Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Separation of Church and State (Family Values and Israel)

I want to state my current views on the separation of church and state.

First, I believe that the separation of political and religious views is impossible. A person's outlook on life is largely determined by their religion. Their religious views will, unavoidably, affect their political outlook.

The separation of church and state simply means that the government cannot ever promote any one religious belief over any other. This means that government-funded schools cannot legally teach anything that promotes or demeans any specific religion or religious belief. Likewise, they cannot discriminate against any race, gender, socioeconomic group, or any other group, as long as that group respects the rights of others.

Now, in most areas, the separation of church and state is fairly easy. Economics? Foreign policy? It is fairly easy to separate religious views from these principles.

At this time, only two issues provide me with any difficulty in separating church and state. These are our interactions with the state of Israel and issues surrounding sex and family.

Issues involving sex and the nature of the family are difficult. Pornography is considered indecent by most people. Even those who view it themselves generally want to prevent children from viewing it. And yet, is it the government's place to restrict our freedom of speech in this way? My answer to pornography is simple: because it is incredibly addictive and emotionally destructive, people have a right to not see pornography against their will or in public places. Especially children. Violent porn leads to violent behavior. Therefore, I am in favor of making illegal any porn that includes violence, child pornography, and anything in a public place that arouses sexual feelings in most people (or, at least, most men, if it's an image of a woman).

Now, homosexual rights are also difficult. I do believe that it's reasonable to allow anyone who are living together for long periods of time to get similar legal benefits to what married couples get--to unite their finances and be covered on each other's insurance, etc. Therefore, I am in favor of civil unions.

However, it is not the government's place to define marriage. Marriage is an entirely religious and societal matter. Dictionary definitions are determined by practical usage; if the day comes when large numbers of people use the word "marriage" to refer to homosexual couples, then that is its definition. As long as the definition remain constant, teachers paid with taxpayers' money must use the taxpayers' definition of marriage.

I can see logic in making any sex outside of marriage illegal, since children have a right to be born to married parents and a married couple has a right to expect the faithfulness of each other. However, enforcing these laws is very awkward.

Those are my legal views regarding sex. However, my spiritual views are very different. My religious views are that sex is sacred and that God has commanded that it be reserved for marriage. I believe that any sexual activity that is not between a man and a woman who are married to each other is spiritually and emotionally unhealthy. I believe that sex is a choice. I believe that its purposes are to create physical bodies for children and to express love between husband and wife. Sex is special, even holy, and I cringe to think of people misusing it.

It is painful to me to admit it, but we cannot enforce chastity--keeping sex within marriage as it has always been defined--by the law of the land. We must leave it to God.

Some people have homosexual desires. These can be overcome. Sometimes homosexual desires are just emotional desires for companionship with the same gender. I believe that our society often confuses emotional desire with sexual and/or romantic desire.

I don't like talking about these topics so openly. It doesn't feel proper. But it must be done.

The final family value I want to bring up is abortion. In this, my religious and political views mesh perfectly. Why? Because sex is a choice! Anyone who wants an abortion and uses the "freedom of choice" argument, unless they were raped, is using a flawed argument. They do have a choice! Again, unless a person is raped, they have complete control over whether or not they get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. Therefore, my view is that abortion is morally wrong, except in cases of rape, incest, or where the mother's life is in danger or the baby is so deformed that, according to honest medical authority, they cannot survive beyond birth.

I once heard an analogy in a philosophy class. Let's say you woke up in a hospital bed one day with a famous unconscious violinist attached to you. Without your medical support, laying there attached to him, he will die. Would it be murder for you to detach the cables and walk away? The argument is no, because it's your life. You didn't choose to be hooked up to the poor comatose violinist.

Of course, this argument applies only to instances of rape, because that is the only instance where the person did not choose to be hooked up to their child. Here is a better analogy: let's say that you enter a drawing. In exchange for one thousand dollars (representing the pleasure of sex), you put your name in a hat. If your name is drawn, you will be hooked up to a helpless person for nine months to give them life support. One day, your name is drawn. You are surprised, perhaps shocked. You persuaded yourself that it wouldn't happen. Perhaps you thought you had the draw rigged (birth control). However, if you were to pull the cords and let the helpless violinist die, you would be a murderer. Why? Because you already had your choice. You made your choice the moment you put your name in that hat. The moment someone chooses to put themselves in situations that encourage their sexual desires, they choose the consequences of that choice.

