Liberal thinking and religious views don’t mix

Pete Souza/Official White House Photograph/Flickr

Shortly after President Obama “evolved” his position on “gay marriage” to one of support, he held a Hollywood fundraiser at which he described his new position as “a logical extension of what America is supposed to be.” As a liberal with a liberal vision of America, what this really means is that President Obama’s support for “gay marriage” is a logical extension of liberal thinking on the family and liberal views and definitions (not to be confused with realistic views and definitions) of “equality” and “tolerance.”

Shortly after President’s Obama’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), a fellow liberal and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, similarly announced a flip-flop in his position on “gay marriage,” from one aligned with his religious thinking to one in line with his political thinking. Majority Leader Reid, like President Obama, claimed to be following the leadership of his children and grandchildren on the issue. 

Majority Leader Reid maintained his “personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” but he would no longer vote that way (in the past he voted in favor of putting the traditional definition of marriage into Nevada’s constitution). In his words, “it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.” Majority Leader Reid further highlighted the depth of his position switch by signaling that he would support a move in the Senate to repeal the traditional definition of marriage in federal law.

What does this mean for religious liberals? It means that, at some point, they will have to choose between their religious thinking and their political thinking, unless the trend in liberal political circles toward support for “gay marriage” changes – and there’s little sign that it’s going to change any time soon. In other words, they will have to choose either to keep their politics in line with what their religion teaches about God, or set aside those religious beliefs in public in order to accommodate their politics, like Majority Leader Reid did.

Whatever they choose, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is little room in the world of liberal thought for religious views of society – a grand irony in a worldview that claims to cherish “tolerance.” Religious liberals may soon have to become conservatives if they want to keep their political thinking consistent with the religious teachings they espouse.

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  • Baffled

    I reject the line of thinking displayed in this blog post. Just because Senator Reid says he will not support legislation that prohibits same sex marriage does not mean he has allowed his political self to trump his religious self, rather he makes the statement that we should not be legislating morality. I agree with this line of thinking and I consider myself very spiritual. I support this because a fundamental element of my belief is that we all must have free agency to make choices. Who are we to enforce morality through legislation? I feel this cheapens my decisions to do what is right. Other people, even though they may disagree with me, also have to make the decision on what best to do with their life. I believe this pattern of only acknowledging absolutes (you have to choose, all spirit or all politics) is a dangerous. That’s not how life works and it will only force people to the extremes. I support limited government, especially when it comes to issues such as this. As long as it does not adversely affect other people and cause harm, I believe people should do as they chose. Sure, there are consequences to those choices, but isnt that what life is all about?

    • Derek Monson

      Baffled,

      The problem with the idea that “we should not be legislating morality” is that we ALL want to legislate morality…though we don’t always recognize and/or acknowledge it.  For instance, you suggest a governing principle of “as long as it does not adversely affect other people and cause harm…people should do as they chose.”  Well, that statement is itself, first and foremost, a moral statement.  It says that adversely affecting other people or causing them harm is wrong (i.e. immoral) and shouldn’t be allowed in society – a moral judgment that you would seem to reject as the basis for legislating. 

      Any legislation based on this premise – such as legalizing “gay marriage” – would therefore be “legislating morality.”  Another example of how we all want to legislate morality is the laws in our criminal code.  Most of these laws are grounded and motivated by morality – that it’s wrong to kill someone without just cause or to steal property that belongs to someone else.  If “we should not be legislating morality,” does that mean it is illegitimate to push criminal laws against murder or theft because we think they are wrong?  Why else would we push laws against murder or theft?

      In fact, the founding of our country (not to mention our state) was in itself largely an exercise in legislating morality.  The Revolution and drafting of the Constitution was motivated by, among other things, the beliefs that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to tax its colonial citizens without giving them political representation, that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to disregard its colonial citizens’ natural rights, and that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to declare war on and kill its colonial citizens for taking action because they objected to these things.  The Declaration of Independence itself was a moral argument against how England had governed its colonies.

      In my experience and observation, the idea that “we should not be legislating morality” is an argument designed to de-legitimize certain morals in public debate and hide the morals of those making the argument – in some cases even from themselves.  It is, by its nature, a dishonest argument often made by honest and sincere people.  We all want to legislate morality, and in the pluralist society we live in we WILL legislate the morality of one group or another.  Therefore, the only honest thing to do is to make the case for why your preferred moral system is best for society.

    • Derek Monson

       Baffled,

      One thing in your post I agree with is the first part of the second sentence.  I agree that, in isolation, Senator Reid taking the position he did as a public official does not necessarily mean he is putting politics over faith…it is his justification for taking that position that shows that is what is going on.

      Senator Reid says “it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.”  But as a Mormon, the “Proclamation on the Family” makes it clear that it IS his business whether two men or two women get married, and it goes further by explaining why.  It would have been one thing if he simply said that he thinks his primary job is to represent his constituents, who he believes are supportive of “gay marriage”…though that would be debatable given Nevada’s policies on the issue, it at least has a clear reconciliation with the tenets and positions of his church.  But his justification wasn’t about representing his constituents, it was that there is nothing wrong with “gay marriage” as a social policy – putting him in direct opposition to the position of his church.  Why?  Because as a liberal democrat is was the “right” thing to do, especially right after your political leader takes the same position.

