Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rebuilding The Wall Between Church And State

My hunch is that Barack Obama is an atheist, or at minimum an agnostic. I doubt that he believes in heaven and hell, that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that a supernatural being is preparing to wipe away our sins and redeem the world.

But Obama wanted a career in national politics. In America this requires membership in a church, and at the least a modest display of piety. (You don’t believe it? Polls show that Americans would sooner vote for a black lesbian for president than for an atheist.)

So am I accusing Obama of being an opportunist and somewhat dishonest? Yes, but I forgive him; pretending to be religious is a tried and true American tradition, and he had no choice but to feign devotion if he wanted a future in national politics. I think he has a genuine affection for much of Jesus’s philosophy and the role that it played in the Civil Rights Movement, and I believe this helps him to justify his own professions of Christianity.

But make no mistake about it: Barack Obama is not a deeply religious man, if religious at all (the same can be said for John McCain, which is one of the reasons the far right despises him).

This is a good thing. It is time for America to reverse the creeping intrusion of religion into politics and the public square. Obama is just the person to elevate rational discourse to its rightful place in national politics, and to return religion to the private sphere where it belongs.

I am sure every now and then Obama will make a speech that highlights religion, and he will routinely end his talks with “god bless America”—he wants to be re-elected after all—but I predict that his administration will be one of the least overtly religious in the modern era. Above all, Obama is a pragmatist who understands that the role of government is to protect the public interest and get things done.

By couching issues in terms of basic fairness, common sense, and effectiveness, Obama will demonstrate that America does not need religious dictums to do the right thing; that our inherent moral intuition, combined with reason, is up to the task of crafting sound government policy. With Obama, intellectualism will be back in vogue and the United States can get back to leading the world in many areas of scientific inquiry.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution created just about the perfect balance between religion and the public sphere; in contrast to the last eight years of attempts to upset this balance, Obama is poised to solidify the wall that separates church and state.

And we will all be better off.

Jason Scorse

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