*There is a common thread running between the debate on gay marriage, slavery, polygamy, abortion, segregation, women’s citizenship privileges, and countless other concepts. And that common thread is the element of religion.
There are two main problems with religion in the United States: there are multiple religions present, and many are absolutist in nature. The end game in such a situation is that each group believes it has the only correct way to live a life to please God (or the gods) which leads to each group arguing/fighting for the supremacy of its way.
The founding fathers of this country saw this basic impasse and thought they figured a way around it. Rather than base the legitimacy of the American government on its ties to a specific understanding of God as was the custom in Europe, the Constitution mandated that religion not be an issue in the official business of the new country.
The basic document of the United States decrees that religion would not be a qualifying asset when determining who could run for office. Soon after the country was established its leadership engaged in a naval war with Muslim pirates and eased the tensions by assuring the Pirates that although they were a country full of Christians, they were not a Christian country. The distinction is critical because it meant that although a majority of the American citizens professed a relationship with Jesus Christ, the leaders of the country would not use the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of what to do in any given situation. Finally the First Amendment attempted to legitimize multiple religions by allowing the free exercise of any faith.
Of course these safeguards against the country becoming too closely associated with one kind of religion were not totally successful. Throughout American history there has been violence perpetrated by Protestants against Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and pagans specifically because of religious differences. Which brings us back to main problems of religion and the list above.
People of a specific faith have used their understanding of God to justify their views on gay marriage, slavery, polygamy, abortion, segregation, women’s citizenship privileges, and countless other concepts. Often the debate surrounding these hot button issues becomes a debate about the will of God, or some other faith based argument. But this is ill-advised. The United States is a country that while composed of many religious people, is not supposed to be governed by religion. There is nothing wrong with the fact that many Americans believe God tells us not to murder , but there is something wrong if that is the only basis we have for avoiding killing others. Because if religion is the only basis for morality and law then the country started on the wrong foot and needs to give the reins of leadership to leaders of faith.
Of course the question which faith would open up the same Pandora’s Box that the founding fathers were trying to avoid.
Currently the most intense debate is about gay marriage. I will defend the privilege of anyone to hold their belief regarding homosexuality, and the marriage of two homosexuals. And so long as those beliefs are not expressed in a way designed to dehumanize others, I will defend the ability of people to state their beliefs. The beauty of the First Amendment is that people in this country can hold differing opinions.
And because they can have those differing opinions, and because they can be of different faiths, I will also argue that our government (not municipal, not state, not federal) should use these faith based opinions to form public policy. This is particularly true when the public policy, as in the case of gay marriage, will allow for some people to enjoy full citizenship privileges in our country while others will lack. The government needs to view the situation from a secular perspective and come to a secular conclusion. If that conclusion aligns with the dominant religious thought, like it does in instances of murder, great; if it does not, then the religious viewpoint should be put aside.
This method of running our country helps avoid needless conflict both internally and externally because whichever religion is dominant is bound to have rivals within this country and in other nations. This method of running our country helps the United States avoid becoming like those south-west Asian countries we love to ridicule and decry that are governed by sharia law.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.