Faith and Democracy

Jaime: I am tired of all these theocrats who want to base our laws on their religious beliefs.

Robin: It’s a free country; people can vote however they want and for whatever reasons they want and then majority rules. That’s how things work in a democracy. If people want to vote on their religious beliefs, then that’s their right.

Jaime: But in a secular society, laws shouldn’t be made based on religious beliefs. Once the laws are based on religious beliefs then everyone in the governed region essentially is being forced to obey the laws of that religion (or those religions) that hold those idiosyncratic views.

Robin: So, if I want to vote for laws that take care of the poor because my faith tells me that it is just to take care of the poor, I’m not allowed because then I’m imposing my religion on people? “Sorry poor people, no food for you, I wouldn’t want to impose my religion on you!” That doesn’t make any sense.

Jaime: No, that’s not what I am talking about. There are secular arguments you can make for taking care of the poor. There’s no need to make a religious argument when you can make one that is not so narrow and does not only appeal to people who belong to your faith. It’s a secular society, make arguments that include everyone in your appeal.

Robin: We may not have a national religion in our country but I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of people here understood themselves to be religious to one extent or another. And plenty of people think that it’s essential to morality and justice that they be consistent with, or even grounded in their religious beliefs. If that’s the language and set of concepts through which they think about politics, then why shouldn’t I appeal to my shared faith with them or overlaps between their faith and mine when arguing for why we should give to the poor. Maybe they will be unmoved by a purely “secular” appeal. Maybe you want a society of secular people with no religion to be found anywhere, but that’s not the way the majority of people are and they’re entitled to think the ways they think.

Jaime: You’re not implying that I’m trying to outlaw religion, are you? Because that’s outrageous. I would never want that. I am saying that you can have your religion without basing laws on it. A secular society, in fact, protects minority religions as much as the irreligious. Were you part of a religious minority would you want adherents of the majority religion stripping you of your rights through legislation?

Robin: Obviously people who belong to minority faiths need the right to practice their religions. But you can allow for that consistent with allowing people to vote their faith-informed conscience when voting for representatives or for laws.

Jaime: The rights of minorities are not “obvious” to all faiths. The right to religious conscience is a hard won right and its importance was learned through centuries of pointless religious wars. There could be (and, really, there are) people of faith who believe that a state imposed religion would save more souls and so is inherently justified. Should they vote that way? Or is their “faith-informed conscience” one we should oppose?

Robin: Well, I think those people are wrong. I don’t think faith that is coerced can be true faith.

Jaime: But that’s not the question, the question is can you tell them they’re not allowed to vote on such premises?

Robin: Well what good will that do; to order people not to vote what they really feel? Are you going to have thought police checking to make sure their reasons were acceptable to secular standards? People are going to vote their conscience no matter what. And you can’t preemptively refuse people the right to propose laws or amendments. So, I don’t understand–how are we supposed to stop people from legislating that minority religions have no rights? What would do is argue with them based on the faith I share with them, or at least in terms of our overlapping values that are consistent across faiths. What’s your solution? Just insist that they completely flip from wanting to convert everyone to their faith through law to instead not wanting their faith to have anything at all to do with law? I would think a faith-based appeal to them that argues with them on their own values is more productive, less authoritarian, and more democratic.

Jaime: No, your position that people should vote based on their faith is a slipperly slope that creates more theocrats who want to impose their religion through their law. If we made it an unthinkable proposition that one consult one’s religions when forming laws then we would be less likely to have people who go to that extreme.

Robin: Not in the real world. In the real world, you telling people to keep their faith out of their politics is just going to create a reactionary backlash. People find it intolerable to be told that they have to leave their most cherished, core beliefs and values out of their most important decisions in life. Who are you to tell them that they should leave their God out of any part of their lives? They have religious freedom. If that’s the way they interpret their faith, that’s their business. You’re free to advocate for laws based on your values.

Jaime: Why can’t I also appeal to people that it’s only fair that they reason in ways fair to everyone. Lots of religious people already think this, just like atheists like I do. So why can’t I go beyond just advocating for specific representatives and laws and argue further that faith should have no place in politics?

