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Monday, October 15, 2012

Confusion about Separation

This blog post, "Of Babies and Beans," by Adam Gopnik, at The New Yorker, is mainly about abortion (and about what Paul Ryan said during the vice-presidential debate on the subject) but it also included some sharp -- but I think misguided -- criticism of what Ryan said about the role of religious faith in citizens' "public" lives.  Gopnik characterizes as "disturbing and scary" what struck me as Ryan's (to me)unremarkable observation that “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life  from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything  we do.”  Here's Gopnik:

That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well.  Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic  Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics  and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.”  . . .

. . .  Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to  the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.

Now, I believe strongly -- in part for "religious" reasons -- in the separation of church and state, properly understood.  But Ryan did not say that the "distinction between politics and religion" or the distinction between "church and state" (which is a different distinction) "should not exist"; and there is nothing mullah-ish about the statement that faith "informs" people's lives -- public and private -- comprehensively.  He didn't say that the positive law should enforce religious teachings or require religious practices, and there's nothing contrary to "secularism" (properly understood) in his statement.

Which reminds me . . . I participated this past weekend, along with a number of Prawfs-bloggers and friends, in a really stimulating and fun roundtable conference at the University of San Diego's new Institute for Law and Religion, on "The Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era."  Our own Paul Horwitz's work on the subject was, of course, at center-stage!  More on this later (I hope!).   


Posted by Rick Garnett on October 15, 2012 at 03:23 PM in Religion, Rick Garnett | Permalink


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You make a very good point.
When I read Gopnik's shallow piece I found myself wondering "does he actually believe this stuff" or is it just something he writes knowing the New Yorker readership will find it clever?
I wonder what he thinks of a Presidential candidate who says - while campaigning in a church - "I think we can create a Kingdom right here on earth" (Oct 2007)? Or a President who at the normally nonpartisan national prayer breakfast cites biblical authority to support his policies (Feb 2012)?
My guess is he thinks it's okay since Obama does not really believe it and is just saying it to please the rubes.
I'll bet if Gopnik had been around in 1865 he'd really be freaked out by Lincoln's Second Inaugural which is essentially a religious sermon.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 16, 2012 3:56:00 PM

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