Thursday, December 27, 2007

Putting faith into action - Oregonian Opinion

Originally Published in the Oregonian November 10, 2007 10:00AM

Putting faith into action - Oregonian Opinion

My inner humanist nodded in agreement with some of Tom Krattenmaker's points in "Putting Faith Into Action."
His call for a humbler way for religion to insert itself into politics was a welcome change from the vitriol we've heard from James Dobson and others. Indeed, I share many of the ultimate goals Krattenmaker mentions and welcome this coalition's efforts to better humanity.

However, I am unconvinced by the religious grounding he uses to support the notion that this movement's gentler approach is inherently better than the negative example he cites (quoting Bible verses to support concealed weapons). He is simply advocating a less strident faith-based push toward different policy goals.

He concedes that sacred passages can't suffice as a sole basis for such legislation in our diverse society. I counter that claiming them as any basis at all puts him in the same awkward position of his rivals -- he is reduced to arguing selective interpretations of some purportedly sacred text.

This is why defenders of Church-State separation cringe at these religious incursions into matters of government -- there can be no objective arbiter between these competing unprovable claims. Krattenmaker has sifted through the Bible's endless self-contradictory directives, distilling those bits he agrees with to arrive at his theologically-suspect notion of what should be universally agreed-upon. It strikes me that what is considered "universal" is keenly tied to one's era, upbringing and geographic locale. After all, people throughout history have been convinced that advancing the "common good" calls for the killing of adulterers, infidels, sacrificial goats, etc. For people like Pat Robertson, this has meant broadly legislating morality.

It is telling that progressive commonality is found only when these intransigent theological differences are suppressed. The activist Krattenmaker spoke with was justifiably worried about religious beliefs being watered down. The case for religious underpinning grows ever-weaker with each piece of dogma (and group identity) one has to discard to arrive at some generically articulated "universal" sentiment. The "highest-common denominator" approach Krattenmaker praises sounds to me like a call to embrace the life-affirming and planet-saving principles of humanists everywhere.

-- Chauncey Canfield

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