Robin: I mean you can make that argument. I’m not stopping you. I just think it’s wrong.

Jaime: So, what if I were to argue that we should abolish religion.

Robin: Good luck with that!

Jaime: No, seriously, you wouldn’t object in principle to me making arguments like that?

Robin: I would think that you’re proposing a terrible idea, but it’s your right. I’m not going to tell you that the thought is forbidden or you don’t have a right to speak or think or vote that way. I will oppose your judgment but not go to the extreme of saying “no secular reasoning is allowed in politics” the way that you’re saying “no faith-based reasoning is allowed in politics”. Just because your secular reasoning could lead to a bad conclusion doesn’t mean all secular reasoning should be opposed in principle or banned from politics.

Jaime: I’m not talking about policing thoughts! I’m not talking about making it illegal to hold  or express theocratic views. I’m arguing that we should informally, morally and in our political theory, strenuously try to discourage people from thinking in a faith-based way in politics because that kind of thinking would unravel democracy itself. The day you get an overwhelming number of people who base their legal reasoning on faith is the day they all vote to impose their religion on people in thousands of ways. Perhaps they would “democratically” vote to replace their democracy with a theocracy even! That’s the supremely tragic irony of how democracies often die–the people themselves vote in the tyrant who takes away their right to vote! To protect democracy we need to protect people’s commitments to the principle of democracy itself.

Robin: How are you protecting democracy itself when you say that the majority shouldn’t rule.

Jaime: If the majority votes to strip their own right to vote then that’s the majority surrendering its right to rule! And it’s surrendering future majorities’ rights to vote, on their behalf, in a way they have no say in! There are limits to what the majority can vote for consistent with the sustained existence of democracy or its ideal realization!

Robin: Okay, so what if we agree that our morality and political theory should oppose any current democratic majority removing future majorities’ rights. I could concede that consistent with upholding the principle of democracy itself. But I am still hard pressed to see why the majority can’t vote in other ways that express their real will where that will is faith-informed. If 80% of a country is, say, Catholic, why shouldn’t they live by laws informed by their Catholic values if that’s their democratic will?

Jaime: Well, not all Catholics agree with the Church on every issue for one thing!

Robin: Great, then those Catholics don’t have to vote with the Church’s positions on those issues. Heck, even where they do agree with the Church morally, they’d be free to nonetheless think secular reasoning like yours should predominate legally and politically if that’s what their conscience tells them. I’m not proposing theocracy. I’m just proposing people voting their will, faith-informed or faith-averse. I’m not saying any religion should make the laws. If the religion can persuade the people to make laws consistent with it, then good for the religion! But the people would still make the laws. Why do you want to protect the people from their own faith-informed wills? How is that truly democratic? It sounds like in your ideal the overwhelming majority could be Catholics all making laws for themselves that expressed non-Catholic values instead of their own Catholic values. I fail to see how that’s self-rule. You seem to want some ideal secular rule that religious people subject themselves to against their own actual beliefs and values. That seems like you have a definite theory of what’s best for everyone and that’s what you want to impose, rather than trust democracy.

Jaime: I know you’re some kind of Christian–would you find that scenario amenable if you weren’t? Say you were a Muslim? Would you want to live in a country where the Catholic majority made rules according to the Catholic faith? Or say you were living in a predominantly Muslim country as a Christian, how would you feel if they imposed Islamic laws on you?

Robin: I recognize when I’m in a foreign country that their values are different than mine and I accept that. When you’re in someone else’s house, you accommodate their feelings, their traditions, and values a little. If I’m in a Muslim country I wouldn’t expect them to drop everything and rearrange their whole society so that it maximally accommodates me as a Christian. I wouldn’t get into a snit if there were mandated accommodations for Muslim prayer that all businesses had to make five times a day. I wouldn’t mind if the restaurants were all closed during the day during Ramadan or if it were harder to find pork or beer in the stores. If I wanted a country that catered to me as a Christian, I’d stick to Christian countries. And if I went to an overwhelmingly atheist country, I wouldn’t be offended that legislative meetings don’t start with prayers. But while living in a predominantly religious country, I don’t see the problem if the majority votes that they’d like to start a legislative session with prayer.

