Sunday, March 27, 2005

America--NOT a Swedish Theocracy!

I was reading the comments in a recent Pandagon post on the villification of single mothers. (Read the post, too--Amanda is a most fabulous addition and I heartily endorse this post). Anyway, a commenter made a very stupid point that Swedes "don't believe in a God who can tell people what to do," and in the US we do, therefore it's OK for the US to have policies make it harder for women to get divorced, becuase that reflects what religious interests want.

Which brought me to a thought. Sweden is not considered a theocracy, but it's not really clear to me why. I mean, there's a Church of Sweden. Heck, there's lots of "secular" states with official religions--Denmark's got their official religion written into the Constitution and hey, Norway's official state church just ordained a gay priest. Which leads me to argue two things: first, God's policy positions are far less clear than those promoting a "Christian Nation" would have us believe, and second, that liberals' defense of the separation of Church and State is not necessarily a defense of liberal values but is unquestionably a defense of American values.

Plenty of people have pointed out the pluralistic society's "Well, which God" problem with arguing for governance via God's will, and plenty of others have pointed out the, um, sacrelige of claiming to know God's will. But even if we assume we can know God's will as revealed through Christianity and we should use that to govern, we've still got a big problem when it comes to creating a "more Christian" nation. Jesus, Christianity's central figure, preached mainly in parable so, unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity doesn't have a lot of explicit rules that its adherents can refer back to and formally debate. So, to be inexcusably reductionistic, while a fundamentalist Islamic or Jewish theocracy could easily outlaw cannabilism because it's not Kosher or Halal, theocratic Christians wouldn't be able to point at a hard and fast rule and would have to argue in a different way that eating other people is terribly, terribly unchristian. The current demands from the Right Wing for a greater "recognition" of Christianity in our laws and government seem to miss the fact that Christianity is very flexible religion, equally useful to tyrants and saints, and that their cries for a "more Christian" nation would justify everything from an America that looks like Norway to one that looks like El Salvador.

The second point stems from the first--while a Christian nation is neither inherently conservative nor liberal, inherently just or unjust, a Christian nation is inherently unamerican. People have made entire careers opining upon the First Amendment's implications, as well as the implications of other constitutional quirks such as the prohibition against a religious test as a condition to hold office. But frankly, the document's pretty clear--the government should stay out of the religion-promoting business, and it shouldn't use Godly authority to justify its exercise of power. Or, as the legally non-binding Declaration of Independence put it: while the legitimacy of our rights are divine, the legitimacy of our government is mundane--it derives from the consent of the governed.

As someone whose name I've forgotten and who I'm shamelessly plagarizing pointed out: Religion in government does not make politicians more divine, it makes priests more profane. Today, when liberals confront conservatives who demand laws that better reflect our "Christian values," they're defending American values.

On the other hand, maybe conservatives argued the same thing when Civil Rights activists were organizing in churches and in 40 years when liberal Christian churches are in vogue, we'll find liberals' commitment to the separation of Church and State is as cynically convenient as Republicans' commitment to states' rights and limited government. Hopefully not.

Oh, yeah, use this as a "Happy Easter" post.


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