Religion as a Basis for Thought
A follow up to Layman's post on "The Presidential Debate and Religious Faith"
A few days ago, Layman wrote a very good piece entitled "The Presidential Debate and Religious Faith" in which he discussed John Kerry's statements about abortion in last week's Presidential debate in St. Louis. While I agree with all of it, I wanted to take a moment to expand on his opening statement:
The first thing I noticed is that though Kerry treats this as if it is a religious question, Degenhart made no reference to religion. Kerry simply assumes that the only way a person can oppose abortion is as an "article of faith." This would be news to the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League, and the Libertarians for Life, as well as here and here and here and here.”
Now, I readily admit that I oppose abortion based upon my religious convictions and my understanding of what abortion does. Christianity teaches that murder is wrong, and I understand “murder” to be the intentional, non-defensive taking of the life of an innocent human being outside of war. I think that science and philosophy, independent of religion, have shown indisputably that the “fetus”(the word substituted by abortion advocates in place of “unborn infant”) is an innocent human being (since the “fetus” cannot be anything else but a developing human being who has yet to engage in any activity for which it can be guilty). Since the abortion occurs outside of war and since it is 99% of the time not done defensively, i.e., to protect the life of the mother, it falls within the Biblical teaching of “murder.” NOTE: in saying that it falls within the Biblical teaching of murder which is not allowed, I do not believe that it ought to be treated with the same punishment as your typical “murder.” There are different degrees of murder which give different punishments, and this should be no different.
Having said that, I agree that one does not have to have a Biblical viewpoint to believe that abortion is wrong anymore than one needs to have a Biblical viewpoint to believe that other types of activities that the would fall within the Biblical definition of “murder” are wrong. I know many non-Christians who would agree that murder, theft, adultery, and any numbers of other Biblically proscribed activities are wrong. So, simply because many Christians (not all) believe that something is wrong on the basis of their Christianity does not mean that the government cannot proscribe the activity without violating the establishment clause.
In fact, it is clear that the Founding Fathers used their Christian faith and morality as the basis for much of what we believe. The Declaration of Independence, for example, is explicit in its statement that the War of Independence was inspired by their belief in a creator who made all men equal and endowed them with certain inalienable rights. The Constitution itself is divided into a separation of powers based upon a Biblically based belief that men are fallen, selfish and cannot be trusted with power.
In short, the Constitution permits people of faith to compete with people who have no faith for the laws to be enacted. The fact that the law arises from a Biblical foundation or Biblical worldview does not make it any less a candidate to become a law than any other law (unless the law is overtly religious in nature, e.g., everyone must receive communion at least four times per week). This is especially true in issues of ethics where the demarcation between secular based morality and sectarian based morality is often blurred. On what basis do we uphold laws that promise people equal protection? The founders apparently thought (in their limited way) that such laws were justified by the fact that God created us equal. Today’s secular moralists base their belief in equality on ideas that do not rely as overtly on God, but either accept some sort of higher, unnamed morality as the basis for equality or accept some “minimalistic ethic” as the basis for holding that some acts are immoral (even though there is no basis for holding such an ethic if there is not God). But in either case, one can arrive at exactly the same conclusion about abortion as I have without any reference to Christianity whatsoever.
It becomes a real problem when a court starts to determine whether a law is Constitutional or not based upon the mindset of some of the people who support it. Moreover, it is simply not appropriate to refuse to enact a law simply because the legal, philosophical and ethical basis has a religious element.