On Religion in the Public Sphere

On Friday Stephen wrote a brief, interesting piece on “playing the religion card” in the realm of public policy. I think I agree with what he wrote, and want to state my view explicitly for the record as a way of . Excerpting from Stephen’s post:

[N]o particular religion can or should have the means to impose its particular view on society. This is not to say that people can not or should not live and represent their moral and spiritual values. Nobody has a problem with that, not even the atheists. Rather, it means that if you advocate “policy x” because your religious views compel you to do so, your advocacy of “policy x” will have to be on the basis of its own merits, not because “Canada was founded based on the principles of religion y”…. Play the religion card with great caution. You may be religious; I don’t care. But when you try to cram religion into government, I get very very upset.

Indeed, people absolutely should live and represent their moral and spiritual values. To live out of harmony with your own values is hypocrisy. And yes, people should absolutely advocate for the principles and values they believe in, regardless of whether their personal conviction comes through faith, reason, or a combination of both. Likewise, when engaging in the act of advocacy, it is important to speak in terms that will be best understood by those to whom you are advocating. Sometimes this will be the language of faith, sometimes the language of reason, and sometimes a combination of both.

This means that sometimes people of faith will sometimes be best served by using the language of reason. It also means that people who do not consider themselves people of faith will sometimes be best served using the language of faith. Neither person should find these necessities offensive. It does mean, however, that each needs to study and cultivate a sense of respect for, and working knowledge of the language of, the Other. And it seems to me that this willingness to care about the Other is, sadly, too often absent from public discourse.

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