Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 1

Later this week I will be hosting a debate about religion at my local debate club and I'm very excited. Some of the debate topics that will be covered will be:

• Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

• Is the world better off without religion?

• Is god necessary for morality?

If you've read my blog before you'll know where I stand on these issues. None of these topics are about the metaphysical debate over whether god exists or not or whether one particular religion is true over another. That can be a side issue. Instead, what we'll be debating are the social effects of religion on society along with the role it plays in government and public policy. 

I expect that many people will have varying ideas of what they think "religion" and "secularism" are, so defining these terms is paramount to these debates. Religion for example, is a notoriously hard to define word. There are at least 5 or 6 different commonly used definitions. We throw the word around colloquially to mean a variety of things. We say things like, "In Brazil soccer is a religion," and "Bankers worship money as their religion." For the purposes of these debates, I will define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny. This definition differentiates religions from political philosophies like liberalism or conservatism.

The reason why this is important brings us to our next definition. Where religion and politics collide, we apply secularism. Secularism is "the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries." Many confuse secularism with state atheism. State atheism is "the official promotion of atheism by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice." Secularism makes no metaphysical claim on whether god exists or not. It's not a religion; it's not supposed to give you the purpose and meaning of life. Secularism is merely a political principle that says religion and government should be separate. It is not to be conflated with state atheism or communism. You don't have to be an atheist to be a secularist. You can be a devout theist and still hold to the secular principle, it does not require that you hold any particular view on god or religion. 

That should lay the groundwork for getting things started. First up is a highly contentious debate that has been waged since the inception of the United States was founded in 1776. Is America truly a "Christian" nation? I will examine both sides of the debate and offer my thoughts.

Stay tuned for part 2.

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