigate the how and what of making things work.

This can also have a chilling effect on entrance into science based universities. Essentially, these students, to the universities point of view, would have had no biology what so ever and the rest of their scientific education may be suspect as well. If creationism is allowed in biology, what sort of impact could this have on their physics and chemistry courses?

Will this ultimately pass in the larger Senate? I honestly don’t know. Should it pass, I hope that there will be an injunction before this is instituted and a case to determine the constitutionality of this law. While the law is likely written to be rather aspecific on what religions it is not supposed to be from, it is obvious to most observers that this is based on Christianity. Essentially, this would be a state endorsing a religion. Thus many people could object to this including Muslims, Christians that don’t support the Young Earth Creationist view, Hindus, and of course atheists.

Now, if you want to send your kid to a private school to learn about creationism then go ahead. That’s why there are options. But I know if I ever have children, they are not going to be educated in a public school system that allows creationism to be taught next to evolution.