I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death. George Carlin

I agree with George. The separation of church and state is extremely important. At its heart, it’s about preserving religious freedom. Freedom in itself is worthy, but in this case it serves a far larger purpose; diversity. Freedom is only freedom if its freedom for all. America has greater religious freedom than many countries, but still has a way to go. When the first Jewish President is sworn in, the first Muslim President, the first Atheist President etc we can celebrate further steps towards religious freedom. There’s only been one Catholic President in total, which means that America has a long line of Protestant Presidents. This doesn’t accurately reflect the melting pot that is American society.

Growing up in Australia, it never seemed to be a huge deal to have atheist and agnostic Prime Ministers. They were judged on their merits as leaders and not on their faith. The current Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was asked in an interview if she believes in God. She said no and that while she respects other peoples’ religious beliefs, she feels no reason to pretend she believes in God to attract religious voters. What is more important to her is the welfare of the Australian people – regardless of their religious convictions. I’m proud to come from a country that elects an atheist as leader. I experienced the same thing, living in New Zealand where PM Helen Clark was agnostic.

America has a way to go before attaining the same level of religious freedom as Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Europe. The faith or non faith of leaders in those places is generally a non issue, which is the way it should be. My sense is that America is ready to take a major leap forward. Polls show that 54% of Americans are ready to vote for an atheist. In 1958, only 18% of Americans said they would vote for an atheist. I see this as major progress, not because I’m an evangelist for atheism but because it shows that the faith of leaders is not as important to a growing number of people as their integrity and effectiveness as a leader.

I’m sure that many evangelical Christians will disagree with me. Leading up to the November 6 US election hundreds of conservative pastors around America will direct their congregations to vote for Romney as if it’s their Christian duty. The Catholic Archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers, sent a pastoral letter encouraging Catholics to vote to defend Catholic marriage, family and sexual values. He went so far as to suggest that Catholics who don’t share his views should probably not receive Holy Communion.

Is this a betrayal of the separation between church and state? On the one hand, yes. Church leaders shouldn’t manipulate elections just as government shouldn’t manipulate the worship experience. On the other hand, how can you separate beliefs from politics? The great Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi said,

 Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.

Everyone has a worldview, and some peoples’ worldviews are guided by their religious tradition more than others. The key distinction is between a belief and a value. Values are guided by common sense, history, science, compassion and community. Beliefs are often guided by the will of God, tradition and sacred texts, which trump common sense, history, science, compassion and community, close down conversation and often remove personal responsibility.

Values are qualities such as compassion, integrity, honesty and justice. Beliefs are ideas about the afterlife, divine intervention and prayer. Values are not only appropriate in politics. They are essential. Beliefs should be kept out of politics.

Think of some recent examples. These are all from Republican leaders or candidates in recent months. Most of them apologized or recanted in some form, but not before their true thoughts were revealed.

Todd Akin said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Steve King said he had never heard of a girl becoming pregnant from rape.

Roger Rivard said, “Some girls rape so easy.”

Richard Mourdoch said that pregnancy from rape is God’s will.

Todd Akin sits on the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology. Even though his comment showed a complete misunderstanding of biology, he remains on the Committee. The chairman of this committee, Ralph Hall, is a climate change denier. He said, “We can’t control what God controls.”

John Sununu accused Colin Powell of endorsing Obama because both men are black. Laurence Wilkerson, a Colonel and former chief of Staff to Powell made this revealing statement about current Republicans-

Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists. The real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander in chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that’s despicable.

It IS despicable, and speaking of despicable, conservative commentator Ann Coulter called Obama a retard.

This is a sample of statements that are offensive to a progressive worldview; ignorant in relation to science, bereft of compassion and squash religious freedom by allowing beliefs to enter the public debate.

I have no problem with any person holding any religious belief that makes sense to the individual…in the privacy of your own mind and home. But religious beliefs have no place in public discourse. Bring your values to the public table. Leave your beliefs behind.

I have no intention of telling anyone how to vote. You can work that out for yourself. But this is how I would vote, if I could vote (as I’m not a citizen). I would vote for President Obama in a heartbeat, without even a moment’s hesitation. For me, it’s a no brainer.

It’s not that Obama’s been perfect. Is anyone perfect? He’s been courageous in many instances, and helped to heal America’s reputation around the world. Most importantly, the alternative is a complete offense to my values.

