Monday, July 16, 2007

Religion as a Proxy for Moral Character

CBS News carried an article about faith in the Democratic party ("Faith and Politics Do Mix for Democrats").

I would agree that courting religious voters is a political necessity. Any voter who will support only candidates who refuse to solicit votes from theists is a voter who insists on voting for a losing candidate.

It does no good to condemn winning candidates for this state of affairs. Instead, the only good that is to be done requires turning to the people who insist on putting superstitious, irrational candidates in charge of trying to discover real-world solutions to real-world problems.

One of the things that military leaders worry about is the observation that generals are always fighting the last war. At the start of World War II, Admirals still thought of naval warfare as a conflict between battleships, with aircraft carriers as support weapons. It did not take long for military leaders to realize that the carrier group was the heart of the navy now, and battleships had outlived their usefulness.

We have reason to wonder whether candidates who are soliciting religous support are fighting the last election, without realizing that things might have changed for the next election.

The article cites Time Magazine's Amy Sullivan, who

Sullivan believes the emergence of faith in politics stems from Watergate, when the nation felt deceived and betrayed by President Richard Nixon. "Americans care about more than just the policy positions of the candidate," she explains. "They care about what their character is, kind of what their moral grounding is. And religion is one kind of proxy for that."

The idea that it makes sense to use religion as a proxy for moral character is, first, just the type of nonsense that got us into this mess. Most people who voted for Bush were people who were using religion as a proxy for moral character. The people they elected turned out to be the authors of wars of aggression, extraordinary rendition, the repeal of nearly every amendment in the Bill of Rights, torture, an attempt to abolish the systems of checks and balances, and 'get out of jail free cards' for administratin staff members convicted of breaking the law, torture. This is the consequence of using religion as a proxy for character.

People also need to become aware of the fact that this 'proxy' selects people who will seek to slow or stop research into ways to fight disease. It selects people who oppose policies that fight poverty with all of its ill effects through family planning. People who seek legislation to deprive harmless neighbors of a quality of life consistent with their nature. People who promote a fundamental ignorace of the world in which we live through their rejection of science, hindering our ability to understand the consequences of our actions.

All of these traits also promote death and misery across the planet.

A person who wants to use religion as a proxy for character can consider voting for Osama bin Ladin or one of his followers, or the reverend Jim Jones, or any of a few thousand Catholic priests who are on the sex offender lists across this nation.

More importantly, this is an example of flat-out bigotry. Using religion as a proxy for moral character is as obnoxious as using skin color as a proxy for moral character. In fact, statistically speaking, skin color is a much more reliable proxy. However, it is a sign of bigotry to judge an individual by a 'proxy' like skin color, rather than to evaluate the person as an individual who stands or falls on his or her own merits.

Of course, this is one of the qualities that many religious people excel at - bigotry, the use of proxies for moral character instead of judging the individual on his or her own merits.

Perhaps one of the most depressing aspects of this is while religious people are using religion as a proxy for moral character, I have encountered some atheists who try to do the same thing. When I encounter it among atheists, I condemn it, precisely because each person should be judged by his own merits, and not by some arbitrary group membership. I put a great deal of effort into getting other atheists to treat theists with a measure of justice and fairness.

I am wondering whether I would hear any voices among the theists asking their fellow members for the same measure of justice and fairness? Or do the concepts of fairness and justice somehow fail them?

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