Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Things that are Caesar's

Dr. Ben Carson is one of the candidates for what seems to me to be the increasingly undesirable office of President of our Glorious Republic.  It is at least being sought by undesirables if it is not undesirable in itself.  In any event, Dr. Carson is at the center of the most current tempest in the teapot of our politics, which is largely devoted to expressions of outrage against one thing or another.

He has given the various pundits, media types and politicians who infest our country yet another opportunity to pontificate while on their way to their respective troughs, this time with respect to his comment that a Muslim should not be President.  The Presidency is a position which arguably should not be held by anyone who seeks to be President, their sanity or their motivations being prima facie suspect.  But declaring that a believer in a particular religion should not be President is of course problematic, or would be were in not for the fact that the particular religion in question is unpopular.

The good doctor has stumbled about while enlarging upon his statements, to the extent that he begins to appear incoherent.  However, one of the things he has said seems to make a great deal of sense, to me at least.  And that is, to paraphrase him, that someone whose religion conflicts with the Constitution should not be President.  He has also made (in explanation of his comment specifically against a Muslim President) some encouraging statements against theocracy; not only Islamic theocracy but Christian theocracy.

The position that one should not be President if one cannot be faithful to the Constitution due to religious conviction is I think very defensible, and one which should apply in the case of any official charged with enforcing and implementing the law.  The fact a Muslim was referred to has given some the irresistible urge to make claims of prejudice, and others an equally irresistible urge to elaborate on their belief that Christianity, or perhaps the Judeo-Christian belief system, is superior to Islam. For me, the histrionics engaged in by such people in claiming bigotry or (their) superiority are characteristic of the lamentable state of our political discourse (and our intelligence), and distract from the very significant point at issue, which may even have been the point Dr. Carson intended to make.

Put simply, religious believers should not be allowed to hold office if their religious convictions render them incapable of complying with their duty to enforce and implement the law.  This may not be a position religious believers of any kind will be willing to accept, including some purported Christians, as we have seen.  No distinction should be made among the religious convictions involved.  If a religious conviction is such that those holding it believe themselves to be bound to flout secular law, they should not hold a position which requires them to comply with secular law.

This would not violate the prohibition against a "religious test" being used as a qualification for public office.  That is because the rule of law itself is in question.  Whether one is willing to comply with the law is not a "religious test"; it addresses whether one is willing to accept the rule of law.  The law is not, and should not be, religious law; should not be religious, in fact, though it may in some cases be consistent with religious beliefs.  In some cases it may not.

One of the more interesting statements to be found in the Bible is that of Jesus regarding rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's.  It's possible he may have simply been having a bit of fun at the expense of his questioner; it's a clever riposte, certainly.  But laws are essential to government.  They are peculiarly Caesar's in other words.  They may be draconian, but when reasonable they're our best hope of living free from the dictates of others.  There are few who are more eager to dictate to others than those who believe they have God's sanction to do so.

Those making the claim "freedom of religion" mandates the flouting of the law will, unless they are entirely stupid, eventually have to accept that this claim can be made equally by those who have religious beliefs which are radically different, which they would be unwilling to accept.  It will not do for them to claim that believers in certain religions must comply with the law while believers in the religion they believe need not do so.

This particular controversy should serve to make this clear even to those politicians and pundits of the meanest understanding.  But it's doubtful they'll take the time to address the issue thoughtfully.  Thought is not encouraged or rewarded in these dark times.

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