Romney himself is one thing. It’s hard to get a handle on what he believes about most things.  I’m more concerned about who has him in their pocket. As Bill Maher said, “You elect Romney, you elect every right wing nut he’s pandered to in the last ten years.”

I’m relatively new to this country, and have no loyalty to the Democratic Party. I would rather see myself as an independent. But in the system as it is now, as a progressive who values things like equality, fairness, sustainability, compassion and religious freedom, the current choice is clear.

The lead up to the election is a time to recommit to your values. In the words of Thoreau, “cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” Vote, for sure. But do more than that. Live your vote. Live your values, and respect the right of others to live their values whether they are based in religious beliefs or not.

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  1. Mike Ritsema says:

    Ian:

    I find you comments interesting while your fundamental premise unfounded.  President Obama attended a Protestant church for the last 20 years while former Governor Romney is a Mormon - which is no where near fundamentalist Christianity.

    I believe that we all vote our ideology or worldview – our fundamental beliefs or values which become our traditions – and you state yours clearly here.   Values are derived from beliefs which then become our worldview or ideology.

    America may do exactly what you suggest next week: vote for the equivalent of a Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or Agnostic in the form of a Mormon.  This would represent an affirmation of the majority of America’s values and beliefs – a daring move in the face of status quo.

    Mike Ritsema 

  2. Ian,
    As a progressive who wants to see America evolve, I thank you for a most eloquent, heart-centered post.
    Cheers. Live your values!
    Linda C. Thomas

  3. Jim Skinner says:

    Ian,  excellent comments.  One difficulty we seem to have is in this statement of yours – “Bring your values to the public table. Leave your beliefs behind”  For me this only works if you are basically not religious.  Unfortunately a lot of  the values held by guys like Todd Aiken are rooted in their beliefs and they can’t seperate them. By making a statement like he did he expressed his belief and his values. It is likely wishful thinking, but there are a lot of us who are hoping that Obama really isn’t as religious as his public persona appears.

  4. Nikki says:

    Hi SoulSeeds!  We at http://www.Glad.is look at you as a sister site.  And we love this article.  We don’t normally publish anything about Politics either, but thanks to one of our readers, just posted an article and video that covers Obama’s Accomplishments in the last 4 years - http://glad.is/article/what-hes-done/ 
    We think it’s important to really keep in mind what he has done to lead us in the right direction as a country…compassion and equality ARE the most real signs of a truly free and democratic society. And caring for our planet, well, what can be more important? Romney said on Meet The Press on 9/9/12  that he “Is not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet”. 
    So we couldn’t resist putting ourselves out there and showing our support for President Obama.
    we love your site, SoulSeeds!  thanks for spreading Gladness.
    Nikki, Co-Founder/Editor  Glad.is

  5. Beth says:

    Mike, I think you are operating under the same understanding of Mormonism that fundamental protestant churches were until Romney earned the GOP endorsement this Spring. The Mormon church espouses the same ‘biblical’ values that fundamental Christian’s do, which is why the fundamental Christian crowd which has for so long called Mormonism a cult, has jumped right onto his wagon. Additionally, Thus far it seems that Governor Romney is as Mormon as he is Conservative (by which I mean, he seems as luke-warm about his religious practice as he is about any specific political issue unless otherwise advised by a donor).
    I think the important part of what Ian is saying is that we have allowed the use of the terms ‘biblical values’ to infiltrate our politics despite our very straightforward separation of the two. There is a sense that denying that Biblical values are subjectively true will make it so, and that somehow that makes it ok to cast judgement on the rest of the world. This same principle guides the creationism debate. I think what is difficult for me, that Ian, you gave eloquent words to, is that while I firmly believe that my own political views are based in deep progressive values, I am loathe to allow bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, and ignorance to be the values that guide a presidential election. How do we draw that line? How do we say, ‘I’m tolerant of everything except intolerance?’ I firmly believe that the teachings of Jesus encapsulate a call for compassion and social justice… how do i separate that from what i consider to be a terrible misunderstanding of those same teachings?
    Thank you Ian, you have my brain all stirred up!
     

  6. Hi Ian,

    A few things jump out at me while reading your post and as a Christian and an American, I just have to say I don’t want my country to be of the  “progressive way.” Sounds like a world with no boundaries—anything goes! 

