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There’s nothing new in this post (nor under the sun, some guy said a long time ago), but it seems to be an appropriate time to bring it up.

There’s a lot of focus on people’s religious beliefs and how those beliefs inform their politics. This is particularly true when the discussion is about abortion, but in other contexts as well.

No matter how strongly I reject someone’s personal religious beliefs, I reject them for myself only. Unless invited to do so, I don’t think it is polite or profitable to argue about them. If somebody attributes this, that, or the other to God’s will, I might think that a false and foolish idea; but I try to bite my tongue and let them foolishly believe in something false.

On the other hand, if someone is coming from a place of ignorance and an inability to think logically then I think that makes them fair game.

I draw this distinction between the statements of Tod Akin and Richard Mourdock. Tod Akin displayed astonishing ignorance; Mourdock displayed his belief that every creation of life is God’s will. As Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune explains in his column “A fair examination of Mourdock’s seemingly foul remark“, when read with a proper understanding of grammar Mourdock is talking about life being God’s will, not rape.

Personally, I find it hard to separate the two in that context: how could you have that particular life be God’s will without having the physical act of intercourse be God’s will, and how could you have the physical act of intercourse be God’s will without the rape being God’s will?

That’s not my real point, though. Akin might be a buffoon, and Mourdock might be a sincere, thoughtful believer, but neither one of them should be trying to make their personal believes the law of the land!

Well, is even that strictly true? Should we really expect anyone with integrity to vote against their deeply held religious convictions? I don’t think so, no matter how much we disagree with those convictions.

However, I think it is incumbent on any lawmaker to put their own convictions in the context of public good and public sentiment. I don’t mean they should whip around like a flag in the wind; but they should think carefully about whether or not they are trying to impose personal beliefs where they don’t belong. This can, I admit, be very tricky: does a Catholic politician have any more, or less, right to oppose federal funding of abortion than a Jewish politician has to oppose food programs that provide pork?

This all gets very tricky. Reductio ad absurdum, such as I just employed, is the cheap way out. Somewhere there is a line that should not be crossed, but the position of that line is as much a matter of personal belief as one’s religion.

Nothing’s simple.