James Kerian: The Unavoidable Mixing Of Politics And Religion


“I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate.” – Dr Ron Paul

I don’t typically respond to the comments below my columns.  If the readers here are gracious enough to read through an entire column on a topic of my choosing I figure the least I can do is to give them an opportunity to discuss the subject without any further bloviating on my part.  One comment from a previous column, however, helps to illustrate that on some issues the mixing of politics and religion is simply unavoidable.  To summarize (because it is very long) the commenter expressed disbelief that I had any genuine interest in peace because I am not a vegan.

The premise for the vegan’s accusation is, of course, that the life and liberty of an animal is deserving of the same protection as the life and liberty of a human being.  The founders of our country asserted that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  Animal rights activists holds that all animals are similarly endowed.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]It is obviously preferable for the force of government to remain neutral whenever that is possible.[/mks_pullquote]

Our vegan friend represents a minority view but so too, at one point, did the abolitionists who believed that men of all races are endowed with the same unalienable rights.  So too did the suffragettes who argued that women have the same unalienable rights.  Those who hold that about-to-be-born children have these same unalienable rights have only recently come to surpass their opponents.

These are not questions of physics or economics or biology or any other type of natural science.  These are not issues that can be resolved with a peer reviewed study or with statistical analysis.  They are more fundamental than that.  They are questions of religion, philosophy, ontology or theology.  The best all encompassing term is probably metaphysics.

Obviously, however, these are questions that cannot be separated from politics.  The founders tell us that “to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.”  The metaphysical question of who is endowed with “these rights” (and who is not) is just one example of a metaphysical question that cannot be separated from government no matter how much secularists may insist on over-interpreting Thomas Jefferson’s letter about a “wall of separation.”  Our government has taken a position against the views of the animal rights activists and in favor of those of the suffragettes.  I happen to believe that is the right call on both counts, but the point is that in both cases the government has to take a position.

There are other metaphysical issues on which it is simply not possible for the government to take a neutral position.  Can land be owned?  Can people be owned?  If there are things that can be owned can they be exchanged? If so is mutual consent necessary?  Is consent alone always sufficient?  Normally, of course, there is wide spread agreement (if not necessarily complete consensus) on most of these metaphysical questions and so they are not politically contentious.  But we should be realistic about the fact that the government is taking a position on these questions and that, often, it must take a position.

This is not to say that there can be no separation of religious/metaphysical belief and public policy.  There are plenty of things that I believe are wrong (lying, swearing… trolling the combox) that I certainly do not want to see made illegal.  I have written before on the importance of limiting our political advocacy to what we believe that justice demands so that we can live peacefully together even with those who disagree with us even on our most fundamental and essential convictions.  Not every religious/metaphysical question relates to the core responsibilities of our government, but many do.

In a Republic such as ours when the government takes a position it will, over time, take the position held by a majority of the voters (or at least a majority of those who care) against the minority.  It is obviously preferable for the force of government to remain neutral whenever that is possible.  As the religious makeup of the country shifts and the culture wars continue to heat up, however, we should all be clear-eyed, realistic and honest about the fact that government will (and must) take a position on religious/metaphysical questions that make any claim on the government’s core responsibilities.