Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Separation of Church and State?

Before anyone can ever begin this tense debate, you have to define what you mean by "separation of church and state". We often bring contradicting images to this topic and tend to argue the same points without realising it.

There are probably two main understandings here. This separation to some means that the church structure should not be entrenched in government in the way it was in the middle ages. To others, religion should not be involved in government. If you have a third view I'd also love to hear it.

It would be difficult to argue for a specific church structure to become the defacto for a country. I've grown up in the church and have a fair grasp of church history, and I've seen enough to know that church leaders are fallible and that a church denomination can get way ahead of itself. The wonder of Christianity is not the church, although the church should be a reflection of what's good about God. When the angle of the mirror changes, it stops reflecting the good aspects of God and begins reflecting the depravity of man, with its power struggles, selfishness, dishonesty and all the other aspects I'm sure you can easily fill in. History has shown that the influence and effectiveness of different denominations can shift and some have fallen away as they drifted away from God, while others have strengthened as pioneers within them have steered them back to their Christian roots. This "free market" principle should not be overridden by the state.

Religious involvement is an entirely different matter. Let me put across my view in a series of questions. Are ethics involved in government? Do government decisions have relevance to society's ethical views? Undoubtedly. You only need to look at several of the hot issues like abortion, corporal punishment, the justice system, gay marriage and pornography, and realise that there is no way a government can avoid a ruling that upsets at least one party. There is no passive position that can avoid these issues altogether.

The second question is: is there a universal set of moral values? In other words, if a religion is pushing for a set of ethically-based legislation, are they infringing on some kind of universal moral code? Imagine that a religion is wrong for wanting to ban gay marriage - an approach that avoids religion might say that's imposing on individual freedom. But if you take that approach, then you can't say underage pornography or rape is wrong. If you're taking active legislation to ban these, then you're taking an ethical standpoint. Where did those ethics come from? Why can't business operate in a devious manner? And when you explore ethics, you'll find quickly that opinions are indeed divided on a wide range of topics.

Given that a government cannot decide on certain ethics-related legislation in a way that pleases everyone, who decides which side to take? Why are the non-religious lobbies automatically right and the church groups automatically wrong? Frankly, both should have a chance to have their input, and we use the democratic process to facilitate that.

At the ACDP we have full respect for the democratic process and we have no intention of making laws that require everyone to be a Christian (like they had in the middle ages). We do however have ethical beliefs, just like the non-religious groups do, and we believe our beliefs produce a better society for all. If those beliefs happen to be grounded in the Christian faith, that's no reason for them not to be considered. If we want unborn babies to have their lives protected, well that's worth legislating. If it takes religious involvement to stand up for the unborn, then it's about time the religious got involved.

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