Ill winds blow on church-state issues

By Mike Dishnow, April 28, 2004

With upward of 500,000, some estimates place the number above 750,000 people, many from beyond our borders, marching on Washington to protect the reproductive and individual rights of women, it is time for pause and reflection. One wonders why we are so critical of the Islamic fundamentalists and their desire to base political institutions and, indeed, governments on religious beliefs.

The belief that government is not based on the free choice and will of the people, but rather is to be based on the religious ideals of one group or another, is frightening to say the least. When politicians find they are criticized and their political futures threatened by the dictates and pronouncements of major religions, we as a free democratic nation face peril.

Never, in recent history, have we faced such a concerted effort to chip away the wall of separation between church and state. There are numerous individuals and groups who would simply destroy that wall.

Any serious student of history will attest to the wisdom of maintaining a clear and unwavering separation. John Kerry is to be commended for his willingness to stand firm in his commitment to this ideal.

I fear the present administration, in its quest for votes and power, is willing to sacrifice, not only the hard-won rights of woman, but numerous other freedoms as well. When our top law enforcement officer sees it fit to cover the exposed breasts on an historical sculpture and our president sees it fit to deny reproductive freedom to woman beyond out borders we are emulating the behaviors, of those in the Islamic world we criticize.

I, personally, see very little daylight between the dangers of fundamentalism in the Arab world and that observed in our own nation.

In response to David Olson’s letter:

David Olson: Believers use God for their moral compass

The Freethinker’s Perspective column by Sarah Sodemann (Sunday’s Tribune) opined there is a widespread misconception that atheists cannot have morals.

Maybe some people think that, but I’ve never met one.

The theist-believer position on morals versus the atheist position on morals is more correctly stated that theists claim morals are grounded in laws that come from a creator God. This is why the Declaration of Independence says we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.

Believers don’t claim to know these laws perfectly — or always live up to them — but we know where they are grounded. We wonder where atheists ground their moral claims so they are not just based on commonly accepted opinion or what the state says is right.

The atheist said morals are “constructs of society taught to one another through the generations.”

But what about infanticide in the vast Roman Empire, where unwanted newborns were killed or left in the woods for animals to eat? This was done in a society from generation to generation — bones have been studied from Palestine to Britain.

When Christianity came, it opposed this evil. By our freethinker’s standard it would be morally acceptable.

The problem for the atheists, who do not accept that moral principles precede cultural norms is they can’t really say why infanticide could be right in ancient Rome but wrong now or why it was wrong in ancient Rome despite widespread acceptance.

Perhaps the Romans just didn’t think.

Father David Olson is pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in La Crosse.

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