Jaime: Don’t you see how that signals to atheists that they’re unwelcome and favors religious beliefs over irreligious ones so that people think “that’s what a good citizen does, she prays”. It’s unfair.

Robin: Look, that’s not going to change until a majority of the people aren’t religious. If you don’t want prayers to start meetings, convince people not to be religious.

Jaime: Why can’t I just convince them to keep their religion out of government while not quibbling with their private faith?

Robin: Sure, try to persuade them of that. But don’t get angry if they decide the reason they should adopt your secular commitment to an absolute separation of church and state is because of how they interpret their faith. What’s more important to you? That people never think about their faith when relating to politics or that their conclusions–even their conclusion that they should be secularists!–are the ones you think are for the best? You care about having a robust safety net for the poor. Say you had someone who was adamantly in favor of helping the poor on religious grounds but believed there was no secular basis for doing so. Let’s say they told you that if they really ignored their faith, they would slash funding for the poor and take care of themselves.

Jaime: You don’t need to have faith to care about the poor.

Robin: Maybe you don’t, but this hypothetical person does. Should they ignore their faith and neglect the poor or would you rather they reasoned things in a faith-based way if it actually helps the poor.

Jaime: I think it’s a false choice. In the long run both things are important; that they have the right policy and that they form it for the right reasons. Sure, pragmatically, I will take people reasoning from the wrong premises to the right policies if that’s the only way in the short term to get the right policies. But in the long term, training people to have better premises and reasoning processes will yield more right conclusions. Faith-based thinking will be hit and miss much more than rational thought when it comes to coming up with good conclusions. I would, over the long haul, try to show people the rational reasons to give to the poor. In the long run, demanding that people base their policies on the kinds of evidence and reason that are accessible to everyone protects people from idiosyncratic policies that stagnate us, regress us, or are otherwise counter-productive to stability or progress. The more that policies are not based on reason and evidence is the more likely they are to become untethered from reality and be harmful. Sure, some people’s faith-given values may be coincidentally right but faith is not a reliable value-forming mechanism that consistently enough yields good answers or ones that are fair for all. Since we’re all subject to the same laws, even minorities, we need laws to be based on reasons that could appeal to all of us, even minorities. And the only laws that can be justified to all of us, at least in principle, are those proven on grounds that are accessible to everyone. Appeals to reason and evidence transcend all faith traditions and irreligiousness. Even if one disagrees with the conclusions, at least it’s not a matter of “I have to follow this law because of someone else’s religion” but a matter of “I have to follow this because I got out-argued in the fair realm of reason that is common to all of us.”

Robin: So it’s not really pure democracy you’re interested in. The majority has to vote not for their actual will on their actual personal values but according only to what the minority could “in principle” find persuasive.

Jaime: I think that’s the only way to combat majoritarianism and to come up with substantively better solutions even for the religious–whose own faiths might go wrong for being so arbitrary.

Robin: Fine, but I think I’m the truer democrat.

Jaime: Well on one definition of democrat, anyway; a majoritarian one. But I don’t think the best one.

Robin: It’s the most pragmatic one and the one that allows people to express their real thoughts and will the most.

Jaime: I would rather hold out for the ideal one that protects minorities (including religious ones) and that leads to substantively more rationally defensible outcomes.

Your Thoughts?

For a real debate between a religious believer and me about a specific public policy issue and its ramifications for secularism and religious freedom see my three part debate with Mary the Catholic Graduate Student about contraception mandates:

Should Catholic Employers Be Exempted From Paying For Health Insurance Covering Contraception? (A Debate With Mary The Catholic Graduate Student Part 1)

What Are The Limits of Church Authority In the Public Sphere? (A Debate With Mary The Catholic Graduate Student Part 2)

Must (or Can) the Religious Engage in the Secular Sphere ‘Non-Religiously’? (A Debate With Mary The Catholic Graduate Student Part 3)

For more of my thoughts on political philosophy, I recommend the posts below and for more dialogues on contentious matters, see the tab atop the page for Dialogues.

