Saturday, October 16, 2004

Voting for Kerry Is a Sin

I'm a little late with posting this one, as it was covered in the debate on Wednesday, but it came back into my mind and I thought I'd vent on it a little bit. As reported in this article, there have been a couple of outspoken Catholic bishops in the United States who have called on their flocks, telling them that the issue of abortion forces them not to vote for Senator Kerry. They claim that abortion is a "foundational issue," and that since Senator Kerry supports the right of a woman to choose, there is only one way that a true Catholic can vote with a clear conscience. They go so far as to say that a vote for Kerry would have to be taken to confession before receiving communion (this is not even to mention the church officials that were trying to deny Kerry the right to take communion).

This is just sick, frankly, and it makes me sick with religion at large, even though this is just one facet of one part of one faith. There is a clear separation of church and state in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." So there's some ways to interpret that, right? Some would view it as an entire separation of church and state. I'd like to think about the people who don't, though. What's implicit in it, no matter how you view it, is this: churches are free to practice however they wish, but the state can't choose one and claim it as the United States' official religion. It's where you go from there that's the problem. People who would like church and state to be absolutely separate see this as creating two different public spheres which should not interact with one another. But it doesn't necessarily state that in the amendment.

I feel like the people who would like more religion in the public sphere can make a valid argument based on the wording of the amendment, though I don't like it very much. The amendment clearly states that the state may not do anything respecting an establishment of religion, but it does not say that an establishment of religion may not try to influence the state. In fact, if you look on, people also have the right "to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Now here's where the truly sticky part comes in. Redress of grievances, huh? Grievances are inherently subjective things. What may offend one may be completely fine to another, but that doesn't inhibit the right of the offended to petition for a redress of those perceived grievances. People have the right to request redress for grievances, and people have the right to assemble in/as religious institutions; as such, it seems that people have the right to assemble and, as a religious institution, request redress for grievances.

So what? Well, it seems to me, much as I don't like it, that the first amendment guarantees that the Congress won't explicitly favor one religion over another; but the amendment doesn't stop any religion from getting involved in public affairs where they feel that there is an issue to address, a wrong to be righted. As a purely constitutional argument, I think that the bishops who have spoken out against Kerry are entirely within bounds, as they're entirely within bounds to try to influence the government to outlaw abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. The Catholic church sees those issues as grievances with which it has taken offense, and it is exercising its first amendment right to request redress for those grievances.

But is it right? I'm not saying that it's always wrong to go against the will of the people, because I happen to agree that sometimes the government needs to step in, lay the smack down, and say, "Enough is enough." Slavery, civil rights, gay marriage (hopefully before too long), etc. These are issues (excluding the last for now) on which the government had to make unpopular decisions because they realized that it was the right thing to do. They knew that eventually people would come around, and that in the meantime, sadly, they could not necessarily be trusted to be left to their own devices. Such misplaced trust would have resulted in the violation of Constitutional rights for other citizens of the country, and that could not be tolerated.

Is it right for these bishops to discourage voters from voting their conscience? Is it right for them to encourage more of the blind following that earns them criticism and rebuke all the time? Is it right for them to place a single issue at the forefront and ignore all others? My answer to all of those questions is a resounding "NO!" I'm not a very religious person; I have, in fact, struggled for years with my own beliefs, and I'm still not sure where I stand. But the more of this kind of thing I see, the less I'm inclined to want to align myself with anything close to it. Religion can be a great thing for people if they let it. It can be comforting, it can be beautiful, and as a complement to your own conscience and views, it can give you the feeling that there's something more out there that you're a part of, and that comforts a lot of people. The only problem is that many people don't want to view religion as a complement to their own conscience and views. Many people think that religion should dominate every facet of their lives. Their consciences don't matter, and their unfettered views don't matter either; if it's what some dude tells them God wants, then that's what it is.

I'm a little disheartened by the fact that the question of faith was so prominent in the third Presidential Debate; I'm a little more disheartened by the fact that Kerry seemed to feel that he had to pander and tell the world that his faith is important in every decision he makes. It may be true, but what's wrong with having a strong conscience instead of a strong external guiding hand?