Obama on Religion and Protecting the Environment

Just as he did last week, Barack Obama has raised questions again about the intersection between religion and political philosophy. Obama was speaking in Iowa about climate change from a religious perspective:

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said Sunday that the separation of church and state should not force the people of the United States to “leave [their] religion at the door before entering the public square” and that, indirectly, faith informs politics.

“Our faith informs our values, and I think we’d all agree that our values inform our politics more than they have over the last six years,” the Illinois senator said at an interfaith forum in downtown Des Moines.

Obama said that too often religious leaders use faith to “exploit what divides us” by saying that the only issues that matter are abortion, gay marriage, school prayer, and intelligent design.

“Everyone in this room knows that’s not true,” Obama said.

He said there are other challenges that can unite people of faith, one of them being the issue of climate change.

“The bible tells us that when God created the earth, he entrusted us with the responsibility to take care of that earth,” he said. “It is a responsibility to ensure that this planet remains clean and safe and livable for our children, and for all of God’s children.”

As I noted before, I would prefer that political candidates follow the example in this clip from the fictitious Republican presidential candidate Arnold Vinick on The West Wing and keep religion entirely separate from politics. Unfortunately in looking at political candidates it is never going to be possible to find one we agree with in all respects, and the reality of American politics might also make someone like Obama more likely to be able to win.

Fortunately Obama has demonstrated he understands the concept of separation of church and state and his comments provide a useful lesson on the relationship between secular politics and religious beliefs. Secularism is frequently distorted by the religious right which claims it is an anti-religious viewpoint, forgetting that historically it was religious leaders such as Roger Williams who were the strongest defenders of the concept of separation of church and state.

Candidates have a moral philosophy which may or may not be influenced by religious teachings. While the American heritage of separation of church and state includes the view that religious teachings should not be given a special legitimacy to determine law, this does not mean that religious teachings must be entirely ignored.

There are general moral principles which most agree to regardless of whether these derive from religion or humanistic philosophies. For example, we can agree that murder is bad and should be prohibited by the state and the inclusion of this belief in religious teachings does not make this any less a universal moral view. Similarly many can agree on the value of protecting the environment, regardless of whether this derives from a religious viewpoint.

Religious teachings must be questioned and often excluded from law when religious teachings include views which are more unique to certain religions. While religious views should not be rejected solely because they are religious, American tradition is that religious views not be considered correct merely because they stem from religion. Ignoring for the moment the fact that religious works can often be used to argue both sides of these questions, finding a religious prohibition against homosexuality or stem cell research cannot be taken as sufficient grounds to enact legislation. Similarly, even many who are religious understand that the bible cannot be taken literally as an explanation for scientific questions such as the creation of the universe and the development of life and biblical explanations have no place in science classes.

Once again, while Barack Obama may fail my Arnold Vinick test (as do the other candidates), Obama does at least show an understanding of the essential meaning of separation of church and state.

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  1. 1
    Carter Michaels says:

    Democratic National Society Party (www.dnsp.co.uk)

    I have a new political party. It’s called the Democratic National Society Party. This will be a group that is socially right wing. A party with true and just policies and is multi-ethnic, but has a firm idea of what we stands for and won’t change lightly. Because let’s face it, there’s a void on the right in Britain today. The Conservatives aren’t conservative these days, UKIP are merely trying to be “there”, and VERITAS are, let’s face it, a joke. If you want to be part of a new party that puts you first, contact me. It won’t take many people to get this off the ground, and once we get registered and get a few supporters, the skies the limit.

    To give a basic idea of what we stand for-

    Noll tolerance to any kind of racism
    Support a military whose mission is to protect our nation, not police the world
    Strengthen our borders and promote rational immigration policies
    Protect our language as our common language
    Strong police presence eliminate crime protect our people
    Seek friendship with all nations, but avoid entangling alliances
    Work to maintain our nation’s sovereignty and oppose all attempts to make our nation subservient to the precursors of global government
    The common good of the citizens of the nation before that of self interest
    Emphasise real multi-ethnic, multiculturalism in all areas and eradicate sexism
    Steps must be taken to promote the Welsh, Gaelic and Cornish languages


    Restore accountability and Constitutionality to budgets and taxes
    Promote tax policies that adhere to the Constitution, enhance individual freedom, encourage savings and investment, and promote the family
    Rebuild our manufacturing base and protect our workers
    Protect our right to fair trade and oppose free trade
    Help our businesses stay in our nation
    Promote Buy from your own Nation/people policy
    Support small businesses
    Implement a self-sufficient energy policy


    Protect and recognise the sanctity of all human life
    Defend the traditional family unit based on one man and one woman
    Promote the primacy of parents in the lives and education of their children
    Respect the free exercise of religion
    Recognise the Judeo-Christian heritage of our shared values
    Animal rights ban acts such as Fox hunting and such


    Defend the self-evident truth, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
    Preserve and protect our Constitution
    Merit and behaviour must prevail
    End judicial tyranny and restore balance to our political system
    Real Liberty and Justice for all the races and cultures of the Nation


    Remove the primary source of corruption by sharply reducing the size and scope of the government to its powers under the Constitution, and return control over all other matters to the state
    We will stop the corrupting parliamentary custom of filling posts merely in accordance with party considerations and special interests-without reference to character or abilities.
    Implement clean election practices
    Give power back to the Nations people

    So, I need party officers, campaigners, and candidates. If you want to be one of them send me your info via email Also contact me if you have any questions.
    Carter Michaels union.of.nation@gmail.com http://www.dnsp.co.uk

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