Friday, November 13, 2009

Health Care, Religion, and Secularism

Despite living on a different continent, I still keep up with American news and politics.  It is remarkably different than Israeli politics, both on a systemic and personal level.  However, there are some similarities.  One depressing similarity is the influence of religion on politics.

Religious influence on Israeli politics is obvious.  Religious, fundamentalist Jews of various stripes make up a growing portion of the populace.  They have significant control over important facets of life such as marriage and immigration.  Here in Jerusalem, they are ubiquitous and influential.  The struggle between secular and fundamentalist Jews for control is a huge part of Israeli politics now and for the foreseeable future.

Americans shouldn't feel smug or superior, though, for we are far from a secular society.  I am saddened by the inclusion of the Stupak amendment to the House health care reform bill.  What bothers me most is not that Republicans and evangelical Christians backed it; what bothers me is that the Catholic Church put significant pressure on Democratic leaders to back it as well.

It has been fairly obvious for some time that the Evangelical movement doesn't care at all about the separation of church and state; to them, the government is a tool to force their religious views on the rest of American society.  Luckily, President Bush and other Republicans did not have the capacity and/or desire to reform American society in the Evangelical image.  But it is truly troubling when Democrats have allowed religion to influence important bills impacting the lives of all Americans, religious and irreligious.  If the Democratic Party cannot stand up for secularism, for the separation of church and state as the Founding Fathers intended, then who will?

Israel is not a secular society.  It was founded as Jewish state.  The debate here is not about whether or not religious views should inform policy but whose religious views win out.  America was designed to be a truly secular society.  It was not founded as a Christian nation despite what some want you to believe, but as a secular nation.  Yet somewhere along the line, we have lost sight of this ideal.  There are secular reasons to oppose abortion but these are not the reasons advanced by anti-abortion activists.  The Democrats did not bow to secular anti-abortion arguments but to political pressure by the religiously motivated.

The religious nature of Israel certainly annoys me but at least they are being true to the intent of their nation.  If only Americans could be so true to the intent of ours.

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