Gopnik: Paul Ryan, Theocrat?

Over at The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik is worried about Paul Ryan's apparent rejection of the separation between Church and State:

[S]omething genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both mens positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of faith. (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead I dont 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. Thats a shocking answera mullahs 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. And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his bosss policy may not seem so:"All Im saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesnt change the definition of life. Thats a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."Our system, unlike the Iranians, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. 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.

Something to think about...

Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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