Monday, August 10, 2009


Sunday school this week was a group discussion about the separation of church and state, where that comes from, what the constitution reads, and where some legal precedents have come from. Very powerful issue that probably warrants decades of study and five or six doctoral degrees worth of study before I fully understand the boundaries of my own positions.

One particular interesting thing that came our of the small group discussions was a brief comment about the role of morality in religion and the role of morality in government. So, here's my working model for what morality is and how it relates to religious constructs and forms of government.

In this model, it is religion that feeds the articulation of the morality of choices that we make. For this model, think of "religion" in very broad terms. When we make choices, those are governed by a system of beliefs (that may change over time) that we use to judge the validity of one choice or another (consciously or subconsciously). Those choices create both a negative and affirmative possibility that can be used to define that whole gray mushy area of "morality." Where a particular system of government comes in to the picture of morality is that a form of government, by definition, is an authority that defines rules to govern, restrict, or define a boundary of acceptable behavior.

In my model, religions have an inspired sense of morality whereas a particular government applies a human selection of moral choices to a society.

What does this mean to the conversation about church and state? It reduces the argument that the federal government should not be a moral influence, or that the only place for moral teaching is within a religious setting. What I believe the First Amendment tells us is that America's morality is intended to be an American decision to happen in the context of American political constructs, rather than one to be decided in Christian or Jewish or Hindu polity. I believe that the American ideal is one that both transcends religious boundaries and one that cannot exist without their influence.

And that always seems to make for richer conversation!


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RobMonroe said...

Interesting conversation, to say the least, in your Sunday School classroom!

I think that the thing we fail to account for when we talk about morality in government and church/state issues is those people who don't have church but still have morality. (I only say that because they failed to make it onto your graph.)

The real problem with shared society is that you can not dictate my morals, and I can not dictate yours. If everyone would be more like each other we would not have the debates that we currently (always) do.