THE BLOG
06/25/2014 12:52 EDT | Updated 08/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Take it From Rex Murphy, Religious Morality Is Bad for Politics

This sort of bleating about how difficult the road is for the religious politician is stunning. We are witness to an era of dominance when North American politicians proudly and arrogantly proclaim their religious righteousness and Christian bravado. The worst of it is seen, almost daily, in the once proud Republican Party.

It's always a delight when the credulous inadvertently provide the best reasons for why religion fails. And when it's done by a knobbly figure like Rex Murphy, it's especially entertaining.

The context: In a recent article in the National Post, Murphy takes aim at Justin Trudeau's varied views on MPs voting "along pro-choice lines on any legislation regarding abortion."

Murphy, however, isn't so much concerned about getting into the abortion debate. (Neither are we in this post.) Rather, for the purposes of his article, he wants to explain how Christians are so hard-done by running for public office. Yes. That's right. Wounded lambs.

Hence, the title of his article, "In Justin Trudeau's world, Christians need not apply."

Why is life so difficult for the dedicated Christian politician? What Murphy wants to explain, is best read in his own words:

"For those who are religious, who see the performance of their faith here on earth as bearing on their destiny in the hereafter, politics can be a threatening pursuit. Religious imperatives are not intermittent, do not suffer exceptions, may not be quarantined from any aspect of a religiously engaged life."

In other words, pity the woebegone religious believers, so full of moral imperatives. They have eternal hope heaven and reward, and therefore will be conflicted in public office. Apparently because it comes from a Deity and not derived by mere human rumination, their morality, which admits no exceptions, will clash with the mere, earth-bound relativism of the hoi-polloi.

In other words, as good Christian politicians debate public policy, don't expect any nuance as they stay true to their religiously induced moral imperatives.

Here's the irony: A hard-boiled atheist couldn't have put the argument against religious morality better.

Let's look at Murphy's, "apologia gone bad," a little more closely, as it polishes at least two gems.

The first concern recalls the quaint adage: "Being so heavenly-minded to be no-earthly good." And second, that instead of moral imperatives bringing comfort, their invocation should scare the literal poop out of us.

Consider Murphy's first admission that the credulous are so heavenly minded. What exactly is the benefit of someone so infatuated about the life to come, especially when it comes to urgent policy-making in the present? Nothing really. In fact, such cognitive abandonment of this world should be considered a rational defect.

Take one of the most urgent issues facing humanity: climate change. It's exactly because the religious are so heavenly-minded that it can't be of utmost concern for them. God, after all, in the life to come, will create a New Heaven and New Earth. So if this one burns up, no problem. Bonus too, as all the extinct creatures will be re-created. And, perhaps most important for evangelical Christians, all this earthly chaos and turmoil is only speeding up Christ's triumphal return to the last battle of Armageddon. (Take a look at Murphy's own congratulatory speeches extolling the oil industry.)

But this recent denial (or at least lukewarm acceptance of climate change science) is only one example of how dependency on "eternal, unalterable principles" pans out for innocent bystanders. (In war or religion, these are the usual victims.)

From religion's origin, it has been the same argument foisted on humanity. From the Old Testament's injunction to slaughter neighbouring tribes, to justifying slavery, racism, sexism, to the homophobia interpreted in the Old and New Testament alike.

This is a play we've seen over and over. Utterly convinced that unwavering imperatives should condemn Copernicus and Galileo, the same incantation is done today in the most stodgily imperative of Christian communities that openly condemn Darwin and evolution.

But it doesn't get better as we move to the second matter. What about the high-brow "religious imperatives" that Murphy so affectionately invokes?

In reality, he's only baptizing Immanuel Kant's philosophical "imperative." But it doesn't matter. Put religiously or philosophically, it carries the same fatal flaw.

Perhaps Murphy was admiring his brilliance too much to hear his first-year philosophy professor discuss it. He would've heard that one of the greatest objections against both philosophical and "religious imperatives that admit no exceptions," is exactly that pronouncement. No nuance is admitted for moral deliberation and for the terrible consequences that may follow.

Just like blowing bubbles, appeal to such high-mindedness may look shiny and impressive floating in thin air, but it's content is altogether missing.

Moral debate can't be so easily pushed aside by appeal to platitudes and puffery. Just like ordinary discussions about the important issues of life, our moral decisions necessitate good reasons, appeal to facts, and reference to a plethora of other moral values and principles. But also appeal to our virtues and -- dare I say it -- the utilities and disutilities of our choices.

This sort of bleating about how difficult the road is for the religious politician is stunning. We are witness to an era of dominance when North American politicians proudly and arrogantly proclaim their religious righteousness and Christian bravado. The worst of it is seen, almost daily, in the once proud Republican Party.

And while our own Canadian Prime Minister is not as brazenly loquacious about his religious convictions, Harper's stealth in appeasing the right-wing Christian base in Canada is hardly comforting.

Given their track record, I think the credulous -- like Rex Murphy -- should be apologizing to Canadians, not saying we need more Christians, convinced of their religious, moral imperatives, in power.

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