Government Forms (or Deforms) Your Soul

That is the title of an article I published last year (vol. 21, no. 5, September 2010) in This Rock (now Catholic Answers Magazine), the magazine of Catholic Answers. It is now available online. Portions of this article are adapted from portions of my most recent book, Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010). Here’s how the article begins:

“Statecraft,” Aristotle instructed his pupils, “is soulcraft.” What he meant is that the state or government, by its policies, procedures and actions, places moral ideas in thesocial and legal fabric and these ideas shape the quality of its citizens’ character. This central truth animates the understanding of politics supported by Catholic teaching.

Some thinkers, however, believe that the government should, and can, remain neutral on several controversial moral and social questions about which Catholics and other Christians have taken a strong stand, including the sanctity of life and the protection of marriage. These thinkers maintain, contrary to Aristotle, that statecraft is not soulcraft, that the government should not take a position on which views are right or wrong, since taking such a stance would violate the right of citizens to make up their own minds on these questions.

This view is mistaken for one simple reason: No matter what the government permits or forbids, it is taking a stance on what it believes about the nature of the human person and what is right or wrong, even if it denies that this is so. To demonstrate that this is the case, I will focus primarily on the issue of abortion and then two other issues: the right to suicide and same-sex marriage.

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  • http://ginozarrinfar.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=3 Gino Zarrinfar

    I think the real issue is that people who have “faith” can not remain neutral. Their faith decides for them what is right and wrong, which is mostly derived from an ancient book that his little to no bearing on the real world (not to mention is as ill translated as Negative Dialectics). This is why religion and power need to be forever separated. People who are guided by notions of “faith” are not the people I would want to make laws or be in positions of power. After all that whole “divine right of kings” idea sure did not pan out.
    As an atheist, I see no room on either spectrum of the political divide for someone such as myself. Therefore, religion must be something that is stifling politics and stopping me from participating. As a political scientist I think Aristotle is hoping that the state would transcend notions of “god” or “faith”, replacing it as the “decider” of right and wrong. We, as rational humans, can not allow these notions to continue to run our world and shape our view of it.


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