The Role of Religion in Democratic Society

May 24th, 2007 / 6 Comments

One of my general rules is to avoid discussing politics on my site. … but sometimes I can’t help myself.

I’m concerned about the following comment made by democratic candidate Barak Obama, and the fact that the essay in which it appeared found its way into publication by the Christian Ethics Today: Journal of Christian Ethics.

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths

What do you think are the demands of Christianity, and is it possible to fit Christianity into universally acceptable principles?

Comments (6)

  1. BMer / May 25, 2007 / http://www.bmerco.com

    This is why believers shoudn’t follow a career path of politics. i think it’s impossible to find common ground, especially if you truly believe the teachings of the Bible.

    so no, i don’t think you can “fit” Christianity into universally acceptable principles. When you try to do that, you get basically what hollywood tries to do, take what makes you feel good from Christianity and ignore the call.

  2. The demands of Christianity are to love thy neighbor and love God. On a personal level, that is really straightforward. I wish that I lived that way, but most often I don’t.
    Politics only makes progress in the presence of comprimise. Without it, no government establishes itself, let alone prospers. I think what Obama is getting at is that you can’t ask people to give up abortion without appealing to the universal morals of a people (Americans). Not every American is Christian. If you want to convince people to follow your policy, you need to transcend religion. You cannot debate the religious morality of abortion with an Athiest becuase you are not conversing on the same level. You must find other ground to debate on, otherwise no progress will be made. And I think he also believes that there are some moral issues that the government is not fit to handle because the government is not a Church and to expect it to act like one is unreasonable. The World has seen that before, from 400AD through the eighteenth century. These governments were oppressive and stifled true Christianity. Is that the world we want to live in? The Founders didn’t think so, hence the 1st ammendment.

  3. Farrow / June 4, 2007

    Politics and Religion can agree as long as beliefs honestly guide decisions. God has been in the business of making and breaking nations, and will continue to do so. Religion has most recently been used as an opiate or as a tool for policies that have nothing to do with God. The cliché holds true…You want to know someone’s motives follow the money. Does most of the money in our nation go to feeding the fatherless and the widow? Do our policies help free people from personal bondage? These things are not necessarily universal, but they are inescapable tenants of Christianity. You’ll find more scripture on loving the broken then on abortion and gay marriage combined, but these two things are held as the major Christian agenda. How about cutting the War budget to give Welfare recipients fruits and vegetables instead of french-fries and cheese?
    I maintain that 9/11 wouldn’t have happened if we were more active in feeding the hungry of Afghanistan, providing health care, and creating wealth as Muhammad Yunus does.

  4. Scott Lenger / June 21, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    I think Bmer nailed it on the head.

    "I think it’s impossible to find common ground, especially if you truly believe the teachings of the Bible."

    The concept of universally acceptable principles isn’t original to Obama, but is actually pretty similar to the idea of "Moral Law" made popular by C.S. Lewis (and promoted by many an evangelical Christian).

    The problem is I’m becoming less convinced that such a common understanding actually exists. For if humanity, left to its own devices, operates according to self-concerned sinful nature as the Church teaches, then any appeal to universally acceptable principles seems pretty useless for promoting anything that would resemble the demands of Christianity.

    So what are the demands of Christianity? Well, I think the place to begin is how we as Christians understand and practice death and resurrection.

    My problem with Obama, and probably politics in general, is that for them, death and resurrection was a nice thing that happened some time ago, but offers little practical solutions for the present. Whereas for Christians death and resurrection IS the solution.

  5. Joel / June 27, 2007

    I think Augustine’s 2 cities doctrine is helpful here. I head Obama say this in a speech and had the same shivers you did. Ultimately I don’t think there is any universal law accessible to us apart from revelation. I think Barth is right on this point. At the same time, when we speak our politics in a pluralistic context, I’m not sure simply quoting the Bible is enough. Perhaps appealing to some form of common grace is a better approach to politics in a context such as ours. If common grace exists (and I think it does), then it too is revelation. It’s not autonomous reason that transcends revelation. Whatever appeals to universal values I make, such appeals cannot be thought of as transcending the Christian faith. No, we cannot transcend the truth. But for communication purposes, we can within our faith employ arguments that those outside the faith will find more accessible than those inside. Perhaps that’s our best alternative as a citizen of the worldly city.

    I fully agree that the cross and resurrection are themselves the solution, yet I’m not sure that our dogma need be the same from the pulpit as from the throne. If I read Obama charitably, I think I’m okay with what he said there.

  6. Scott Lenger / June 28, 2007 / http://scottlenger.com

    Hey Joel, thanks for dropping by.

    So you want me to start reading politicians "charitably?" Well, I guess not many people require a more charitable reading than politicians!

    Anyway, I like what you had to say about making Christian arguments "accessible." That’s an interesting approach to ‘bridging the gap’ (Though I’m still not 100% sure that’s what Obamie’s doing.)

    I also like the Barth reference. I’m currently reading Community, State, and Church which is setting up to be a good read as I’m still on the 50+ page introduction.

    Congrats on getting into Princeton by the way! I’ll have to make my way down there sometime so we can shoot the breeze.

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