Stupid Atheists! #3 – You can’t separate church and state!
November 2, 2007
This episode of Stupid Atheists! (or A Completely Impartial and Objective Look at the Bogus Things Stupid People Say About Atheism) will look at:
“Stupid Atheists! You can’t separate church and state, because everyone has their own ideology and religious people can’t leave their belief out of their decisions any more than any one else!”
Firstly I should qualify that separation of church and state* does not mean that religious people should not hold public office. Rather, it implies that religious belief (or lack thereof) should not have any bearing the selection process. Unfortunately, despite there being no actual legal restrictions, we tend to find ourselves with a defacto test via the electorate where there is a perception that people who have no religion are somehow inherently less moral that those who do. Political candidates must generally claim some degree of religiosity or commit electoral suicide, and there are even flavors of religious believer that won’t vote for each other because of the differences in their belief. I would have thought that it would be hard enough to decide on good candidates based on actual issues, but hey, what’s society without a little in-group out-group labeling?
Anyhow, to the main issue. Once elected to public office, a person is in a position to make decisions that effect their electorate, and it is a given that they will do so based on their personal view of the world. So how is a religious person expected to divorce their religion from their decision making? And why should they, when a non-religious person, can still be influenced by their own ideologies?
Well, I assert there is a very simple and clear distinction, and one not necessarily based on the religious beliefs of the individual:
- If the reason for a decision is based on unsupported faith or dogma (religious or otherwise) then the rationale is completely subjective to the believer, cannot be logically supported or argued against, and should have no place in the political arena.
- If the reason for a decision is based on established science, logic or philosophical argument, then it can be logically supported or refuted and is open to change or modification if new evidence is presented.
And that’s it. If your reasoning is god-said-so, then that is a violation of church and state separation. If your reasoning is based on evidence A and study B which point to conclusion C, then you are not. You might still be wrong, but at least there is scope for a debate**.
As far as I am concerned, you can believe whatever you want – but if you make a decision, or take an action that effects others that don’t believe in the same stuff that you do, then you need to justify that action in a logical way based on reason and evidence. Just because is not a reason, it’s an excuse.
If we keep the public policy debate to the rational, observable world, everyone can participate.