There is a nice long letter to ST Forum Page today (Aug 1), "Religion is a choice and don't mix it with politics", by one Nigel Hee Dewen. Most of it very commonsensical, e.g., "being born into a religious family does not necessitate the child taking after the same religion"--to insist otherwise would be a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
. That's right, provided that we understand the "insist" in the legal, political sense (i.e., via state action)--because on the basis of the same Declaration, the parents should be (legally, politically) free to educate their children in the teachings of their religion, even if the children should be (legally, politically) free to continue in it or not.
Here's an interesting one--should God come before family? Mr. Hee says: "No matter what miracles that God can or has performed, he does not bring money home for your children's allowances. He does not provide in this material life - which is where we are." There are several ways to look at this. First, from within the perspective of the believer it's precisely God who provides the necessities of this material life, even if He works through the secondary agency of His creatures. (That's at least the Christian-Biblical perspective.) But why is this even relevant to the discussion? We were talking about "religion and politics", not "God and my bacon". From the political
point of view it doesn't and shouldn't matter as to what is the correct answer to this essentially theological-philosophical
question: is it God or man who provides the necessities of this material life? That is, as long as we grant the doctrine of the separation of church and state
, because otherwise, our politics will be based upon a substantive theological-philosophical thesis: God does/does not provide the necessities of this material life. And that, I'm sure, is contrary to the intentions of Mr. Hee. What then? The man who believes that it is God who provides should be perfectly free--legally, politically--to do so, and likewise the man who believes the opposite. What neither of them is (legally, politically) free to do so, however, is to neglect
his family--on an expansion of what that means that does not reference God or anyone's belief or disbelief in Him
The next one is interesting in a different way. Mr. Hee considers the methods employed by some of the newer churches to draw members "similar to modern marketing campaigns" He cites the disclaimer of Mr Matthew Kang of New Creation Church, who "says that 'such elements draw younger people' but insists that otherwise, 'we do nothing to recruit members'"; and rejoins: "One can say the same thing of any marketing campaign to sell cellphones. These methods are but glamorous marketing tactics masked in religion. Why do we need to resort to these measures to draw the younger crowd?" Actually, that's a surprising answer--given the evident sympathies of Mr. Hee. I would have thought that an emphasis on the similarities between the tactics of these churches and modern marketing campaigns would be apropos. That is, milk the similarities for all it's worth to point out that churches, like companies, have a product to sell
, nothing less, nothing more. And from the political point of view, this is actually fairly close. From that point of view, the recruitment of a person into a church is neither "an addition to the Kingdom of Heaven", nor "one more person choosing to believe in a falsehood" as both presuppose a substantive take on the existence and doctrine of God. Rather: as far as the state is concerned
, the person has joined a voluntary society (duely registered with the appropriate registrar), formed by individuals for the purpose of furthering some lawful common purpose--be it the saving of the environment, educating the public about the dangers of the eating Hamburgers--or the propogation of religious doctrine and the provision of "intangible spiritual benefits" (that last, by the way, is exactly what the tax receipt issued by my church in San Francisco for my tithes say). So societies get members by persuading people to join
, by membership drives, and if those drives utilise the latest marketing techniques, that's perfectly within their legal and political right. This does not rule out an essentially Christian-biblical critique of such tactics, but that
, by its nature, is not and cannot be a political
Then we have this: "Why should the Government consider religious beliefs when it comes to making policies?" Mr. Hee says, "The usual argument would be that allowing gambling here would open the doors to other sins or crimes. There is no direct causal link between them. The existence of one does not necessarily imply the existence of the other." First and foremost, there are two ways to read the "sins or crimes", one of which is politically relevant, the other, not. If by sin we really mean that
, as in the trangression of God's Law, the sinfulness of which lies precisely in its being against God (even when the wrong is done to others or self; compare Psalm 51:4 with 2 Samuel 11), then the "usual argument" would be politically irrelevant for the simple reason that if one doesn't believe in the existence of a God who requires specific duties of His creatures (the infractions of which constitute sin), there would not be any "sin" to speak of. But presumably that's not the "usual argument"--rather, the usual argument concerns "sins or crimes" in a very mundane sense, e.g., social problems (to put it loosely). That this sort of argument happened to be made by an Archbishop Whoshewhatsit is of no political relevance. The only question is whether there is a genuine correlation between allowing gambling and the incidence of those social ills, or more precisely, whether the benefits will outweigh the problems. I take it that the Government took a good look at the studies and concluded that the benefits do outweight the problems, that any problems can be contained, etc. Neither they nor their critics were essentially talking theology when it comes to the connection between gambling and "sins or crimes".
[But there is a sense in which a government should consider religious beliefs. In the previoius paragraph, I discussed the issue from the point of view primarily of the contents
of the beliefs. Now consider it from the point of view of the fact
that a significant number of people in a society believe in the said content. Even though to make laws or policies on the basis of the truth
of a religious doctrine would violate the separation between church and state, state officials would be prudent to take into account what people believe
in making laws and policies. A failure to be careful about that was among the causes of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857
: the British issued cartridges that were rumored to be greased with lard (pig fat) and
tallow (cow fat) to the Muslim and Hindu troops, thus managing to offend both groups in one fell swoop. (The British Commander in Chief in India, General George Anson was reputed to have said "I'll never give in to their beastly prejudices" despite the pleas of his junior officers; not exactly the model of prudent statesmanship.) But note the caveat: taking into account the fact that people do believe in specific religious doctrines is the prudential and statesmanlike thing to do--it does not, however, politically justify any and every thing.]
Finally, the writer's sympathies are evident both from the arguments made but especially from the concluding line: "We cannot prove - nor disprove - the existence of God. It may be best to wield Occam's Razor here, and cut away the unneeded parts: There is no need for God." As an argument about the existence of God, this is neither here nor there. All that premise actually say is "I don't know", from which, it doesn't follow that "God is unneeded" (unneeded for what
anyway?). But my concern is not with this--because there is a sense in which this is mostly right. That is, from the purely political point of view, and granting the doctrine of the separation of church and state
, policies and laws should not be made on the basis of a substantive thesis that God exists and demands such and such of human beings--or, for that matter, that He doesn't exist. To do so would be exactly to mix politics and religion.
And no, citing the Archbishop of Canterbury as saying that "he had questioned his own faith in God" is not really relevant. It at best reminds me again why I am not Anglican.