10 Reasons to Scrutinize a Candidate’s Faith (or not)

American Values vs. Fundamentalist Values

Questions For Those Who Oppose The Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech?

The Religious Conservative’s False Choice: “Big Brother” Or “Heavenly Father”

Thoughts On The Ethics Of Private Vs. Publicly-Mediated Generostiy

How Christian Beliefs And Values Are No More Creditable With America’s Founding Than Islamic Ones

On the Conflict over the Meaning and Cultural Influence of Political Secularism

Why Clergy Rightfully Have No Place At A 9/11 Memorial (Or Any Civic Ceremonies) 




About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Non-religious people can have arbitrary thoughts, too. As long as voters’ religious beliefs aren’t leading to electing candidates explicitly pledged to violate the Foruth Amendment (ie, school boards or state boards of education on teaching intelligent design), of course they should vote their beliefs.

    “Jaime” also seems to presume that all religious believers are fundamentalists. I will say no more about that.

  • Angra Mainyu

    While I share a number of Jaime’s views, I see some difficulties.

    Jaime: I’m not talking about policing thoughts! I’m not talking about making it
    illegal to hold or express theocratic views. I’m arguing that
    we should informally, morally and in our political theory, strenuously try to discourage people from thinking in a faith-based way in politics because that
    kind of thinking would unravel democracy itself.

    a. Who is “we”?

    It’s not entirely clear to me who is, according to Jaime, under a moral obligation to engage in such strenuous attempts. Each person has a limited amount of time, including time to choose between different ways in which to
    contribute to social stability, prosperity, etc. – when they have
    time for that at all.

    b. Whether faith-based thinking will unravel democracy depends on the faith in question, but I do agree it’s a problem, and generally leads to unjust results much more often than rational thinking.

    Jaime: Why can’t I just convince them to keep their religion out of government while not quibbling with their private faith?

    I do not know whether Jaime can, as a matter of fact, convince a few. But it’s probably going to be a very hard goal to achieve in nearly all cases, especially if their religion and/or ideology (vague words, but I’m trying to encompass the kinds of beliefs people might be faith-committed to, in the sense in which Jaime seems to be using the word “faith”; I would say in that sense, they might be faith-committed to some version of Christianity, Islam, or communism for that matter) prominently holds that they have a moral obligation to try to promote or ban certain behaviors.

    So, if their religion prominently holds that, then Jaime would have to persuade them that their religion/ideology is mistaken about that particular point (which
    might be a crucial part to their religion, considered non-negotiable or whatever), or persuade them to behave in the way that they believe is immoral, or try to add to their set of beliefs a belief that contradicts some of the beliefs that they already have without their noticing the contradiction, or some other very difficult variant.

    But in the long term, training people to have better premises and reasoning processes will yield more right conclusions. Faith-based thinking will be hit and miss much more than rational thought when it comes to coming up with good conclusions.

    I think that Jaime would have a shot at getting many people, including nearly all [considerably] philosophically informed religious people he talks to, to agree that
    they have a moral obligation to use rational thinking when it comes to voting.

    On the other hand, I would say nearly all of those people will reject (if they’re interested in engaging, anyway) any claims that they’re not being rational in holding that their religion is true, that they’re making mistaken probabilistic
    assessments, etc., or even that they have faith in the way in which Jaime understands the word (even if they in fact do).

    Sure, some people’s faith-given values may be coincidentally
    right but faith is not a reliable value-forming mechanism that consistently enough yields good answers or ones that are fair for all.

    True, but Jaime’s interlocutors will almost certainly not accept that, unless perhaps they accepted for the sake of the argument Jaime’s definition of “faith”
    (while rejecting a claim that said definition actually is an approximation to the usual meaning of the word in the relevant contexts, if such a claim is made), in which case (at least, if they’re philosophically informed), that they probably would agree with Jaime…while contending that they do not have faith at all, in that sense – they would say that they’re just, say, Christians rationally believing that Christianity is true.

