Monday, February 12, 2007


The Role of Religion in Democracy

The Kettering Foundation’s report from public issue forums on revitalizing democracy in America has an entire section that deals with the role of religion in democracy. I’m going to include an portion of the report here:

While agreeing that broadly shared moral values are vital to a democratic society, participants shared a respect for, but no common conviction about the role of religious values in a diverse society. In the forums, some participants pointed to the decline in the moral behavior of political leaders as evidence of the need to bring religious values into politics.

Some agreed with a man in El Paso, Texas, “We could [use] … a bit more faith and morals … in the political structure.” Addressing a broader point, another man argued, “The underlying purpose [of separating church and state] is not to keep religion out of government; it’s to keep government out of religion.” An Atlanta woman agreed, saying, “I believe in the separation of church and state but not [a separation between] religion and state.”

Participants in fact seemed to agree that a healthy democratic society stands on a bedrock of basic moral values shared by the populace. Within this context, many said these values stem from religion. A woman in a Los Angeles forum said that religious morals and ethics are “what make … the country better.… It makes us stronger.” Indeed, a few implied that religion is the sole source of such values like a woman in an Atlanta area forum who said, “Without religion, we don’t have any reason to do the right thing.”

But as the forums progressed, a tension emerged. On the one hand, some felt that the country has lost its moral bearings and that its public and private morality is not what it used to be. In a forum in El Paso, a man complained, “We have an absence of … morals [today].… [It’s] almost like the church, the values … [that] were the basis … [of American] democracy …[are] … no longer important; those things are passé.”

While some called for greater morality in the culture, others raised the flipside of the issue, saying “morality” is essentially a private matter. Participants in a Bowling Green, Ohio, forum asked, “How do we accommodate everyone with a uniform moral code when diversity is what makes this country so great?”

Others were uncomfortable trying to impose one set of moral values on a vast nation, saying they did not want to exclude those with different cultures, backgrounds, or viewpoints. A South Dakota man illustrated the point:

“I have a problem anytime somebody starts to impose their values on me.…What’s appropriate for one person to believe is … not necessarily [appropriate]for another.”

Is it public or private morality? What do you think?
Consider the Ten Commandments!

Ten Commandments—Religious

1.Do not have any other gods before Me.

2.Do not make an image or any likeness of Me.

3.Do not swear falsely by the name of the Lord.

4.Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

Ten Commandments—Ethical

5.Honor your father and your mother.

6.Do not murder.

7.Do not commit adultery.

8.Do not steal.

9.Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10.Do not covet your neighbor’s property.

The only religion that follows all the religious commandments is that of the Jews. Christians do not follow the Sabbath commandment and some would argue that the Catholics and Orthodox sects use images that violate the image commandment. Hindus, Buddhists and atheists don’t follow any of the religious commandments. There are no two religions that agree on the Ten Commandments.

Humanity can not agree on religion.

But let’s look at the ethical commandments. Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and most atheists agree that lying, theft, murder, sanctity of family, and lusting after other people’s property is bad behavior.

Upon reflection, all of these prohibitions prevent harm to others. We don’t harm others and we don’t want to be harmed. We all want to be treated well and this is the best way to treat others, hence the Golden Rule:

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

The Golden Rule is an ethic of unity. Everyone is treated the same. One ethical system for all people. This has been said in many ways in many religions and cultures.

It is thus that we can come together and dwell in unity...Have our Democracy!
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