I believe in freedom of choice as much as anyone. I do not believe in freedom from the natural consequences of your actions by harming others. Even if that other person isn't born yet. I'm sure he or she will thank you after their birth for letting them have the same gift your mother gave you. Life. What could be more glorious? I love my mother and am grateful to her. Even my adopted siblings feel gratitude to their birth mothers for life. That is your legacy, Mother.

Every mother carries that legacy to the grave, where she will meet those of her family who passed on before her. What will they say?

Many mothers who get abortions have nightmares afterward. I wish, at least, the law would require mothers to be educated before having an abortion--know their options, know about adoption, etc. Know how much it hurts forever to know that one less person came into the world because of you. It hurts. The Atonement of Christ can heal people, but the Lord will not bring back the dead for many years yet. Let them live! Let them live.

That is my plea to any of you are considering this decision or wondering what God thinks about abortion. He sent the child to you. Send them to their parents for life. Don't send them back to God. Not yet. Let them live the life He wants them to live first. Let them live. You are free to choose, but your choice will affect others, including your child's adoptive parents. They need him. They're waiting for her. Let the Spirit of God work on you and give you courage. It will. I promise you that, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

I know that He lives.

I am very passionate about my religious beliefs. And there is one belief I have yet to reconcile with political intelligence: our nation's relationship with Israel.

Israel is a Jewish state. They have freedom to practice your religion, but not to proselytize--just the same as most Muslim countries. They oppress Palestine. Politically, I do not see them as a beacon of democratic protection of the rights of all people.

Yet, the Bible prophesies the return of the Jewish people to that land. We cannot make them leave. God will keep them there until the Messiah comes to teach them more. But politically, it does not make sense to support them so much. Politically, we ought to cut all military support to Israel and force them to work out a compromise with Palestine as equals. But my religion, if I understand it right, suggests that we want to keep giving Israel aid, as they are the Lord's ancient covenant people.

I hope I can resolve this conflict someday. If not, I may have to step down from any political office that requires me to choose between my country and my religion. That way I can serve the one that means the most to me--my God--without betraying the trust of my country.

I hope I never have to make that choice.


Andrew said...

Complete separation of political and religious views is possible. True libertarians do it. ;)

Your discussion of pornography and public places is sticky. I've thought similarly before. However, arguments about pornography are not clear-cut, especially concerning public places. The most vocal debate is over visual art, but there are literary questions, as well. (The origins of the word "pornography," after all, are more tied to writing than art. Further, written pornography is the female counterpart to visual pornography if there even can be a gender distinction between the two, which I contest.) Will you exclude Greek art from museums, or literature like Orwell's 1984 from public libraries? Even within faiths, such questions are disputed (BYU's library hesitates to censor; consider the romance section--a section not even generally accepted as intellectually valuable--if you need an example). Your call to give people choice is sound (people have a choice of and in museums and libraries, after all). However, I disagree with your discussion of public places, at least without much clearer definitions of both pornography and public places.

It took me quite some time to decide on same-sex marriage. I was torn until I read the church's statement on it. (In hindsight, I should have started there.) The church has the arguments I needed to side with them against gay marriage in our current legal structure (their justification for getting involved is more than just spiritual--it's related to the very issues of freedom). If you haven't already read their position, I strongly encourage you to do so at http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

Your arguments concerning abortion are sound if you are talking to a person who shares your definition of the moment when life becomes human and should be protected. However, you failed to address the major issue with abortion: people don't agree on when human life starts. One compelling argument in favor of very early abortions concerns cell differentiation. From my understanding, all of an embryos cells can be used as stem cells as long as they haven't differentiated. In other words, even after an embryo has split to a hundred cells, those cells can become nerves in an adult as readily as they can grow into a human child. If that's the case, many argue, what makes those cells human? A variation of this argument is carried through other stages of prenatal development (though the arguments loose followers the later into development the unborn child gets). (Since you and I both value the statements of apostles of our church, we define the start of life at the moment of conception, and so to us, abortion is murder. Others, who rely on science as their authority, understandably question whether abortion is even wrong.)

I wish you'd lay out your arguments in favor of supporting Israel. I see no religious reason that compels America (or any political body) to support Israel at this time, especially if they are, as a state, unrighteous as you imply. However, I have studied this much less than you, and so I would like exposure to your views and research. I know that Gentiles are prophesied to help Israel's gathering, but there is no concrete timing of which I'm aware. Further, the Lord's promises are always contingent on faithfulness. While I can see no religious reason to support Israel (and several religious reasons to cut off support), I agree with your temporal reasons to stop financially and militarily supporitng Israel at this time. (Of course, Washington's Farewell Address has me slightly biased here, politically.)

