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Does U.S. Democracy Depend on Religion?

February 08, 1986

The Brookings Institution has concluded incredibly "that the stability and future strength of American democracy depend on the underpinnings of religion" (Times, Jan. 24). Your short article, understandably, could not do justice to a long report. But one wonders about what arguments could have been used to reach such a conclusion.

Religious skepticism has been indigenous to America since our deist Founding Fathers. They saw fit to justify our Constitution solely on secular grounds, including "to promote the common welfare." Doubters as to the faith content of religion will always be with us, and the advances of modern science have not decreased their number, but increased. In this century, especially, there have been a disproportionate number of burden bearers in science, education and national leadership who are significantly more enlightened than their followers.

If religion is essential to democracy, then is a non-conformer an anti-democrat? Of course not. It seems that the authors of this report would declare that the best citizen is one who is a hypocrite.

If support for our constitutional form of democracy depends on religion, it is on shaky ground indeed; it is fragile; our security would be threatened by every personal offense on the defenders of religion, every cranky rabbi, petty priest and insensitive minister. It is safe only if placed on a high enough level that they can not get to it.

What is needed is the teaching of the practice of ethics to religious and non-religious alike. According to Albert Einstein, "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectively on sympathy, education and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

A regard for human welfare is the basis for much of Christianity and all of humanism. It is the common denominator of our secular society. As Bertrand Russell said, "Remember your humanity, and forget everything else."



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