Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Disorganized Ramblings on Religion in the Public Square

As many of you know by now, Rick Santorum said that John F. Kennedy's speech on the separation of church and state made him want to "throw up". I watched Santorum on ABC This Week as he attempted to clarify his remarks (read the transcript). Essentially, Santorum maintains that people of faith should be allowed into the public square, as they contribute their two-cents about what they think is best for the country. Santorum believes that people with no faith should be part of that public square, as well. What he resents is any implication that the public square is only for people who have no religious faith, or who leave their faith at the door. (I'm inferring the latter from Santorum's comments.)

I myself wrestle with this issue. There are people of faith who have a vision about what they consider to be best for the country. This vision, in large part, is informed by their faith. Why shouldn't they be allowed to contribute their ideas?

Barack Obama said when he was running for President that there's nothing wrong with that, as long as those ideas have some secular justification. Fine. But then we're at the issue of foundationalism: what is the foundation for morality? What would the secular justification be for, say, banning slavery or racial segregation? Because they're unjust? On what basis? I'd like to think that there's a deeper reason to oppose racial segregation or discrimination than saying that racial discrimination wastes manpower, or that it's cheaper for kids of different races to go to the same schools than separate schools. Those things may be true, but racism is wrong because it's unjust. Is there a secular way to justify that moral judgment? Martin Luther King appealed to religion. I suppose that John Rawls' views could offer some secular foundation for a just society: that we should have a society that is just because how would we feel if we ourselves were part of the disadvantaged group?

Then there's the issue of freedom. Certain Catholics may feel that society would be better if sex were used solely for procreation, since society tends to cheapen sex with its liberal attitudes. But do they have the right to impose that idea on people with different points-of-view? Well, perhaps they can offer a secular argument: that liberal attitudes on sex result in the dissolution of society. Maybe if they got a majority they could craft a law banning contraception, as was done in certain periods of American history. But does majority rule make right? Part of being a constitutional society is that the minority can be protected from majority rule.

Please don't take anything I say in this post as an absolute. For example, when I ask what the foundation is for justice, I'm well aware that there are things in the Bible that appear to contradict justice. There's the exclusion of certain people-groups from the Israelite community, slavery, etc. But I question whether we can bracket religion (or some form of metaphysics) out entirely in our attempts to talk about what constitutes a just society. Maybe we can. I don't know.

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