How Can We Keep Religion Out Of Politics?

by Patrick Appel

Freddie responds to this Dish reader. A part of Freddie's rebuttal that I find convincing:

Let's talk tactics, shall we? This emailer with the terrible reading comprehension and I have as a first goal the same thing, which is keeping religious conviction out of politics, science and medicine. The history of the world teaches us that this is best accomplished not through atheism but through religious moderation. This is something many atheists must come to grips with if they are ever going to grow up: religious moderates do a far better job of opposing extremists than atheists do.

Look, aside from all of the "American theocracy" hysterics, this country does quite a good job of keeping the secular and the religious separate. There is much work to be done, but this is not Saudia Arabia, it is not Yemen. And why? Not because of atheism, but because of moderate religious people who have worked to divide theology from governance for centuries. When people express incredulity at the idea that people can both be practicing and religious and yet function in a secular society, I wonder what world they live in. Here on Planet Earth, in America, you interact with such people every day. They seem to have no trouble with it whatsoever.

Look to the Muslim world. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It has a significant Muslim minority. And yet it also has significant Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities that live quite unmolested. Women wear pants, work in public, vote, hold office. Why? Not because some tide of atheism swept through Indonesia, but because of religious moderates embracing Enlightenment values and liberal democracy. I assure you, the large majority of these people are devout. They simply see no conflict between their religious devotion and their participation in civic life.

Another forceful point:

Which do you think is easier? To convince someone who has religious faith to totally abandon that identity? Or to convince them of the righteousness of dividing it from political life? Elementary human psychology teaches me that the more you attack the fundamental basis for someone's worldview, the more likely you are to earn violent pushback as a result.

The full post is here. Freddie writes that my reader's "strawmanning is so intense I'm shocked Patrick Appel posted it." I agree with Freddie that this reader badly misread his post, and I should have said as much at the time of posting. I certainly don't endorse this reader calling Freddie's thinking "childishly bad." Andrew Stuttaford, who largely concurred with Freddie, wrote that an "important qualification [to Freddie's post is]  that I do spend quite a bit of time pondering the implications of religious belief (to start with, there’s that whole rise of militant Islam business to think about)". Given that both my reader and Stuttaford responded in this fashion, I thought it prudent to air the argument in order to clarify the debate.