    Perhaps, the first and even most serious challenge for Jaime would be to persuade his interlocutors and/or target audience that they have faith in the sense in which Jaime uses the word (which, it seems to me, is the way in which you propose to use the word “faith”).

  • Guy Robert Vestal

    If Robin were ANY other religion than a Judeo-Christian flavor, atheists would NOT CARE. Secular Humanists and their ilk are only obsessed with the Judeo-Christian Worldview, and no other, so in essence, they are not really “atheist”, because they simply believe in ‘no judeo-christian” god, all others are ok, and are given token lipservice at best when trapped by comments like this one. Freedom for secular society only, freedom for those that conform, or be cast out.

    #H8 #bitterness #doublestandard #doubletalk #hypocrisy #selfabsorbtion #thenewblack #falsefreedom #pseudofreedom

    • Armanatar

      Atheists in America primarily talk about Christianity because it is both the predominant faith and the one most strongly asserting its privilege over secularism and minority faiths. When you hear about sectarian prayer before a legislative session or school board meeting, what religion will be the culprit? When a religious group erects a monument of one form or another on government property, what faith tradition will that monument hail from? When lawmakers claim a religious justification for their policy decisions, what religion do they refer to? In the United States, the answer to all of those questions is almost invariably Christianity. Exceptions do exist, and when they arise atheists are just as quick to condemn them, but when 90+% of the offenders are Christian, one would expect Christianity to receive a proportionately greater amount of censure. This is supported by the fact that in other parts of the world, the primary target of atheists’ criticism shifts to the primary problem-causing faith of the region. Criticism of Islam in the Middle East and of faith healers and gurus in India is no less vocal than criticism of Christianity in America.

      tl;dr: Atheists speak up when religion causes problems. In America, most of the time that happens, it’s Christianity causing the problem, ergo more criticism of Christianity in America. Elsewhere, the primary offenders are different, and they take the lion’s share of the criticism.

    • Sven2547

      If Robin were ANY other religion than a Judeo-Christian flavor, atheists would NOT CARE.

      A very popular claim. Also completely incorrect.

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      Yet those that reply provide lipservice as proof, and nothing empirical, nothing tangible, nothing that can be seen. Just upvotes, and self absorbed backslaps…

    • Sven2547

      Armanatar has a nice, thorough response. What do you want, a string of links of various atheists being critical of non-Christian malfeasance? It’s really, really, ridiculously easy to find. Read Pharyngula. Read Friendly Atheist. Read Sagan or Dawkins or Hitchens or Krauss. Here are just a few VERY RECENT examples:

      YOU have offered, to use your words, “nothing empirical, nothing tangible, nothing that can be seen”. Time to pony up and support your bogus assertion, if you can.

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      It sure isn’t on this blog bitterbob, which is what I was referencing.

    • Sven2547

      If Robin were ANY other religion than a Judeo-Christian flavor, atheists would NOT CARE. Secular Humanists and their ilk are only obsessed with the Judeo-Christian Worldview, and no other, so in essence, they are not really “atheist”, because they simply believe in ‘no judeo-christian” god, all others are ok, and are given token lipservice at best when trapped by comments like this one. Freedom for secular society only, freedom for those that conform, or be cast out.

      You said “atheists” and “Secular Humanists and their ilk”, bitterbob. Own up to your own comment.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      You said “atheists” and “Secular Humanists and their ilk”, bitterbob.

      Why are you calling him “bitterbob”, is this a nickname from another forum or something? If it’s not and you’re just giving him a sarcastic nickname, please don’t, that’s not civil.

    • Sven2547

      My apologies.

