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tell the preachers to sit down and shut up while the discussion is about politics - they have their legitimate functions, and politicking is not one of them.

Edwin, I, too, was actually put off by the boldness and even intolerance of this comment. For the record, in the US, despite our fire wall between church and state (which I deeply appreciate) the free speech rights of religious leaders are broadly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Clergy can and do address public policy concerns, ranging from abortion, gay rights and gun control to poverty, civil rights and the death penalty. They may support legislation pending in Congress or the state legislatures, or call for its defeat. They may endorse or oppose ballot referenda. Indeed, discussion of public issues is a common practice in religious institutions all over America.

The only thing organized relgion can't  do is endorse or oppose candidates for public office or use their resources in partisan campaigns. This restriction, which is found in federal tax law, is not limited to churches and other religious ministries. In fact, it is applied to every non-profit organization in the country that holds a tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. So churches can even go so far as to endorse individual candidates if they want to--but they risk losing their tax exempt status.

I have no idea what the situation is in Jake's country (Denmark?), but in the US, religion for good or bad has tended to play an enormous role in our politics. I personally favor actions and policies that derive from principles of universality rather than an appeal to religion for many of the reasons Jake has outlined, but it's disengenious--and not a little unfair--to expect religious groups not to participate in political debates when every other legitimate entity in the country can.

On the flipside, that this privilege has been abused is without doubt. From the Christian Coalition's infamous voter guides to The Church at Pierce Creek near Binghamton, N.Y. that lost its tax-exempt status  after the IRS determined it had violated federal tax law by publishing a full-page ad in USA Today  advising people that voting for Clinton was 'a sin' and soliciting tax-exempt donations to defray the cost of the ad, organized religion has stepped well outside the bounds of its tax exempt status. If that were the limit of the problem I wouldn't be so worried, but too often,  religion (especially in the US) has also been used as a hammer to demonize entire minority groups (gays) and even political groups (liberals). The Quaker and traditional peace churchs in the US are unfortunately quite small. The Southern Baptist Convention is enormous. While I sympathize with your objection to Jake's broad and intolerant declaration against all religions, I can also understand where he's coming from. The way to bridge the gap, I would argue, again, is to maintain  a healthy respect for the supremacy of legitimate Democratic state authority over religious authority at least in terms of our day to day living.  To advocate for the ascendancy of religious authority over the state is a dead end because of religion's ultimate subjectivity. Why? Ask yourself this: which one of the multitude of competing religions gets to have final 'say'? Which view is more ethical? The religious rights take on gays or the Quaker's take on war? I know I'd be with the Quakers in a heartbeat, I also know quite a few folks in my state who would side with the religious right. From there you are only a half a step away from a 100 year war.

 Here's Project Fair Play on the same issue:

Mixing religion and partisan politics could lead to religious majoritarianism and divisiveness. If the church electioneering bills become law, a large church, or a number of churches working together, could form a political machine. Religious groups could select candidates and support their campaigns. This would inevitably allow the largest denomination in each community to dominate political life.

A quick survey of conflict around the globe shows how dangerous it can be when religion and politics are injudiciously mixed. The last thing America needs is to take a step in that direction.


 I agree with this. I don't however find Jake's syllogism terribly persuasive because as he himself noted, MLK's most persuasive arguments were generally based on a view of a common humanity. I think Jake is trying to split off or separate that out from a religious view of humanity which is a rather tedious excercise. Many major religions hold as core  values the concept of common humanity and a common good. So when MLK 'uses religious demagogy' as Jake calls it, he's more than likely talking about our common humanity. Unless Jake is going to provide specific instances where MLK said, 'discimination is bad because the bible tells me so' quoting chapter and verse that specifically appeals to some divine authority rather than our common humanity, I don't think there's much of an argument here. Even if there is, his main concern is that MLK would prop up a movement that was widely ecumenical because it occasionally referenced a quote from the gospel (which in and of itself is a great place to begin to get a sense of a common humanity) as a touchstone? Hmm, as we Southerners say, I just don't think I have a dog in this hunt.  Or perhaps, more broadly, I will say there's simply no need to suggest it's EITHER religious dogmatism OR ethical humanism. Many perhaps most religions represent views that embrace both. If I were to do a diagram it might look more like a Venn diagram where common humanity is a subset of religious dogmatism, B included in A, MLK appeals to B inside of A meaning, effectively, BOTH. Now there are cases when that distinction is useful, when, in fact, the religious dogmatism goes against the ethical character of humanity B is NOT included in A --a cleric who advocates violence or a church that denies the use of condoms (thus sentencing millions to early and agonizing deaths from AIDS for example). In these instances, by all means, break away from the church, petition against it, and appeal to the authority of a legitimate state as a counter balance. Outside of these instances, as edwin rightly points out, many religious traditions have often overlapped and indeed re-affirmed the core progressive values of a common humanity where 'rights' can be easily predicated on our ability to universalize them, just like any good Kantian. And I would further suggest that many preachers will say it's the right thing to do because 'God tells you so', but, in the Xtian tradition, at least, what 'God' (in the gospel) has told them is exactly the core believe of ethical humanism: to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"...how much purer an example of universalism can you find than that?

Thanks to you both for the discussion. Now, out with the tomatoes!

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 01:36:58 PM EST
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