     America was founded on the principle of ‘In God We Trust.” I don’t vote religion because it’s my “Christian duty,” I vote my values. And most times I’m having to choose the lesser of two evils, in my opinion. Mormon’s are not of the Christian faith, founded in the Holy Bible. And most people, when making their judgements about issues, do make them according to their worldview ideologies. 

    You pounce on Ann Coulter for calling Obama a “retard” but then you quote this: Bill Maher said, “You elect Romney, you elect every right wing nut he’s pandered to in the last ten years.”  So it’s NOT okay for Ann to call Obama a retard but it’s okay for Bill, as always, to call those who have different values  as his (such as us right wing conservatives) as “nuts.”  

    As a Christian, I too value “equality, fairness, sustainability, compassion and religious freedom,” and the freedom of speech. America has a rich history and there are many different cultures, which make up this great Nation. Also I don’t think that a person can just leave their faith in “their mind and home.” You might not understand that a person’s faith becomes who they are, for instance it’s evident that Bill Maher has no faith in anything or anyone.

    Faith is a filter by how people live their life—Bill has no filter and according to him, with his movie Religiosity, he made it clear he wants to bring “doubt.” So I would say he really should leave is opinion in his mind and at home,  as he wants to postulate his belief in “nothing.”

    And how sad to agree with this statement: My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death. George Carlin

    To think religion is a certain death and screws people up (will unless you’re the Muslim Brotherhood), doesn’t sound very “progressive.” Many confuse religion with Faith. Religion is an institution, where Faith is a relationship with the Living God. And just so you know, faith in the LORD is freedom from “certain death.”  

    Welcome to the United States!

  7. Jim Skinner says:

    “To think religion is a certain death and screws people up (will unless you’re the Muslim Brotherhood), doesn’t sound very “progressive.” Many confuse religion with Faith. Religion is an institution, where Faith is a relationship with the Living God. And just so you know, faith in the LORD is freedom from “certain death.”  
    Welcome to the United States!”

    Well put Diane. I think you just about summed up Ian’s point, i.e. the reason why religion and or religious faith has no place in government.  Real history, not the popular revisionist versions, shows that the United States is the only country in the world that was founded with the express intent to seperate religion/faith from government. They didn’t call it the period of Enlightenment for nothin’.  “In God We Trust” finds it’s origins in political paranoia.  And as sad as you might think his comment is, George Carlin had a very good point. One needs to look no farther than the pages of the history of western civilization to see how religious beliefs have resulted in the greatest conflicts between mankind. For me, “the Lord” does not exist and I feel fine!

    Welcome to reality.

  8. ian says:

    hi all, thanks for the comments. Just to clarify, there is a huge difference between calling someone a nut and a retard. If Coulter had called Obama a nut, no one would have thought twice about it.

    In terms of values and beliefs, I can’t think of a single value that is unique or original to any religion. Different religions just have their own stories and ways to explain values like compassion and justice. Like I said, I have no problem with people preferring their religious ways of expressing values, and I have no problem with groups gathering around this shared interest, but I object to anyone who says certain values ARE Christian, or any other religion. And I object to people inserting their religious preference and beliefs into public debate.

    Our public conversations should be about values. If we have different family, sexual, economic etc values, lets talk about the difference in the values. If people BELIEVE that God or Jesus or any other religious figure agrees with their values, then that’s a private matter. It has no relevance in the public sphere.

    For example, if someone BELIEVES that same sex marriage is wrong because God didn’t intend same sex marriage, then this opinion should be kept out of the debate. Have actual, current, scientific, social and psychological reasons behind your values, or keep ‘em to yourself. IMHO!

    Abortion, contraception, climate change, economic policy- same, same.

    And, by the way, the same goes for progressive christians. The fact that progressive believe that Jesus was a progressive pioneer has little relevance and no place in the public conversation.

    The separation of church and state has solid reason behind it, and its not just about tax and freedom of religion. Its also about not being manipulative by claiming divine support, and its about not removing personal responsibility (as in climate change) by saying that only God can control things.

    Enuff for now. Still lots to talk about, and I encourage more comments.

  9. I agree with your broad sentiments, but I think it can be difficult to separate out values and beliefs. Is the idea that all of us are created equal a value or a belief? I would call it a belief which underpins our values. And blind faith is not something unique to religion. Many have a blind faith that a growth economy will lead to a net improvement in people’s lives. There is no evidence, as far as I can see, for this faith, but it greatly effects political decisions.

