Church and state must coexist, not remain separate

By Jessica Tyler, guest columnist

Nothing has established and reinforced political ideology quite like the age-old argument of separation of church and state.

Whether you believe that religion belongs in the public or private sphere, religious viewpoints are inherently embedded into the political system. However, America was the first nation in history to place a clear distinction between established religion and government. One of the many attacks on our country from the Religious Right is the claim that our country is a Christian nation — a country founded by Christians, for Christians.

However, one does not have to delve deep into American history to find that this statement is not true.

Even if the founding fathers had been Christians, it would make no sense for them to establish a nation oriented around religion when many of the first colonists left England specifically to escape a tyrannical government that advocated for religious persecution.

That being said, I think the argument presented by the Religious Right is wrong, but the idea is right.

Even if you are a fervent atheist you cannot deny that the 10 Commandments, arguably one of the most fundamental laws of Christianity, instill good moral values. Most of our government and justice system is structured around these principles, although it may not be explicitly referred to as religious ideology.

Following the recent presidential election, many deemed the Republican Party insufficient and obsolete — attributing their loss to their inability to appeal to an electorate whose social values have evolved over time. So the question remains: Should the “Old Party” compromise their moral underpinnings in the name of political victories?

It is clear that the Religious Right is not wrong in observing that the U.S. has morally regressed from the days of Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues to the ‘if it feels good, do it’ ideology that took precedence throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.

However, what is unclear is whether or not this moral decline can be attributed to the diminishing influence of religion in the political arena.
I do not believe that it is necessary to advocate for a government that promotes specific religious values.

There are far too many religious epistemologies around which to both structure a government and satisfy the masses.

However, I do believe that the institution of government must coexist with the influence of religion — rather than exalting one at the expense of the other. Most of the laws established today are grounded in religious teachings, without which we would be a much different society.

While it can be debated as to whether or not it would be for better or worse, it would certainly be different. While government is necessary in maintaining order and protecting liberty, religion is essential in providing the moral foundation upon which society is built.

Jessica Tyler is a political science and history junior. Email opinions@kykernel.com.

Shane says:

The statement:
“religion is essential in providing the moral foundation upon which society is built.” is absolutely false. Name one aspect of moral behavior that an atheist is incapable of? Religion and any political dogma that claims absolute authority and total knowledge CAN create an immoral foundation by which otherwise good people are free behave very badly. Genocide and slavery come to mind. Claiming that religion has any place in our government is UN-American.

Chris says:

Benjamin Franklin, isn’t the best moral standard in my opinion and there are good reasons why Church and State are separated. I’m not religious, but I have very firm morals that guide me through life and I believe that government should work similarly. I think this article was really presented wrong, but the core of what she was trying to say isn’t that far fetched. People need morals, government needs morals, but neither require religion.

Solo says:

This was written by a 20 year old people, not someone whose even graduated college yet. Take it with a couple grains of salt…

Langley says:

Chuck you are wrong because Jessica wasn’t saying a thing. Seriously, her argument is so convoluted and self-contradictory as to be little more than a ramble of sorts. She states this government absolutely was not founded on Christian or any religious faith. Three paragraphs or so later there’s that great thing about how nobody can deny that the 10 commandments are super awesome and are the underpinnings of our justice system. HUH?

Then its on to the jumble that starts with this gem: “It is clear that the Religious Right is not wrong” – basic point of fact: double negatives = “It is clear the Religious Right IS RIGHT”. Onto the substance of the assertion: the US has morally regressed form days of Benjamin Franklin. WHOA! WTF? Logical fallacy big-time but even more so, really!? People aren’t owned as slaves anymore, women aren’t considered property, all adults no matter race or gender can VOTE, no child labor, no cruel and unusual punishments etc. etc. What the hell are you asserting has gone down the crapper since 1776? Finally, you said in the beginning our founding father’s didn’t base this on Christian or religious beliefs so what the heck is Ben Franklin doing at this point in your “argument”?

OK: “what is unclear is whether or not this moral decline can be attributed to the diminishing influence of religion in the political arena.” Oh my dear sweet American Jesus! What is this an “argument” for? I thought this was a key premise in your argument. For your conclusion (not logical of course, just end of ramble) to be sound, it must follow from your premises? What is this?!? AH, here we have the final thoughts of wisdom!

I will agree with her final statement:if things were different they’d definitely be different – I mean if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle! Furthermore, if this were a logically sound or valid argument, this wouldn’t be a fatuous exercise in inanity.

Chuck says:

You’re right; my opening was unnecessary. Without apologizing for anything else I said, I do apologize for that. It wasn’t fair.

Mike says:

Joshua, thanks for responding with some good points.