      I had actually never heard or seen the term “bitterbob” before, until Mr. Vestal here used that exact same term in the very comment I was replying to:

      It sure isn’t on this blog bitterbob, which is what I was referencing.
      –Guy Robert Vestal

      I merely replied with the same remark. I will refrain in the future.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Oh okay, sorry, I misread the chronology. Since one of his names is Robert, I took it you introduced the term aimed at him.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Here is an interview I did on this blog with an ex-Muslim complaining about the silencing of ex-Muslims:

      I also interviewed on this blog an ex-Muslim from Pakistan in a highly read article

      Here I interviewed an atheist in Morocco about the negative effects of Islam on her life

      Numerous times I have challenged the idea that we should never depict Mohammed. Here I even reposed pictures of Mohammed

      I also highlighted a scathing critique of Islam from Cristina Rad

      My guest blogger Eric Steinhart did a series on the pros and cons of Wicca. This involved several critical posts:

      Here I complained about the theocratic reasoning of Jewish voters in an election. So a parallel case to the topic of the OP under discussion about faith and democracy:

      In this post I complain a lot about Muslim countries’ laws protecting Muslim feelings from the presence of atheist speech:

      Here I highlighted the plight of atheists persecuted in Saudi Arabia

      I aggressively criticized the Mormon church’s history of racism in this post

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      Islam is the same God, so that does not count, Judaism is the same God, nice try, and as for the Wicca (the one link that was not referencing the God of Abraham/Issac/Ishmael/Jacob) actually had “pros” about the earth religion. Nice try, but an epic fail.The bitter obsession with christianity is too transparent for the american atheist to doubletalk their way out of.

    • Sven2547

      The bitter obsession with christianity…

      We’ve been naming non-Christian religions all day. This is BS.

      Okay, let’s do it this way, since you’re going about this in a roundabout way: What do you think is an example of a religion that atheists are NOT critical of that we should be critical of. Name one. I’ll be happy to offer a critique.

      You come here offering vague complaints about the integrity of atheists, but you are so non-specific it’s hard to nail down exactly what you’re upset about.

      And as yet another example: Sanal Edamaruku has made a name for himself as an atheist skeptic against various Indian superstitions, tantrik gurus, and other eastern woo-pushers. Are you going to claim those are “Judeo-Christian” beliefs too?

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      I think there should be no “critical of”, in the “war-like” fashion that is typical of the theist vs. non-theist obsession that BOTH SIDES of the argument have.

      I have told Matt Oxley ( many a time, (and he agrees) that the Judeo-Christian “fan club” that Jesus has is a problem indeed, but doing battle against it is futile, as it is going nowhere. Ergo the changes need to come from within, from its own devotees.

      I personally am at the “I don’t give a damn about the Church anymore” stage, because I am at the point of becoming an atheist myself, but no matter which side of the aisle I am on, the disgust for the flamewar between the two sides is equally nauseating.

      Jesus is not the problem, His bigoted fan club of homophobes is. Atheism is not he problem, it is the bitter, hateful extremists that are, and both sides of the aisle are under the impression that the extremists are the official mouthpieces of the whole.

      Would be nice if the two sides were not enemies seeking the destruction of each other, but friends co-existing, and looking for ways to makes each others lives better.

    • Sven2547

      You have changed your tune significantly since your original comment 3 days ago, when you were ragging on atheists and secular humanists for being hypocrites who only care about “Judeo-Christian” things and “pay lip service” to anything else. Am I to interpret this as a retraction of that remark, or are you going to defend it?

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      You’ll find no justification, no boost of ego, or satisfaction of any sort being given by me. What is on your plate is all you will be served, no dessert.

    • Sven2547

      Just a hit-and-run attack on secular humanists and a refusal to even bother defending it. You’ve taught me a lot about the kind of person you are.

    • Guy Robert Vestal

      Getting the “last word” with me is almost an impossibility as well.

    • James Stevenson

      It’s the same God. So why can’t the criticism apply equally? Is it the differences in religious believers? In which case arguing ‘its the same God’ is irrelevant.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Guy, please refrain from using sarcastic nicknames like “bitterbob” while at Camels With Hammers.

    • Guy Robert Vestal


  • baltabek

    I don’t have citations off the top of my head, but I believe the United States founders were explicitly worried about tyranny of the majority against minorities. That’s why the United States is not structured as an Athenian Democracy. We have a constitution and judicial branch that are supposed to prevent the state from establishing an official religion (via things like prayers at government meetings) *even if* the majority wants to vote for it.

