Friday, October 12, 2012

Can faith inform our views on law and politics?

Likely Vice-President Joe Biden is being widely applauded this morning (in certain circles) for his broad liberality. In the debate last night in Danville, Kentucky, he made it clear that he would not impose his religious beliefs on others. Now that sounds right, doesn't it? On the surface, perhaps, but let's consider what the Vice-President actually said, and the implications of it.

Noting both debaters/candidates were Catholic, moderator Martha Raddatz asked “what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.” Congressman Paul Ryan went first, explaining that faith and reason both played a part in his belief system. When his turn came, Vice-President Biden stated “With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a, what we call de fide* doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christian and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others...”

First, whether the Vice-President actually abides by his church's doctrine is questionable. The Pope not only says life begins at conception, but also concerning abortion law it is “never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.” But that is another subject. Vice-President Biden clearly and without equivocation said that life begins at conception and that he believes that. Where he did equivocate, though, is that it only applies to his "personal life" and does not inform his beliefs about national policy or laws. In contrast, Congressman Ryan had previously wondered aloud, “I don’t see how a person can separate their private life from their public life or their faith.” Yes, how can we?

Curiously, in the case of Joe Biden, we have a man who believes that an unborn child is alive and yet we cannot protect it from murder! Why? Because "I just refuse to impose that on others." Would he kowtow so easily concerning a life that is one day old, one year old, 20 years old, 80 years old? Would he refuse to impose his belief about not murdering these on others? Why not? How can he so casually dismiss life rather than protect it just because 'life begins at conception' is a religious belief? Life is life.

I am glad that our forefathers didn't allow murder or theft simply because prohibiting it would be based on their religion. I don't believe murder is wrong because some old dead guys thought so or because it is either a personal or societal benefit -- even though both are true. I believe murder is wrong "because the Bible tells me so." Does that exclude me from sitting at the table of ideas and influence? Most certainly not! It may keep some from believing or accepting my ideas, but it doesn't exclude me from sitting down at the table.

Allowing others to have their faith and make their peace with God (or not) is a hallmark of Baptist religion. We do not impose our faith and practice on others. Yet in the moral development of a society, someone's beliefs will be imposed upon that society through public policy, laws, regulations, and community standards -- whether those beliefs are religious or secular.  Ultimately, many of us have many different reasons for believing what we believe and supporting the causes we support. In a democratic society no one is excluded from the marketplace of ideas because of their reason for believing. Whether their reasons will gain the support of the majority is another question altogether.

* In Roman Catholicism, a de fide doctrine is an essential part of faith and the denial of it is heresy.

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