As far as the Ten Commandments being a guide that must be taken in context, there are many people that I have met that would claim they are the set laws that must be followed, as is everything in the Bible. While you say that most treat the Old Testament as good for reading, there are still a lot of sects that hold true to saying everything in it is still the law. I know more people that treat Matthew 5:17 as proof that the Old Testament is no longer the law than I do that see it as a reinforcement of the law. They argue that even though Yeshua has fulfilled the Prophecies, that makes them no less valid as a means to appease God. That’s one of those sectarian differences that makes it very difficult to say Christianity is this. It holds true across other religions with varying sects as well.

John Locke was influential on the founders; agreed. I agree that there is significant evidence that a lot of our society was based on Christian doctrine, but as time progresses, it becomes more secular. I feel the secularization is a good thing, as it increased rights for women and ended slavery as two points of note.

At the same time, there are tons of philosophers that came up with good ideas on ethics and morals that were not influenced by the Judeo-Christian concept of God. The ancient Greek philosophers did not share the same concept of deity. Yet, Socrates, Plato, and all the others are referenced time and again. While I understand what you are saying, the concept of a Judeo-Christian God taking precedence in the minds of the founders over others, I do not feel a concept of any particular deity is necessary in the teaching of ethics/morality.

Theocracy, regardless of the religion in question, is bad. We agree on this.

Defining life at conception is a tricky thing. I don’t feel that any person is truly Pro-Abortion. I am Pro-Choice, but I would prefer it to be achieved through an increased access to contraception and knowledge about how to have safe sex. I feel that Roe v. Wade was a good decision, though, as it at least helps to prevent children from entering into an environment that is detrimental to society. Levitt and Donohue found a significant reduction on the crime rate from the Roe v. Wade decision in their 2001 paper on this issue. Hoffman found in 2006 that teenage mothers are more likely to live on welfare, obvious, but still scholarly supported. One argument against labeling abortion as murder is that a miscarriage would then have to be considered as involuntary manslaughter. You cannot identify the fetus as a person, and then not punish someone for its death, even in the event of a miscarriage. Like I said before, it’s tricky, but not in the fun way like to rock a rhyme.

I feel that the figure of Jesus would be considered a liberal today, and I myself am also a liberal (world moderate). I spend a lot of time focusing on the affairs of the world, so my political spectrum is the world spectrum. I was not a fan of Romney, as his economic plan did not make sense, and I did not want to see the presidency shift back to someone that still thought about foreign policy as if we were in the Cold War. Also, I was against a lot of his attitudes for social policy.

As far as the advocating of killing others in the New Testament, a lot of those are up for interpretation. Acts 25:11 has Paul say he does not object to dying if he has committed anything deserving of death. That to me says that there are still many things deserving of death in the minds of the authors of the New Testament, but I cannot find them detailed. I happened to stumble on a site with lists of biblical verses in support of Capital Punishment when I took the lazy route of googling the advocation of death in the New Testament as opposed to breaking out the old Bible to go through and find answers for myself. (americanrtl.org/death-penalty) This is another place where things get tricky as people see the verses meaning different things. Then we have to get back in the argument of sects teaching different things.

The Ugandans have the “Kill the Gays” Bill which they hope to pass and for it to take effect shortly after December 25th. Many clerics call for it to be passed as a “Christmas gift.” That is just despicable to me.

Keith- If you are just going to try to be inflammatory, why bother commenting? We can all agree that the best course of action is for a state to not declare itself in favor of any one religious preference. The state should just allow the freedom of an individual to choose whichever religious preference they so desire. The thing about atheism is that it is only the lack of belief in a deity. There is no central dogma that controls the actions of a person who identifies as an atheist. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is an atheist; do you see her trying to destroy religions? Well, her government is calling for an inquiry into the Catholic Church hiding incidents of sex abuse against children. Shame on her.

mariam says:

“Christian and Catholic presidents” – you know Catholics are Christian, right? just checking :)

Steven says:

*Joshua drops the mic and walks off stage*

Joshua says:

The offensive bit was only in response to chuck, and the reason was very simply the sentence, “I’ve come to expect a lot of nonsense from the Kernel, but this is absurd.”. Foremost I’m friends with the author and I know a bit of the background that she is coming from and perhaps understand what she is saying a bit more than beyond the words themselves… So perhaps a benefit of the doubt is necessary for Chuck. It still rubbed me the wrong way. It’s the Kernal, it’s students who are very likely never going to publish anything sharing their ideas and Chuck leads with hers are absurd. That ticked me off. So my response was offensive.