  • Nathaniel Torrey

    I found this to be a mature and fair representation of both sides. As a religious person. specifically an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I side with Robin on this one and I’m grateful that her views were not reduced to a caricature.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Religion continues to pervert itself by combining itself with government. Government continues to justify all manner of atrocity by pretending that the leaders are ordained by some greater god.The fact that clergy are allowed to perform legal ceremonies is all the proof we need that there is not separation of church and state in our country.

    No life on earth is completely devoid of the influence of their history, genetics, and surrounding influence. It seems folly to think that any human makes any decision devoid of the influence of all these things, from which we each form some basis for our beliefs.

    It seems to me that, since the animal that we call human became able to make informed decisions, based on their own experiences and their beliefs about their individual and collective experiences, there have been attempts to bond groups through collective agreement, just as other animals seek company with there own. The problem seems to be in a misunderstanding of perception.

    Two people seeing the same event with their own eyes perceive very different versions of what they saw. The unreliable nature of eye-witnesses has been a scourge on law-enforcement. Group-think is also a scourge on our system of justice, as societies are only comfortable when they feel like the group will cooperate with the prevailing beliefs.

    Without some rules of acceptable behavior, societies break down into animalistic anarchy. Religion is the basis, in western society, for our legal system. The issue seems to be that humanity still hasn’t evolved past the need to believe in fear imposed by divinely-inspired rulers who pretend to greater understanding than they actually possess.

    It is anxiety producing to have no answers for what is happening around us, so people make up magical answers. Parents often do this to calm themselves and their frightened children. Not all on earth have the same tolerance for uncertainty.This may have been (and may still be) appropriate for many who need very defined rules for relationship, and boundaries in order to feel safe.

    The problem comes in when people pretending to live within certain rules and boundaries are actually using fear to overpower people and create untouchables, slaves,servants, minions; in other words eternal children.

    Notice that the Ten Commandments don’t say, “I will not commit adultery;” “I will not kill;” The people who profess such religious conviction are posting signs about what others must do and not do to fit into their society, even though they don’t hold each other to their professed beliefs. This is obvious in the scandals in The Roman Catholic Church, in the Windsor family, and in Congress.

    The is no divine right of kings or anyone else, but humans, as a group still tend to want to find a method of group-think and seek protection in the shadows of Wizards of Oz. I believe that there is something more evolved about human that there is about other life forms. I believe that all life is better supported in groups that alleviate stress for each other. I believe that until humans stop believing that they aren’t worthy to stand up straight and tall in all interactions in their own lives, societies will; continue to operate as scared, quarreling children.

    The problem is not in religious beliefs; it is our unwillingness to act as adult humans. Both religious and political leaders are seen as our parent figures, and we hand our power over to them. This creates a facade of well-being, but at what price?

  • Grotoff

    I don’t get why anyone should care about the private motivations of voters. What matters is the practical application. The government can not be allowed to practically privilege any religion or dogma. The government can not force non-members of a religious sect to practice that religion. That includes forcing businesses to close on Sundays or opening government meetings with religious prayers. That’s not a question of motivation but of direct discrimination and forced participation.

  • Brian Westley

    I think a simpler principle would be to require that all laws have a rational basis, and that “because god said so” is not a rational basis.

  • The original Mr. X

    Of course, lots of religious people would say that they *do* have rational, publicly-accessible reasons for belief — philosophical arguments, historical documents, and so forth. No doubt you’d find these reasons unpersuasive, but then, I’m sure there are lots of people out there who’d find the reasoning you give for your worldview to be unpersuasive, and it seems somewhat arbitrary to say that your controversial but publically-accessible arguments should be allowed, but religious people’s shouldn’t.

    Furthermore, whilst you are right that there is a potential for a tyranny of the religious majority, this is the case with any belief, and is a problem with democracy in general rather than with people voting based on their religion. So too is the prospect of people voting to abolish democracy. Neither of these have much to do with religion per se, and both can be better combatted by other measures — e.g., having a Bill of Rights to protect people’s basic freedoms, including freedom of religion — which don’t involve demanding that people essentially lie every time they exercise their right to vote.