Theocrats Are Not (And Should Not Be) Authorities On Morality

Guest Contributor: Lee Helms (Communications Director for the Michigan Atheists)

A reply to Cal Thomas’s op/ed piece titled “Rick Santorum could still achieve “the impossible dream”

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Published on May 4, 2012

In “Santorum could still achieve an impossible dream,” Cal Thomas lamented Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the presidential race, complaining that “Santorum is a decent man in an indecent age, preaching to a largely hedonistic culture about old-time values abandoned by many…”  Thomas also speculated that a Romney administration might put Santorum in charge of Health and Human Services, “where he could focus on those moral and cultural issues about which he cares so much.”

That kind of thinking is typical of theocrat pundits and politicians.  They see their own religious opinions and culture as the only possible source of morality, and yearn for enough power to impose them on as many other people as they can.  It’s for their own good, of course.

For example, in a February 14, 2012 interview with an evangelical blog called Caffeinated Thoughts, Santorum said, “contraception (is) not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”*  Supposed to be?  According to whom?  Claiming authority to make sexual decisions for other adults shows an arrogance almost unique to clergy and theocrats.

The problem stems from the fact that clergy and theocrats don’t recognize that there are two separate kinds of morality: basic and cultural.

Basic morality is about preventing the kind of interpersonal violence and dishonesty that universally destroy trust.

Cultural morality is about local tribal customs: which gods to worship, and how; sexual customs (monogamy/polygamy, arranged marriages); clothing customs (hair/head covering, veil, burka); dietary customs (kosher, halal, no meat on Friday), and so on.  Obviously, there is no way to prove, objectively, that one’s own culture is “right” for everyone.  As president, secretary of HHS, or in any other government office, it would not be Santorum’s duty, or right, to try to force secular hedonists to comply with Christian Puritanism.

While the idea of keeping government from legislating religious, cultural-morality makes Santorum want to “throw up,” the nation’s Founders gave us a quote that is a bit more profound: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” (First Amendment).  Government must remain neutral in issues of religion and cultural morality.

* http://swampland.time.com/2012/02/14/rick-santorum-wants-to-fight-the-dangers-of-contraception/