But more to the point of your comments Mike. Your critique on the Ten Commandments follows the same train of thought as Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” and I get your point of view. But what I would like to say is this, foremost, the ten commandments are a guide and meant to be taken in context (there’s tons of theological thought behind how that is done and if you wish to delve into it, have fun) but most christians treat the old testament as good for reading but not good for attempting to derive a complete moral philosophy.

What I interpreted Jessica to mean, as far as society having a basis on Christianity and Christian thought, I truly believe that you can’t debate. If you read through John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (who was massively influential in our forefathers rhetoric and ideologies), you cannot deny that he is deriving his entire moral philosophy from his concept of the Judeo-Christian God. I can continue on this track if you want but I don’t want to write a book.

The other points being that religion can’t coexist unless theocracy. I disagree. I can pretty much sum up whether I think theocracy is good by saying take a look at Iran. HR violations, funding wars and tons of outright oppression. NOT A FAN OF THEOCRACY. But our country has made it 200+ years and had Christian and Catholic presidents. In that I think you see the “personal” side of religion VS the “Political” side of religion. So while Obama says we pray for those hurt in sandy, he doesn’t mean, get down on your mats and pray now or go to jail, he means, we can say a silent pray (or out loud, whatever) to whomever. You want to pray to the flying spagetti monster, go for it. Thus religion and politics work together.

Some of the other things that go with this of course is the Religious Right defining life at conception. For one I know atheists that define life at conception. That is a philosophy though. Religiously, philosophically, biologically, defining life is always going to be somewhat subjective. Peter Singer (Philosopher at Princeton) advocates for child infanticide. While Christopher Hitchens has this to say, The words ‘unborn child,’ even when used in a politicized manner, describe a material reality.”-God is Not Great (pp. 220-21). Thus you are killing something that is real ‘person’, not a growth inside a woman (in his opinion). I’m not trying to convince you to be pro-life, I don’t care about all that, all that I am saying is that religiously formulated moralistic arguments have parallels even from the atheistic point of view.

Last point. Christianity means people are more likely to kill people for religion. Prior to the Reformation this might have some credence but other than incendiary entertainment news stories, this doesn’t carry much weight. It’s like the “Academic” studies that say Rep are dumber/smarter than Dems. It doesn’t parse out to be true. Jesus was a Liberal. I think that gets missed by many on the far right… Though my friend and mentor has said to me a few times, live like a liberal (IE help the poor, give stuff away, educate people) and vote like a conservative. Anyhow, there is nothing in the New Testament advocating the killing of others for any reason. Read it. If you find it, I’ll give you 10 bucks (I’d bet you like romney, 10k but I live like a liberal :)

Anyhow, I love civility! I like having a conversation that respectfully disagrees. Normally it’s my default. Sorry you saw me in rage mode.

Mason says:

The first four commandments are not especially moral at all, and are entirely inapplicable to secular law.

1. “You must not have any other god but me.”

What if I’m a Hindu? This commandment is completely meaningless to me.

2. “You must not make for yourself an idol”

Nothing in United States law that says I can’t worship Mothra if I want to. Again, this is meaningless to many Americans.

3. “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”

I reiterate, if it isn’t *my* God, then this commandment makes no sense. Even if it was, it harms no one, and the law says nothing about it.

4. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

The vast majority of people work on Saturday or Sunday (whichever you consider your Sabbath). There’s nothing particularly moral about setting aside a specific day of the week for religion.

From here we move into the somewhat applicable commandments.

5. “Honor your father and mother.”

This is broadly moral, I suppose. However, think of those people that have parents that most definitely should not be honored. What if my dad was a serial killer? Should I honor him then?

6. “You must not murder.”

Ok.

7. “You must not commit adultery.”

Certainly courts don’t look favorably on it, but it’s not illegal. Biblical definitions of adultery also include remarriage after divorce. Apart from invoking God, it’s impossible to explain how that is immoral.

8. “You must not steal.”

Alright.

9. “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.”

Sure.

10. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

No laws about this, people do it all the time.

So as you can see “most of our government and justice systems” are most certainly NOT “structured around” this list of nonsense. Only three of these commandments inform our justice system at all, and even then there are different degrees of theft and murder because a fair system of justice has to have more nuance than “don’t steal.” More than that, these rules are *obvious.* Any society would tell you not to murder or steal. So rather than “The Ten Commandments” let’s have “The Three Obvious Statements.” Put those three in front of a courthouse if you want, you’ll hear no complaints from me.

More than what the ten commandments say, let’s think about what they don’t say. They don’t tell you not to discriminate based on race or ethnicity. They don’t tell you to treat women fairly. They don’t tell you not to rape, not to physically abuse, not to maim, not to enslave, not to kidnap. Aren’t these worth prohibiting? Aren’t these also tenets of our justice system today?

