The intersection of faith and politics is one fraught with difficulty in a pluralistic society such as ours. On the one hand, I have no wish to enforce my beliefs on others. On the other, my faith can’t help but influence my political thinking in many ways. And the thing is, this is true of people of all faiths, including those who are atheists. Everyone’s faith, to one extent or another, influences their politics and policy positions. The nature of the situation is that people of different faiths, can hold similar positions on the issues, even as they approach it from different perspectives. The same situation can also lead people of differing faiths to also have starkly different policy applications.
We have all heard the tired refrain, “I don’t want to push my morality on others,” or “don’t make me comply with your moral positions.” Usually this is in the context of controversial moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage. What’s interesting though is that the same person’s moral compass that suggests that abortion is wrong, could also lead them to want policies ending the death penalty, or policies that discourage or end human sex trafficking. Many democrats have said that climate change is a moral issue, as a reason to implement policies to fight global warming. Morality, in the context of justice, is often invoked for the war on terror. So, for instance, John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, stated that he was personally opposed to abortion, but didn’t want to force his moral beliefs on others. Agree or disagree, fair enough for now. But then, in the next breath, he would say that global warming is the moral issue of our time. Arguably, that would be an example of him forcing his moral beliefs in legislation.
I want to make this point. Morality is being used in two different instances here. In the first instance, Mr. Kerry is saying that his own religious beliefs compel him to be personally opposed to abortion, but that he does not wish to push that on others. In the second, he is trying to use moral language to argue that we should pursue this given policy. Moral arguments can be very effective in trying to convince your audience of any given policy prescription. In other words, “If we don’t do x, then y is going to happen, which would be very bad, therefore, we should do x because it is the right thing to do.” This form of argument is used all the time. We could also use a familiar argument today to frame this.
a) Bigotry is wrong.
b) A baker that refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding, because he objects to gay marriage, is displaying bigotry.
d) We use legislation to protect people from bigotry.
c) Therefore, we should have a law that compels the baker to bake the cake so that the gay man or woman doesn’t have to suffer from the bakers bigotry.
This is entirely a moral argument on display here, and one that is typically used to advocate for certain legislation. (For the record, I think the second premise is questionable, but that is the argument made by many liberals.) This should show us that we all make arguments for policy from our own personal values. So the question of whether or not we should allow our faith and values to influence our political positions is a moot point.
There are some issues that more overtly spring from religious perspectives than others, though, such as abortion and gay marriage, and these are notable for their controversy. However, any of these other issues can spring from religious perspectives as well. It feels like we are back to square one, but not necessarily. I think the best way, in a pluralistic society, is to respect the convictions of others, and allow each other the freedom to have these convictions and live them out, especially when we ourselves don’t understand why people have the beliefs they do. A pluralistic society is the perfect place to allow ideas to compete in the marketplace and allow reason to have its way.