Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Separation of faith and state....I think not

It was the lead up to the 2004 election...the heat between Kerry supporters and Bush supporters intensified. Our neighborhood was targeted by get out the vote activists who swarmed through encouraging people to vote for Kerry. Ding Dong went our doorbell, and there I was face to face with a tall well spoken gentleman asking for my vote. When I told him I intended to vote for Bush, he very politely asked me what my reasoning was, so I politely shared my issues....one of which was embryonic stem cell research.

My reasoning for my opposition to embryonic stem cell research is a bit beyond the scope of this post....what I'm interested in here was the gentleman's response. "Well, I don't think you can should mix politics and religion." We hear the separation of church and state rallying cry so much, that it becomes cliche.

In his latest book The Reason for God, Tim Keller talks about the radical secuarlist argument that calls for all religous reasoning or viewpoints to be removed from public discourse. He points to the "Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism" as an example of this call. Excerpted below are statements from this declaration:

It is vital that the public be exposed to the scientific perspective, and this presupposes the separation of church and state and public policies that are based on secular principles, not religious doctrine. Yet government legislators and executives permit religion, instead of empirical, scientifically supported evidence, to shape public policy.....

Science transcends borders and provides the most reliable basis for finding solutions to our problems. We maintain that secular, not religious, principles must govern our public policy. This is not an anti-religious viewpoint; it is a scientific viewpoint. To find common ground, we must reason together, and we can do so only if we are willing to put personal religious beliefs aside when we craft public policy.

Keller goes on to dismantle this thesis. Simply put, it is very flawed reasoning. It attaches the label "scientific" to a point of view that is beyond science. Science deals with a process of creating hypotheses, carefully testing those hypotheses, analyzing the results, and submitting the results for peer review. However, conclusions based on these results can range all over the map. Applications of the results of science can range all over the map. Science tells us what we can and cant do. Science has very little to say about what we ought to do.

Since public policy consists of both a "can do" and an "ought do", we find ourselves back in the arena of public discourse allowing multiple points of view. I see no reason for allowing a religion of secularism to be imposed upon us simply because the secularists claim that people of faith cannot be objective.

Perhaps the fallback is the old 'separation of church and state' principle. However that principle was always to prevent establishment of a particular state church. It prevented an organization of religion from dominating our government. However, since individual citizens have liberty of conscience in their religious beliefs, they also have the liberty to bring their faith convictions to the table in the public arena. The recent book A City Upon a Hill details the rich history of religious faith in its shaping of the public life of America -- evangelicals, Puritans, Unitarians, Jews, Transcendentalists, Mormons....the whole gamut is covered there. It gives a clear picture that the vitality of our country is in part due to the variety of public religious voices contributing to the conversation.

Separation of church and state does not equal separation of faith and state. Secularism, far from being a common ground upon which we can discuss, is simply an opposing worldview that must earn a hearing at the table, and to make a difference in public policy it must learn to accomodate to the wide range of opinion out there.

Soli Deo Gloria