In recent months, following the Kim Davis controversy and Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, we have, as a nation, begun to question the role religion should play in society — most notably in the political arena.
It is important to note that I am a state secularist, which means that I stand opposed to any attempt to establish a state religion or give any religion preferential political treatment than what is universally given to all American people by the First Amendment and religious liberty clauses. Nevertheless, I do think the concept that religion be completely privatized and absent from political decision-making is an unattainable one at best and a dangerous one at worst. Rather, I firmly believe that religion should be treated just as any other form of knowledge such as science or ethics; a field that will inform political discussions, as well as a topic open to debate via interfaith dialogue.
My reasons for this position are twofold. One relates to a reality about human beings and their identities, while the other is a concern over what consequences will be wrought via the isolation of religion. Just imagine for a moment that I ask you to isolate a part of your identity, so that that aspect of yourself is not allowed to inform your perspective on topics of political debates, which might pertain to that specific aspect.
Outside the questionable ethical dimension of such a request, is this request of identity isolation even attainable? Of course not.
A woman will have her gender inform her perspective on such things as rape culture or unequal pay on gender lines, a racial minority will have his or her racial identity inform his or her perspective on the justice system’s treatment of minorities, and those who devote their lives to a field of academia like science will have their devotion affect their viewpoint on the reality of climate change, as well.
These aspects are inseparable from the whole of identity, and without them we are not completely ourselves.
In this same way, religion makes up an aspect of our individual identity that cannot be isolated.
There is a danger in the isolation of religion. When people are allowed to express their religion openly, it is to be expected that areas of disagreement will emerge, whether they be small or large. However, within the framework of democracy, it will allow for the understanding of the other religions that cultivate the refinement of thought in your own religion.
But consider what happens when we deny this, when we isolate these aspects of our identities. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, our desires do not go away when we suppress them, they merely go underground and emerge in a more dangerous form. Consider what has happened already in a society marked by this desire to isolate religion. Tons of misconceptions come up, like the belief that the afterlife of Muslim people includes 72 virgins or that Hindu people worship cows. These misconceptions dehumanize these believers and prompt hatred, like the Islamophobia that cropped up in the United States after 9/11 and caused extremism and violence.
I know I was not able to tackle every aspect of this complicated issue, but I hope that you will not simply reject the religious aspect of people’s lives and the viewpoints it helps inform. To do this is not only inconsiderate and unreasonable, but also denies an individual’s identity and thus the humanity they possess.