Thursday, October 21, 2004


re: John Kerry's morals, religion, and politics

Bill has comments over at Bill's Comments. Here's a quote from his recent post:

So how does this apply to today? The key is Lee's statement about moral vs. sectarian positions. A legislator should express his moral beliefs in his work. Keeping in mind the distinction, he could work to outlaw abortion, but not outlaw the teaching of evolution or demand the teaching of creationism. The first is a moral issue both inside and outside of religion though his basis may be religious. The second is sectarian in its origins. If a legislator has a set of moral beliefs but does not legislate based on them, he has become a hypocrite.


But what about the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church (or any church for that matter) to some politicians that claim to be RC but vote against RC doctrine? These people (regardless of party or political persuasion) were RC before they were elected. They either had to run on their beliefs or deny them. At the point at which they denied them they should have left the church, otherwise they are hypocrites and liars. As I pointed out above, there is no real issue if they want to legislate their morality. Those things that have a common moral basis will be converted into law. But if they legislate contrary to their churches’ teachings yet try to remain members of their churches, then they have placed the desire for secular power above religious belief, and deserve whatever the church determines should happen to them.

This is becoming a fascinating discussion. Bill and I obviously agree that Kerry should accept whatever punishment the Roman Church decides to mete out, but Bill is more in line with the Smallholder on the question of whether Kerry is being principled. Me, I'm not sure that there are clear guidelines for determining "moral" versus "sectarian," especially when we start to examine particular motives for a political stance.

At the same time, when Bill writes, "If a legislator has a set of moral beliefs but does not legislate based on them, he has become a hypocrite," I can see where he's coing from. The notion that "you cannot legislate morality" is false: the purpose of legislation is moral, because it's geared toward fostering peaceful coexistence and, we hope, the maximizing of that lovely abstract notion, human flourishing. If we refine the phrase to read, "you cannot legislate the morality of a specific religion," that gets us a bit closer to how things are-- or at least how things should be in a secular/pluralist environment.

Just in case you were wondering: Bill leans rightward; the Smallholder is, near as I can figure, somewhat left of center but pretty centrist; Your Humble Narrator is all over the map-- slightly right on foreign policy, somewhat left in terms of social policy, right in terms of the role of government, and loony-left in terms of religious sensibilities (assuming that American evangelical and fundamentalist Protestantisms represent the loony-right end of the religious spectrum). I haven't read Verbum Ipsum long enough to know where Lee stands.

The miracle in all this? A civil discussion is possible, all without a hint of John Derbyshire-style arrogance and dismissiveness. For people interested in dialogue, interreligious or otherwise, this is a crucial point.


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