  10. Jim . . . love to dialog, like your reply. However, I wasn’t talking about separation of church and state, I was commenting on Mr. Carlin’s quote that religion “is a certain death and screws people up.”  The Christian people I know, do not see their faith as a “religion” but a “relationship” with God and they are not “screwed up.”  No doubt, throughout history people have done horrific things in the name of their god. But that does not mean the God is behind it.  There will always be conflict over religious beliefs. Not that it would mean anything to you, but the Bible talks about such conflict. Jesus even said they will hate you because of me. And just because the LORD, does “not exist” for you, doesn’t mean he dose not exist.  
    I’m glad you feel fine. Not sure what you thought you were supposed to feel from my post. Wondering if you struggled with the “reality” of God because of your statement . . . the need to know you’re fine without the Lord.  I do not mean anything negative, just wondering.

    When I have time, I’m  going to research your statement that  ‘In God We Trust’s’ origins were founded  in “political paranoia.” Even so, we began as a Christian Nation. You said, “Real history, not the popular revisionist versions, shows that the United States is the only country in the world that was founded with the express intent to seperate religion/faith from government.” That is an interesting statement and I’ve not heard about “revisionist versions” will need to look that up too.
    Thank you for the dialog :-) . . . happy day to you! And I really do mean that . . . AND I really was welcoming Ian to the United States! 

  11. Gamma says:

    “Religio” is equal to tie it back. The separation of church and state has been given the variety of “schools” that have to the Middle Ages and later, still represented the sole truth claim occurred. Even though I belong to no church, I trust in “God.” In the Community and in the silence, by myself, I am trying the “divine” to be close.
    America, usually in secret in any way the “religious freedom”, the Church of Scientology and the Secret Service (Clinton family) etc. has for decades sought to take possession of the world. Of course, no one will know about it. Than those asterisks, brag with their membership This Church is for me a clear but modern image of the Vatican.
    I do not like when you think of it and preaches, detached from “God”, was a viable policy of human, empathetic, authentic, trendsetting. Excuse my statement (I do not think I know that God exists in all beings, in all of our actions).

  12. Mike Ritsema says:

    Beth & Ian:
    “Biblical values are subjectively true” – I agree.  All denominations or religions have a different ‘spin’ on beliefs which impact one’s values – as do scientists, philosophers, atheists, and experientialists.   
    I find it fascinating that progressives can be intolerant of religious people espousing their values derived from beliefs in the public square while religious people must be tolerant of progressive’s values derived from their beliefs.
    Let’s not delude ourselves:  expressing any values in the public square, rather derived from religious, agnostic, atheist, scientific, philosophical or experiential foundational beliefs are intolerable or at least vehemently contradicted from the other side.
    And therein lies the approximately 50/50 split in America.
    MJR 

  13. Glen Scott says:

    Thanks for the great article, Ian.  I appreciate your ideas so much.   For some time, I’ve thought I needed to “let go” of some of my beliefs, not my values, because they can actually keep me stuck in a mindset.  I take to heart your admonition to “Progressives”.  We could do better to talk about our values  of compassion and caring without invoking the teachings of Jesus into the political arena.   I have found that people of different faiths, and no faith, have deep values that I, too, can value.  Maybe if we are going to invoke God’s blessing, it should be on the whole world.  I’m glad you are in America.

  14. Gamma says:

    What is subjective, what objetiv? I do not belong to a monotheistic religion. I can not judge whether the disclosure of the documents are obvious or not. In the cultural genesis of the test is to show them the steps to search for truth, not by denying the science. Rather, science should learn to see their own limitations. Religion to me is not science, this also includes the humanities (philosophy, education, psychology). The falsified by a dogma (in the church that believes with the logo in the alma mater at home), a thesis is because instead hardly. Everyone has his own truth, whether he knows it or not. Are the so-called objectivity is not it. A term is indeed effective in working order, but it describes only part of the eff. Heidegger knew what to do with the animal nature of man. It was sorry that he could incorporate them into his Philosophei. Albert Einstein visited the shady milieu, why, you can no longer ask him. The relativity of his term, he tried to falsify, he failed personally to his idea. I wish Barack Obama something even better than his continuation in office. He is to remain human, just as he is. For me there is no other politician in this world, the soul is more important than fame and glory. I wish you all a wonderful day and God bless.