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Discussion 1 to Reflections on Ethics 30
Separation of Church and State

by Teofilo Contreras

Re: Reflection 30

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The separation of church and state is very clear in my mind, but what is also very clear is that churches (more or less in general) either don't have a clue what that means or conveniently ignore it altogether. It's no surprise, then, that some people like your friend trample over the concept with no political or ecclesiatical remorse at all.

As an example, consider the official position of the catholic church regarding abortion. If the church respected it's own definition as a spiritual guide, leader, counselor, ruler, ambassador or representative of god; there would be no agnostic, atheist, or any form of nonbeliever, who could not agree absolutely with the catholic view on abortion. We would all feel obliged to bow our heads and repeat with reverence: "Yes Mr. Pope abortion is a huge sin, the souls of all those who abort, those who help, those who finance, support, allow, talk or write, or even think about abortion; will be irredeemably lost in hell for eternity". Then all the catholics (and some other believers) could point at us and say: "look, there go the doomed". And we could all go about our business whit one less thing to worry about.

Everyone, believers and non believers, could then sit and discuss the ethical merit, or lack of, regarding abortion and decide on it's most convenient legal status. The discussion would stay rational and constructive since we all previously and voluntarily would have agreed that everyone's soul, whose view differs, even slightly, from the catholic doctrine, is toast forever and ever. The Vatican would congratulate itself that it's spiritual responsibilities would have been so rapidly and smoothly fulfilled. Local and national congresses, could legislate, courts rule, and the UN could finally issue a global recommendation on abortion without intervention from the Vatican.

Except that most churches' doctrines all have the "not so fast" clause. And so, even when on one chapter they speak wonders about tolerance and respect for outsiders; on another chapter they have a "committed beyond sanity" paragraph which makes it a divinely instructed obligation to impose their moral code on everyone else. Therefore in this example about abortion, all catholics are supposed to defend life all the way to martyrdom. They don't care that the scope of churches is only spiritual, they feel compelled to obstruct all they perceive as sin. As if our commitment to truth drove us to burn all the bibles we could find.

Remember HAL 9000 in 2001 A space odyssey? The computer that went mad because of the conflicting directives about honesty and lying? Well, people who try to follow their church views on tolerance on one side and commitment to some principles on the other, often go to the path of madness too.

We may be heading directly towards hell, but they are going straight to HAL.