  • Baffled

    I reject the line of thinking displayed in this blog post. Just because Senator Reid says he will not support legislation that prohibits same sex marriage does not mean he has allowed his political self to trump his religious self, rather he makes the statement that we should not be legislating morality. I agree with this line of thinking and I consider myself very spiritual. I support this because a fundamental element of my belief is that we all must have free agency to make choices. Who are we to enforce morality through legislation? I feel this cheapens my decisions to do what is right. Other people, even though they may disagree with me, also have to make the decision on what best to do with their life. I believe this pattern of only acknowledging absolutes (you have to choose, all spirit or all politics) is a dangerous. That’s not how life works and it will only force people to the extremes. I support limited government, especially when it comes to issues such as this. As long as it does not adversely affect other people and cause harm, I believe people should do as they chose. Sure, there are consequences to those choices, but isnt that what life is all about?

    • Derek Monson

      Baffled,

      The problem with the idea that “we should not be legislating morality” is that we ALL want to legislate morality…though we don’t always recognize and/or acknowledge it.  For instance, you suggest a governing principle of “as long as it does not adversely affect other people and cause harm…people should do as they chose.”  Well, that statement is itself, first and foremost, a moral statement.  It says that adversely affecting other people or causing them harm is wrong (i.e. immoral) and shouldn’t be allowed in society – a moral judgment that you would seem to reject as the basis for legislating. 

      Any legislation based on this premise – such as legalizing “gay marriage” – would therefore be “legislating morality.”  Another example of how we all want to legislate morality is the laws in our criminal code.  Most of these laws are grounded and motivated by morality – that it’s wrong to kill someone without just cause or to steal property that belongs to someone else.  If “we should not be legislating morality,” does that mean it is illegitimate to push criminal laws against murder or theft because we think they are wrong?  Why else would we push laws against murder or theft?

      In fact, the founding of our country (not to mention our state) was in itself largely an exercise in legislating morality.  The Revolution and drafting of the Constitution was motivated by, among other things, the beliefs that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to tax its colonial citizens without giving them political representation, that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to disregard its colonial citizens’ natural rights, and that it was wrong (i.e. immoral) for England to declare war on and kill its colonial citizens for taking action because they objected to these things.  The Declaration of Independence itself was a moral argument against how England had governed its colonies.

      In my experience and observation, the idea that “we should not be legislating morality” is an argument designed to de-legitimize certain morals in public debate and hide the morals of those making the argument – in some cases even from themselves.  It is, by its nature, a dishonest argument often made by honest and sincere people.  We all want to legislate morality, and in the pluralist society we live in we WILL legislate the morality of one group or another.  Therefore, the only honest thing to do is to make the case for why your preferred moral system is best for society.

    • Derek Monson

       Baffled,

      One thing in your post I agree with is the first part of the second sentence.  I agree that, in isolation, Senator Reid taking the position he did as a public official does not necessarily mean he is putting politics over faith…it is his justification for taking that position that shows that is what is going on.

      Senator Reid says “it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.”  But as a Mormon, the “Proclamation on the Family” makes it clear that it IS his business whether two men or two women get married, and it goes further by explaining why.  It would have been one thing if he simply said that he thinks his primary job is to represent his constituents, who he believes are supportive of “gay marriage”…though that would be debatable given Nevada’s policies on the issue, it at least has a clear reconciliation with the tenets and positions of his church.  But his justification wasn’t about representing his constituents, it was that there is nothing wrong with “gay marriage” as a social policy – putting him in direct opposition to the position of his church.  Why?  Because as a liberal democrat is was the “right” thing to do, especially right after your political leader takes the same position.

  • Andrea

    I disagree with both the blog post and the first comment by Baffled. First, regarding Baffled’s comments on legislating morality, government legislates, or attempts to legislate,  morality all of the time, especially charity. Means-tested charity at federal, state and local levels is approaching $1 trillion annually. The justifications for this transfer of wealth are based on charity: taking care of less fortunate, the elderly, the poor, the children, public employees, the disabled, the sick, and so on.

    Second, I disagree with the original post’s comments on political thinking versus religious thinking. In addition to being opposed to gay marriage, devout Mormons are opposed to smoking, consuming alcohol, premarital sex, pornography, watching football on Sunday and many other activities. Based on the author’s comments, a devout Mormon would have to support banning these activities in order to reconcile their political thinking and their religious thinking.

    • Derek Monson

      Andrea,

      Being a faithful, devout religious believer is not as simplistic as you make it out to be.  For instance, there’s nothing in a Mormon’s belief system that says they need to take every aspect of their personal religious beliefs and enshrine them in the law.

      Being a faithful religious believer in politics is not about codifying every particle of your religious beliefs in statute.  It’s about trying to reconcile the conflicts that usually come up at some point between your religious faith and your political beliefs, and recognizing which are more important.

  • Andrea

    I disagree with both the blog post and the first comment by Baffled. First, regarding Baffled’s comments on legislating morality, government legislates, or attempts to legislate,  morality all of the time, especially charity. Means-tested charity at federal, state and local levels is approaching $1 trillion annually. The justifications for this transfer of wealth are based on charity: taking care of less fortunate, the elderly, the poor, the children, public employees, the disabled, the sick, and so on.

    Second, I disagree with the original post’s comments on political thinking versus religious thinking. In addition to being opposed to gay marriage, devout Mormons are opposed to smoking, consuming alcohol, premarital sex, pornography, watching football on Sunday and many other activities. Based on the author’s comments, a devout Mormon would have to support banning these activities in order to reconcile their political thinking and their religious thinking.

    • Derek Monson

      Andrea,

      Being a faithful, devout religious believer is not as simplistic as you make it out to be.  For instance, there’s nothing in a Mormon’s belief system that says they need to take every aspect of their personal religious beliefs and enshrine them in the law.

      Being a faithful religious believer in politics is not about codifying every particle of your religious beliefs in statute.  It’s about trying to reconcile the conflicts that usually come up at some point between your religious faith and your political beliefs, and recognizing which are more important.