+1 for Secularism
Must thank Rick Santorum: he gives me so many opportunities to write relevantly about my pet topics. In the news today: secularism gives our wannabe national savior tummy troubles and an acidic burn in the esophagus. Tasked by our wannabe investigative media to explain comments he made about his gag reflex to JFK’s speech on religion in the public sphere, Santorum pointed with one hand at secularism and with the other drew the skull and crossbones:
I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.
This profession of belief makes sense given that Santorum sees the political sphere through a theological lens, but it’s a belief detached from reality nonetheless. E.D. Kain explains why:
Obviously the church is just one of many special interest groups that really does have some say over matters of state. That’s simply a reality of representative government, whether we like it or not. But more importantly I really don’t think that Rick Santorum understands what he’s saying here, and the implications for freedom of religion.
Right. An absolute separation of church and state is impossible. Churches inform beliefs, and beliefs influence behavior. You can separate church and state to Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase and still have people voting on this or that solely on the basis of religious reasons. That being said, the impossibility of an absolute separation is no reason not to respect the dividing line.
I’m a churchgoing Catholic who believes that God has disclosed the highest truths about what it means to be human, but I’m also a secularist without apology. I favor a secular state, a state that does not impose moral or behavioral norms that have religious tenets as their sole basis. Secularism, when practiced, won’t prevent the imposition of norms upon the whole of society that some group or other finds objectionable. Nor will it ensure that the people of the nation debate from the same accepted premises.
Secularism is no check upon all coercions of action by the state, but it is an important and necessary limitation upon state power. Without it, political conflicts become turf wars over holy ground that scorch the fields of religious freedom. Political debates become proclamations about God’s will and how the state should see it done. These conflicts don’t typically end well.
An absolute separation of church and state may be impossible, but the absolutism of theological politics makes me long for it. Richard Kearney says, and I agree, that “the absolute requires pluralism to avoid absolutism.” Long live the pluralist, secular state, I say.
Or you can vote for Rick Santorum, the antiemetic of presidential candidates.