I wish you the best of luck as you contemplate these and other political issues.

Andrew said...

I just saw your link to the marriage post on ldsdoctrine.blogspot.com (just to clarify to other readers, this blog is not officially authorized). The link I gave above to newsroom.lds.org shares the same sort of information, but it is less concise (unfortunately), lacks the logical and grammatical errors of the ldsdoctrine.blogspot.com post (thankfully), and happens to be an official church position. That means that you don't have to read it (since you have the ideas already), but I still want you to know of its existence.

Olorin said...

The reason I'm not a true libertarian is that I can't 100% divorce my political and religious views. They're just on different levels. Government is to protect peoples' basic rights and is obligatory. Religion is to enhance life and is optional. But some of the principles are universal--honesty, for instance. Government punishes severe (and sometimes all) dishonesty (stealing, cheating, etc.). Religion rewards honesty with a hope of divine reward.

When I think about pornography in public places, I'm thinking of, say, lingerie models on billboards. It's easy to feel sexual feelings when exposed to such images, and kids (and everyone who doesn't want to) have a right to not be exposed to such things. In my opinion, at least. It is a difficult issue, because we do not want to restrict freedom of speech. I am in favor of basic decency being enforced in public places. Just like smoking is physically unhealthy, vulgar language and pornography are emotionally unhealthy. If we get enough empirical evidence for that, and I'm right about all this, then most legislatures would readily pass some basic decency laws. Again, an ideal definition of public places would be difficult. You can start with street corners, but then you ask, what about restaurants? libraries? schools? malls?

As far as abortion, I think most people would accept that, first, sex is a choice, and second, life begins at least when brain activity begins.

The hardest subject for me is the Israel issue. I think many members of the Church will begin to take up the stance you just took, that there's no need to support them. I'll present both arguments, as I've thought them out, very briefly.

Argument for NOT supporting the state of Israel: the Book of Mormon prophecies state that the Jews will be gathered home to Israel when they begin to accept Christ. As a people, they have not done this. Even if they had such a right, they surely forfeited this right by some of the acts of terrorism and bloodshed that the Israelis used to take the land they now possess. The Palestinians are oppressed and scattered, and the deserve protection. Israel is not an emblem of freedom in the Middle East--why, they don't even allow freedom to proselyte. (Like most Muslim countries, they generally allow personal worship but not proselytizing.) We'll support the Jews when they at least respect human rights, and preferably when they fulfill book of Mormon prophecy by accepting Christ as their Savior.

Argument FOR supporting Israel:
" 48 And then shall the Lord set his foot upon this mount, and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake.
51 And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet?
52 Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God.
53 And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king." (D&C 45)
In other words, the Jews as a people will not accept Christ until they see Him, and then they will accept Him with tears. But where will they see him? On the Mount of Olives. Just outside Jerusalem. So, they will at least physically be gathered to Israel before accepting Christ. Therefore, we don't want them to be driven away. We want to give them the support they need--preferably in forms that will also help the Palestinians, who really are suffering unjustly.

The best interpretation that I've heard is this: God will gather the Jewish people home regardless of their acceptance of Christ. But for them to receive all of the blessings promised throughout scripture--divine protection, the wrath of God upon their enemies, great prosperity, and most of all the temple ordinances--they must accept Christ. Someone put it like this: I don't believe that they will ever have peace in that land until they accept Christ.

Bjorn said...

Interesting views. This is the way I see it. We have no religious reason to support Israel politically. The fact is, Jews would have lived there whether they had their own state or not. They could have lived in harmony with the Palestinians. The scriptures teach they will be there when Christ comes, but that does not mean we need to give them political support, and as far as the church goes, it is against oppression, not for it. Yes, Jews will be there when Christ comes, but before then horrible things will happen. It doesn't mean we have to support the horrible things, including war and occupation. I'm fine with them being there, but the way the government handles things is another story.

As far as public pornography goes, I agree. People have the choice to look it up themselves, but we should not have to look at it if we don't want to. As far as I'm concered, I go with one of my favorite dictionary definitions (since some definitions are poor, such as the one on dictionary.com). It says that pornography is anything that is intended to arouse sexual feelings. While I admit, it is flawed in that I wouldn't call a wife or husband who does so to each other pornography, it is better than the definitions that define it as obscene writing, pictures, etc. because obscene could be glorified violence, and even if it doesn't have artistic merit, something artistic can be intended to arouse sexual feelings.

Olorin said...

I like the way you put the Israel thing... they could live there without having their own state. Never thought of that.