Religion, Government Losing Effectiveness

By Darby Ratliff

Opinion Editor

The Griffin Goes Back is a series of articles in which a current contributor responds to the contributor to the newspaper during its earlier days. This article responds to one from Greg Murphy on April 29, 1988 on his article of the same name. The full text of it can be found online in the Library’s archives and in the printed edition of the paper. 

As someone who frequently writes for a newspaper (i.e. this newspaper), I don’t think that it’ll be any surprise to you that I’m a fan of the first amendment (no, not the one that allows me the freedom to bear arms–with that one, I’d much prefer that bears be allowed to keep their appendages). With the freedom of speech, the 1st amendment also allows for the freedom to practice, petition, and peaceably assemble. For those who took government in high school or college or just happen to be aware of how the world works, it also states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” laying the foundation, of course, for the crazy idea that there should be a separation of church and state. Mr. Murphy mentions in his 1988 article, “Religion, Government Losing Effectiveness” that, during the late 80s, “the morals of this nation have seriously disintegrated, due in no small way to the fact that we have severed ourselves from religion. In any society, religion is the cornerstone of ethical life.” This was during the Reagan Era, and I won’t pretend that things are the same as they are now and that I can comment on the “morals of the nation” (though I’m not sure that Mr. Murphy, citing no statistics on public opinion, could do so either).

        However, I’m reticent to even consider that religion should play a role in government, even as a practicing Catholic myself. Religion in the western tradition has certainly shaped history, especially here in the United States, but a lot of contemporary issues have found themselves fighting religion in order to form a better nation. Some of the time, this leads to the involvement of the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land regularly hears cases pertaining to the practicing of religion. School prayer still manages to be an issue, even fifty-four years after Engel v. Vitale, a landmark case pertaining to prayer in the classroom in public schools. Same-sex marriage and abortion are both issues that were viewed as morally wrong, and they were thought of as such because of a religion that saw the former as sodomy and the latter as murder. Personally, I think that government has no business legislating on who can marry whom and what I as a woman do with my body, protecting by my right to privacy as ascribed through the combined interpretation of the third, fourth, ninth, and tenth amendments. Regardless, Supreme Court decisions have ultimately upheld the idea that the government cannot legally outlaw such issues, overturning an issue that has a religious idea.

        I think that religion is important, but I don’t think that people need to have religion to be good humans. It’s good for me. It works for me. It isn’t for everyone. Mr. Murphy notes that “[t]he ever increasing impact of television, combined with the ever loudening voice of American youth, effectively gave religion a bad name. Religion was unwanted…” Any candidate in the presidential race inevitably mentions religion. According to the Washington Post, John Kasich has written two books about faith, values, and politics, citing the Bible regularly. He even used it as a justification for expanding Medicaid in Ohio. It’s been noted that Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish president. Even Donald Trump’s lack of religion has enraged voters, thinking that it’s a necessary requirement for someone who could end up in the Oval Office (God forbid). People want religion to be involved in political debate, and there would be outrage if someone who practiced an Eastern religion ran for the presidency in this day and age, despite there clearly being nothing wrong with those religions. Western influences extend manifest even in religion, and while I personally do not think that religion should ever enter the dialect of the political arena, I can also recognize this disparity between prominent politicians who practice Western religions and those who do not.

        To think of this image of a future America that Mr. Murphy foresaw in April of 1988, I am pleased that the establishment clause is still respected (to an extent, unfortunately). Can you imagine a world in which the United States existed as an entity in which religion was crucial within politics? Further, Mr. Murphy advocates for not only a more powerful executive branch, but also suggests a return to isolationism in our foreign policy that isn’t going to be effective in an increasingly larger global community. For America to cut itself off on top of these other two demands, we’d basically be on our way to building the wall that Trump advocates for in his rhetoric (feel free to return to my article on immigration for fervent opinions on what level of ridiculous I have awarded that wall). We don’t want that. It’s not the land of opportunity that America built itself to be. It’s already having a hard time with that image in the face of the huge influx of refugees and immigrants. Rather, we should be looking at the foundational problems that underlie the two issues that Mr. Murphy highlighted. Our society was based upon a Western tradition, and while I utterly respect the Greek and Roman greats as well as my own Western-oriented religion, I understand that it has shaped our views into a more conservative society at which we’re still chipping away. The idea of tradition is important, but shouldn’t it be a tradition of informed nationalism and patriotism rather than religion?

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