It's perhaps the most depressing fact of this campaign so far that the first major encounter between McCain and Obama will be presided over by a mega-pastor and in a church. Here's Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with the man who is taking American politics one step further away from the vision of the Founding Fathers. Take this particular piece of blather:
I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe in the separation of politics from religion. Faith is simply a worldview. A person who says he puts his faith on the shelf when he's making decisions is either an idiot or a liar. It's entirely appropriate for me to ask what is their frame of reference.
The entire basis for Western secular government, which rests on the capacity of people to distance absolute truth from political affairs, is based on idiocy or lies? I wonder if Warren has ever read Locke, or Hobbes, or Machiavelli or would even understand the term secularism if it knocked him square off his pedestal.
It seems that Mr. Sullivan, a learned man with an Oxford and Harvard pedigree, does not fully grasp what Pastor Warren is in fact saying. Pastor Warren is not suggesting that the American government is not secular. He is making what should be an uncontroversial point: the secularity of the government, insofar as it is not under the authority of any extra-governmental ecclesiastical entity, cannot legitimately call itself "liberal" and "democratic" if it purposely sequesters the perspectives of religious citizens a priori simply because those perspectives are deemed "religious" by elites such as Mr. Sullivan.
Because the terms "religious" and "secular" are not adjectives that may be appropriately applied to assessing the quality of reasons and conclusions offered by citizens, these adjectives serve no purpose other than providing labels by which commentators like Mr. Sullivan can dismiss a priori any perspective they declare "religious." (Just as "brown" does not appropriately modify the number 2, "secular" and "religious" do not appropriately modify the terms "reason," "conclusion," and "argument." Those nouns are appropriately modified by terms like "true," "false," "valid," "invalid," "sound," "unsound," "strong," or "weak.")
If, for example, I offer an argument for the personhood of the unborn, and that position happens to draw its strength from a metaphysical account of the human person much more at home in a Christian worldview than a materialist one, how is any "secular" alternative made more plausible, or my view less compelling, by declaring the latter "religious"? What Pastor Warren is suggesting is that this cheap trick ought to be out of bounds in a society that calls itself liberal and democratic. But, sadly, it is not. For there are many people, including Mr. Sullivan, who believe that if you can show that a policy perspective is shaped and informed by a citizen's theological commitment it has no place in the public square. But what if, for example, someone counters my view with a policy perspective shaped by that citizen's commitment to a materialist view of persons, a view often associated with secularism and atheism? Both my view (the so-called ''religious" view) and the secularist's view answer precisely the same question: who and what are we and can we know it? Why should the latter citizen have a privileged position over the former in the public square, as Mr. Sullivan's point of view seems to suggest? It seems to me that each side should be allowed to make their best arguments without any metaphysical prior restraint. Thus, this is all that Pastor Warren is saying: everyone, including the Christian citizen, arrives at the public square with a cluster of beliefs that he or she thinks is rational and defensible. The fact that one is "religious" and the other "secular" should have no bearing on how we, the citizenry, assess their plausibility when we consider them while making policy.