Thursday, July 03, 2008

Barack Obama On Religion And Government

Recently, when expressing his views about the role religion ought to play in relation to the governance of this nation, Barack Obama stated that he believed that it was wrong to assert that moral values and religious convictions had no place in the public square. Up to that point, I strongly agreed with him. But then he went on to discuss his reasons for believing that abortion should remain legal. In my view, those reasons were unpersuasive.

He said, "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason."

It might surprise Barack Obama, if he knew about my passionate commitment to the pro-life cause, to learn that I agree with that statement. Obama's error (which is strongly implied, but not clearly stated) is his belief that the pro-life agenda constitutes a "religion-specific value" (comparable, say, to a belief in the Holy Trinity or baptism by immersion), and that it is not "subject to argument, and amenable to reason".

If I honestly believed that his characterization of the pro-life position was an accurate characterization, and that the imposition of laws prohibiting abortion would amount to state endorsement of one sectarian religious belief in a manner which would come perilously close to establishing a theocracy or a state religion, then I would very likely be "pro-choice" myself, because I do believe that freedom of religion ought to be protected in this nation. But I think that the argument Barack is making against such laws is refutable nonsense. I've heard too many excellent arguments against abortion which were derived from reason --- not from scripture or any other type of religious revelation --- to buy into the idea which Obama is trying to sell us. Without in any way disavowing my own strong belief in Christ, I want to say that it is not necessary to believe in Christ, or even in God, in order to believe on the basis of rational arguments and scientific evidence that unborn children are human beings who possess the same fundamental and nonnegotiable rights as those which are possessed by all other human beings.

A good example, it seems to me, can be found in the story of the former abortionist known as Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Some people might think that's a bad example, because Nathanson is now a committed Catholic. But that wasn't always the case. He still identified himself as a Jewish atheist when he wrote his groundbreaking pro-life book Aborting America. As he was faced with more and more evidence which contradicted the beliefs he'd promoted during his early years as one of the founders of the pro-choice movement in America, he eventually concluded that he'd been actively involved in an egregious assault against human life and dignity. As he clearly stated in the book, it was reason (and scientific evidence from new sources such as ultrasound technology), not religious dogma, which persuaded him that he had erred in choosing to promote and practice abortion.

One of my criticisms of the pro-life movement pertains to the strategically unwise decisions, on the part of some pro-life leaders, which have helped to feed the myth that abortion is primarily a religious issue. I could go into greater detail, but suffice it to say that even if there is a legitimate time and place for saying the rosary (and I, being a non-Catholic, am inclined to think that there is not), a pro-life rally designed to change the minds of unbelievers in such a way that they will support anti-abortion legislation is not that time or place.

Belief in the right to life from conception until natural death is no more a matter of "religion-specific values" than belief in the right to freedom from slavery for all human beings. For easily explained reasons, religious leaders (such as Dr. Martin Luther King) have always been at the forefront of movements to expand the definition of who is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. That fact does not make such movements "religious" movements.

In some ways, Barack Obama is a very perceptive man. If he ever manages to get past his misconceptions about issues such as abortion, he might eventually have the makings of a great leader. For the time being, though, my vote will be given to McCain.

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