A collaborative search for wisdom, at Middle Tennessee State University and beyond...
"The pluralistic form takes for me a stronger hold on reality than any other philosophy I know of, being essentially a social philosophy, a philosophy of 'co'"-William James
Our world’s history is steeped in themes of religious wars, persecution, terrorism, exclusion, and control. Entire episodes of history, and many of the great, decisive events of historical change, were the products of religious movements and leaders. For the past few millennia, religion has been a force commonly used by individuals or groups to control other groups of people in one way or another. It has been the ways and means by which governments have kept their people in line, or coerced them into remaining docile. It has even been imposed to maintain rules that hold no real inherent value, and as a way to maintain the status quo.
It is no surprise, then, that the most powerful and diverse country on earth was the product of originally secular foundations. And vice versa, it is no surprise that the first significant government formed without a religious basis went on to become the most influential nation in history. Although other factors, such as manifest destiny and the influx of immigrants, play a part in making America the great nation it is, religious freedom has played a big role as well.
To be clear, religious freedom is something that can only exist when the presiding government does not take a role in imposing morality or religiously inspired rules upon its population. If there is any whiff of religious partiality within a democratic republic, then it is bound to grow. This is one of the drawbacks of a large, secular government founded on religious equality. Unfortunately, many of our citizens and federal officials do not maintain the respect for religious freedom that our Constitution provides for. There are many examples in our government where religious influence is exerted, and it almost always serves at the expense of those who do not follow said religion.
One of the most prominent and easily understood examples of religion imposing its goals within government is the previous ban on same-sex marriage. If you ask the question, “Why should gay marriage be illegal?”, to those who believe as such, you will likely receive something along the lines of “It goes against my religion, Christianity, which is the true religion”, or “It just doesn’t seem right”. Both of these answers fall far short of proving why gay marriage should be illegal. If you try to consider other controversies of religious influence and government, the answers to why such influences should exist don’t get much better.
Most religions, such as Christianity, operate under the convictions that they are exclusively correct in their beliefs, that no other religion is true and holy, and that their will should be spread and furthered upon the rest of humanity. This influence seeps, in many small ways, into our government all the time. And when it does, there is usually nobody besides the religious who benefit from it. Many instances of religious influence can be given, but the point is always the same: It is wrong to allow religion or religious influence to affect our government’s decisions and policies, for religious equality and freedom is sacrificed every time this happens.
John Locke makes another argument for why religion and government should be totally separated. He explains that even if one religion is espoused by the government, it is hardly possible to get every citizen, or even a large majority of citizens, to believe the same thing. He argues that our religious freedom is what allows us to maintain our natural freedom of mind, freedom to believe in whatever we want and to let our experiences alone to guide us. Locke explains that the government’s influence “consists only in outward force; but true and saying religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind.”
Wherever there is religion espoused by the government in the world, there are always dissenters, those who choose to believe and act differently than what they are told is right. One man’s conscience will not tell him the same things as another man’s conscience. When a government’s goals begin to spring from religious motives, then they will inevitably try to control those who disagree or act out. Nothing in our present-day government quite seems to fit the bill of religious control, but the influences are there.
Religious freedom, however, is the most ideal status in which one person’s religious will or beliefs is not imposed upon another. If we want to maintain religious freedom, then the government must, without fail, choose to make policies and decisions based on secular motives and not with any religious partiality. John Locke also argued that once the government begins to espouse any type of religious decision making, men also begin to trample upon one another. If same-sex marriage is not allowed in the U.S., then of course we should expect men and women to discriminate against gay people. What the government imposes as law is ultimately what becomes the moral standard for many of its citizens, albeit with dissenters. When religious equality is in any way broken and religious motives take hold in the government, some people will inevitably gain higher status while others are persecuted. However, if our government chooses to maintain religious freedom, and make it part of their essential creed, then citizens will come to respect such a creed and want to maintain it in every way that they can. Comments I've made: I Could Believe: God is a Gamer Open Your Mind (Final Report Installment 1)