It was a joy to read an article with this “right on!” title in yesterday’s Salem Statesman-Journal. Mary Ridderbusch is just 18, a recent high school graduate who will be attending the University of Oregon in the fall. But she’s wiser about religion and politics than most adults— and certainly the entire Bush administration.
I’ve attached her article in its entirety as a continuation to this post, since the Statesman-Journal’s free access to stories fades away after a week and I want people to be able to read Ridderbusch’s thoughts for a lot longer than that. She’s an excellent writer, knowing how to jump right into her subject:
One cannot legislate morality. These should be words to live by for the U.S. government. I hold a particular distaste for the legislation of religious beliefs and for the defense of this practice. “America is a Christian nation.” This claim is overused and overgeneralized.
I’ve frequently echoed her ideas in my politically-oriented Church of the Churchless posts. As I said in “Religious values have no place in politics,” we live in a real physical world, not in an abstract realm of faith-based ideas. Lawmaking has to be based on facts and values that flow from experience of a shared reality. Otherwise, democracy and individual rights are a sham.
Recently there was a lot of controversy in Salem about whether a historic black walnut tree should be cut down. Debate was vigorous and often heated. However, I didn’t hear anyone argue that because fairies live in the tree, it should be kept alive. That would have been a ridiculous argument for saving the tree, right?
Yet Ridderbusch points out that without a similar improvable belief in a unseen entity, the soul, stem-cell research would be a non-issue. Religious faith muddies the waters of political debate for it isn’t possible to have moral clarity when you’re blinded by fundamentalist preconceptions that have no grounding in the real world.
In the same vein, creationists are fond of saying that “evolution is just a theory,” which is what global-warming deniers say about climate change. This reveals a complete misunderstanding of what “theory” means in science. A letter by Roger Plenty in the August 27-September 2 issue of New Scientist says:
If educational institutions were required to label books “Evolution is only a theory,” as George W. Bush recently suggested, it might be a good idea to add a further label with a definition of “theory.” The Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives “a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment and is accepted as accounting for known facts.”Science and politics both have to be founded on facts. When faith-based beliefs are substituted for shared experience of the real world, society is in trouble.
Many thanks to Mary Ridderbusch for warning of the danger the United States faces from religious moralists who want to shove their personal views down the throats of everyone.
Keep religion, individual morality out of lawmaking
September 4, 2005
One cannot legislate morality.
These should be words to live by for the U.S. government. I hold a particular distaste for the legislation of religious beliefs and for the defense of this practice: "America is a Christian nation." This claim is overused and overgeneralized.
Are the majority of American citizens Christians? Without a doubt. But one of the fundamental ideals of our government and of the American way of life is the protection of individual rights. This is the heart of our Constitution and the core of our success.
What defines our country is that we're not just one religion or one ethnicity. We don't listen to the same music, watch the same news or read the same books.
Our government is dominated by the political right, led by President George W. Bush. Because of their majority, many believe that these leaders have a mandate from "the people" to carry out their beliefs.
Firstly, there is no mandate because only a little more than half the country's adults voted, and that works out to maybe a quarter of "the people" voting for the president. Secondly, and as I've already mentioned, morality should not be legislated. Legislation is about protecting rights, from the right to walk down the street safely to the right to one's own life.
The right-to-life debate has become religiously charged, making it seem grayer than it is and forcing it to the center of issues like stem-cell research, abortion and assisted suicide. For one moment, assume that religious beliefs were no longer a consideration. Without the notion of a soul, which is purely religious, stem-cell research would be a complete non-issue, as would any abortion in the first trimester.
Assisted suicide, and all laws regarding suicide, would be ridiculous because one's life belongs to his or herself, not to God, and therefore a person's decision to die or to live is entirely his and definitely beyond the scope of the government. If this was wrong according to an individual's religion, that person wouldn't commit suicide. If she was against abortion, she wouldn't get one. No religion or group has the right to force its morality on the whole of America, elevating its beliefs above individual rights.
Another instance of religion being applied to policy is the battle over the teaching of evolution. Those who are pitching a revamped version of creationism called "intelligent design" claim that there are holes in the theory of evolution, so an alternative must be taught.
If we are to accept this line of reasoning, we must also allow other theories on the existence of man to be presented. All religions must be given a fair chance. Biology class becomes Mythology 101 as students hear story after story about how man may have come to be, none of which are based on proven fact or science, but all of which must be given equal consideration. In public schools, only scientific theories should be taught, and evolution is the best available.
Still more outrageous, the president tried to make gay marriage unconstitutional because it doesn't coincide with his religious beliefs. According to Christianity, gay couples should not marry because it is what God intended. Outside of religion, however, there is no valid argument against gay couples marrying. They should be given the same rights individually and as a committed couple that all straight citizens are given.
We are a country of individuals with inalienable rights, a country of people who have been allowed to believe what we choose to believe and to live in a way that permits us to pursue our own brand of happiness. The foundation of this way of life is our respect for and unwillingness to violate individual rights. Let's keep it that way.
Mary Ridderbusch, 18, is a 2005 McKay High School graduate who will attend the University of Oregon in the fall. Reach her through Education Editor Dana Haynes at dhaynes@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 589-6903.