And this leads me to the next major point. You think that this country has morally *regressed*? I’m a history major too, and one of the agreed-upon tenets of the discipline is not applying modern moral judgments to history. However, you want to compare and contrast morality, so that goes out the window.

Because Ben Franklin wrote some intelligent things on morality? He lived at a time when women had no self-determination. He lived when people in this country *owned* other people. Ben Franklin never saw the end of ethnic cleansing in America, as it alternated between deliberate and incidental genocide of the American Indians. The average American 200 years ago was far less moral than we are today. Today each of us can be a Ben Franklin, or a John Adams. “It is clear” that we’ve morally regressed?

Mostly I’m not sure what to make of this. The idea that morality is created or supported by religion (even partially) has and will be contested. So I don’t think I need to address it. I wanted to pick on the things I personally found puzzling. Supporting the Ten Commandments as foundational legal instructions and unfavorably comparing modern morality to historical morality are two things I come across quite frequently. I apologize for the length of this response, but I felt that it was warranted.

Keith Buhler says:

Although the ten commandments are Jewish (as Simon Gardner pointed out) and some of them concern right relationship with Jehovah not just people (as Mike pointed out) America is better for its Anglo-Christian roots.

There have been good religious societies and evil religious societies. But name a atheist society that wasn’t evil. Russia? France? China?

Individual atheists may be fine people, but given badges and power, and yeah… they get really ixnay on the religious oleration-tay.

Mike says:

I disagree with the Ten Commandments installing good moral values. I would say of the ten, three are pretty good: not kill, not steal, and not bear false witness. Four are about building God’s ego, two about people coveting (economies are driven by people wanting things, as the text doesn’t limit itself to solely people) and committing adultery (monogamy isn’t for everyone), one about remembering the sabbath (unnecessary for morals), and one about honoring father and mother (tell this one to a person that suffered from domestic abuse at their parents’ hands).

Which Church should be given precedence when it comes to influencing government? There are a lot of religions in this country, with lots of sects within those religions. Also, how will you justify this to the 20% of the population that identified as non-religious on the latest census?

Joshua- Politics and Religion inherently cannot coexist except in a theocracy. Most religions have as part of their doctrines to kill those of other faiths, and especially the non-believers. This is kind of a problem, with which I hope you agree. The majority of people in the US identify as Christians, a whopping 75% in the last census, and sure enough, Christianity is one of the aforementioned religions which command the deaths of people of other faiths.

The article is not evenly written, with one point of evidence pointed out by Ed. Your entire response to Chuck was just insulting him. You also come off as attempting condescension without really explaining anything using evidence, which does nothing to help you in this discussion. Your thoughts are unexplained, and I would like you to elaborate on your opinion civilly, which would mean not calling anybody “silly.”

Simon Gardner says:

There’s me thinking the 10 commandments were Jewish.

Ed says:

Joshua – Chuck got it right. Jessica is saying more than you admit.

She closes saying “religion is essential in providing the moral foundation upon which society is built.” Which clearly implies that if you’re not religious you’re morally challenged.

Also, too bad you can’t carry on an intelligent dialogue without being offensive.

Joshua says:

Thanks for the positive input here Chuck. Your comments are wonderfully silly. 1) all the article was saying is that religion and politics can mix without a need to oppress. 2) that the 10 commandments are just basically good ideas. I’m glad you’ve read Bertrand Russell once or twice so you can now “refute” the ten commandments…. No one really cares. And 3) Completely and totally erroneous saying that atheists are moral, the article never said otherwise.

You got a complex, probably from your poorly articulated viewpoints, its from just basically being small minded and having a meager understanding of moral philosophy. You can’t even read an evenly written article without getting your feelings hurt. You are a small child in an adult body and your code of ethics is poorly thought out. Also calling something like this, absurd… That is silly.

Taylor says:

I was going to comment, but Chuck pretty much summed it up. Religion is no the soul source of morality.

Chuck says:

I’ve come to expect a lot of nonsense from the Kernel, but this is absurd.

“While government is necessary in maintaining order and protecting liberty, religion is essential in providing the moral foundation upon which society is built.” This IS NOT true. The Ten Commandments, to use your example, are moral ideologies that LONG predate Christianity. They are basic human morals (and, yes, I could argue that some of them are not worthwhile), not basic Christian morals.

We atheists CAN BE and ARE moral people. Our morals may not be the same as yours, but we are moral. I have never and will never kill anyone. I don’t steal. I don’t think monogamy is a universally applicable system, but I would never and have never cheated on a partner.

The idea that religion is necessary for a moral foundation is just absurd. There is more immorality in religion than there is outside of it.