Thursday, March 31, 2005


This Hugh Hewitt article pretty much defines the phrase "willfully obtuse":

The Terri Schiavo tragedy has been seized on by long-time critics of the "religious right" to launch attack after attack on the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief. This attack has ignored the inconvenient participation in the debate--on the side of resuming water and nutrition for Terri Schiavo--of the spectacularly not-the-religious-rightness of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson, and a coalition of disability advocacy groups.

Hewitt's suggestion that the Schiavo incident has been improperly "seized on" by critics of the religious right, rather than "seized on" by the religious right itself in their transparent and tawdry attempt to use Terri as a bullet point in their "right to life" agenda, doesn't even pass the laugh test. Indeed, it got lost in the hallways and never even found the room where they were giving the test.

Similarly lost in the labyrinth is Hewitt's idea that the presence of Tom Harkin, Nat Hentoff, Jesse Jackson on the "feed her" side of the debate somehow diminishes the fact that it is predominately the religious right that turned one family's legal battle into a gruesome carnival.

No one that I'm aware of has challenged "the legitimacy of political action on the basis of religious belief." What's at issue is whether religious belief alone is sufficient for creating legislation, whether what the Bible says (or what a particular group says it says) is reason enough for writing a law, without having to demonstrate how such a law might promote the general welfare. This is what the religious right is about: "This is what God says, and therefore this is what the law must say." End of discussion.

James Madison wrote in 1803 that "the purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." Madison helped design, and we are fortunate in the U.S. to have, a complex of institutions which checks religious fervor, channelling it toward political consensus-building and away from the fighting and the hacking and the burning and the Ow! that hurts. When politically powerful groups start to deride those institutions, as the religious right has been doing in its longstanding campaign to discredit a judiciary which it sees as activist (i.e. doesn't hew to it's very particular religious interpretations, and thus doesn't produce their exact preferred outcome) I think we're getting into dangerous territory.

Religious faith has always played, and I believe should play, a part in American politics, but as guide, not as blueprint. Abolitionism, women's suffrage, and the civil rights movement all drew inspiration and strength from the scripture, but when it came time to write laws, those laws had to be justified in terms of the common good. No one is suggesting that people faith stay out of politics, just that they have to make their arguments in terms of politics and not of religion.

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