Was talking with a good friend around the fire the other night and sharing my frustration with the toxic influence religious fundamentalism has had on public policy in my lifetime and throughout history. Separation of church and state is for the protection of the state just as much as it is for the protection of the church (if not more-so). In my reading this evening, I came across this quote from the book “Heaven: A History” by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang:
As the Reformation became a political issue for magistrates and princes, Luther and Calvin worked out the practical implications of their teaching more fully. It is impossible “to rule a country, let alone the entire world, by the gospel,” Luther insisted. Since worldly affairs can be successfully conducted by reason and experience, they can be autonomous and independent from religious involvement. “God has placed human civil life under the dominion of natural reason which has ability enough to rule physical things,” the reformer noted; “we need not look to Scripture for advice” in such temporal matters. Even the heathen are blessed with reason and thus are able to live their daily lives.
Now, while I have not tracked down the original writings of Martin Luther and am therefore relying on McDannell and Lang for interpretation and context, I certainly find validity in this idea. In fact, it is the very absence of reason is what leads to atrocious human acts. Like genocide. Or bombing abortion clinics. Or Matthew Shepard.
Instead of allowing ancient religious texts to guide public policy on social moral issues in the twenty-first century, perhaps we should take Luther’s advice and give natural reason a shot.