Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Be Careful of What You Ask For

Hopefully soon I'll get back to the Weekly Portion, but a thought popped into my head.

Those of us with strong beliefs have a tendancy to feel that, since we believe ourselves to be reasonable people, any reasonable person would think as we do and hence share our strong beliefs. This can occur in relationships (how can my friend, partner, etc., be so stupid as not to agree with what I find patently obvious?), faith and politics.

It causes some especially confusing thinking where faith and politics meet. Many on the religious right seem to want to have some legislation of religion and/or morality. At the very least they want government to grant some sort of recognition to their religious tendancies -- e.g. allowing them to use state resources (e.g. property) to display religious documents, icons or idols. Indeed, for a while, many on the religious right tried to argue that the Bill of Rights did not stop the various States from establishing religions.

What they seem to forget is that they are not the only game in town religion-wise. It is natural to forget such a thing: just as I might think conservatives are all unreasonable dolts, they might think anyone who truly believes in God would think as they do. But given that they are not the only game in town, what would really happen if religions were even to be given some sort of official imprimateur?

Legislatures compromise: that is how they work. They even horse trade. As I have suggested elsewhere: what is to stop a legislator from making a deal "you fundies get to have government recognize your religious dictates by the government letting you put up 10 commandments monuments on public property and in exchange, liberal religious folk who believe God wants everyone to marry, regardless of sexuality, get to have government recognize their religious dictates by having official imprimateur given to gay as well as straight marriages". This certainly is "doing unto others" (perhaps this is why many religious figures have rather supported the "negative golden rule" of "do not unto others as you would not have them do to you"?), but do members of the religious right really want to subject their religious dictates to legislative horse trading? Because, no matter how powerful the religious right thinks they are, this is what will happen once the wall between Church and State is breached.

Part of the problem is exposure. In order to imagine that people might just think, in good faith and with plenty of reason, differently than you, you must know faithful and religious people who think differently than you: for example, I know many Jews who claim themselves to be "pro-life" because they are against using abortion as birth control -- they support causes, however, which work to make abortion illegal even when it would halachically be required. Why? Because they cannot imagine that people of good faith would be opposed to abortion even when a woman's health is in grave, if not mortal, danger. Similarly, their Christian friends probably cannot imagine that a person of faith would place anything but the life (not even the health) of the mother-to-be in priority to the life of even a fetus.

I have had the privalege of having friends starting at a very early age whose whole worldview is different than my own. But alas, all too few people have such a privalege and do not even think of this as a privalege and a duty so that they cultivate such friendships when they have a chance. Unfortunately, such close-minded ignorance is bad for democracy and our nation as it prevents too many people from reaching the best conclusions as to how to best govern our country. And when we the people, who have the ultimate say here, are too close-minded, we really do loose the vigorous debate and empathy necessary to steer this country in the right direction.

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