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Opinion

Religion’s usefulness limited in politics, grand scheme of life

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May 7, 2009

I haven’t addressed the recent “gay rights vs. religion” debate in the Voice since Shawna Carpentier wrote her first column, and I guess it isn’t necessary. Enough has been said about that particular issue since last month, with many other people offering good arguments of their own.

But after a while, the whole business did get me thinking more about religion; and, specifically, why it is better off separated from government. It’s true that we all have certain convictions to live by, and they played a big role in the founding of this country.

But there are different degrees of belief. Some ideas are held by almost everybody, stemming from practical experience and observations on how a healthy society can operate.

Other beliefs are based in spiritual notions, specific codes of moral conduct and assumptions about the way people ought to live. These amount to what we call “faith.”

Faith by itself is not well suited to our legislative process, and the reasons should be obvious. Faith is a set of ideas that one, are held outside the bounds of reason and two, are extremely subjective, varying widely between individuals, cultures, environments and religious influences.

Therefore, as the founding fathers well knew, it should not be a guide for setting, changing or enforcing legal policy.

So when I hear people talking about their religion as if it’s supposed to determine our political process, that’s where I draw the line. After all, the United States is not a theocracy. This place was founded with a far more productive and sensible vision.

Here, you are allowed to be anything you choose; religious believer or not; as long as you don’t harm other people, break laws or try to overthrow the government. Our rights are there in black and white, and should be consistently enforced.

I think that as long as our human rights are respected, we don’t need much else to be fulfilled and happy people. I was once religious myself; Catholic, to be precise; but by my early teens I decided it was adding nothing of real value to my life, or to the lives of my friends.

I refused to accept unproven answers to all of life’s questions, because I didn’t need them. I am comfortable with uncertainty.

Has anyone else considered that religion may just be distracting us from what’s really important about the human condition? Do we have to surround ourselves with so many artificial boundaries and conflicting belief systems? Why can’t we settle for common sense, and forget all the unnecessary pretenses?

We have built-in urges, instincts and evolutionary drives that, if channeled through logic and discipline, allow us to meet all of our practical needs in life. Why ask for anything more? Why do so many of us still believe our dead relatives and friends are “with God?”

Why do we swear on the Bible and say “God bless America?” Why would God care about who wins a game, an election or a war, as so many politicians have claimed?

I spent years asking myself those questions; until one day, my favorite comedian (George Carlin) blew most of them away with one answer. “It’s delusional thinking,” he said bluntly, only a few months before his death.

“And Americans are not alone with these sorts of delusions. Military cemeteries all over the world are packed with brainwashed, dead soldiers who were convinced God was on their side.’

America prays for God to destroy our enemies, our enemies pray for God to destroy us; somebody’s gonna be disappointed. Somebody’s wasting their fucking time. Could it be, everyone?”

I might have put it more politely, but that quote made perfect sense to me. It was consistent with everything I had observed.

That is why bringing faith into personal or legal decisions is a bad idea; because there’s a good chance that everyone who does so is just playing a zero-sum game. I don’t know about you, but the only faith I truly need is faith in myself.

So I suppose that’s my final word on religion, and my final word as a columnist, since I’m graduating this month and I’m happy about it. Whoever you are and whatever you might believe, it has been a pleasure to write for you. Good luck in your future endeavors.

Remember to appreciate the color blue. (And if you haven’t listened to death metal before, try it sometime, it’s really not that bad.)