The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

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Does voting our values mean we are imposing our beliefs?

You know how when you’re having a conversation with another person and one of you has bad breath, it can be so distracting that it’s difficult to even really hear what the other person is saying? If we’re the bearer of the odoriferous breath we may, a bit self-consciously, cover our mouth with a hand, turn our faces slightly in another direction or speak with as little breath expelled as possible, hoping that which comes from us that might possibly offend would not reach the level of their attention.

But the whole conversation becomes a little bit awkward that way. It’s hard to see eye-to-eye when we’re doing everything we can not to stand face-to-face. Sometimes I feel like having a political conversation with someone who knows that I happen to be a person of faith is like doing that strange bad breath dance. I’m so conscious of offending the other person, I don’t articulate clearly enough what my actual position is. Today I read a blog post that insinuated that having religious beliefs is something that should be done outside of the voting booth, but not in it. So for the sake of a clearer and hopefully more authentic conversation, I’m going to put my face straight forward to look at yours and say what I really want to say: My religious beliefs do affect my vote.

That is because my religious beliefs affect my values. And all of us, every single one of us, votes based on our values. Our values are shaped by our families, our cultures, our gender, our experiences, our education, and countless other factors. But religious beliefs are undoubtedly one of the things that help shape our values. And it’s not just me. I hate to break it to you but, whether you have a religious affiliation or not- whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist or none of the above-your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) affect your values. And your vote is affected by your values.

But let me tell you what that doesn’t mean:

  1. Just because my religious beliefs affect my values, doesn’t mean that when I vote I am trying to impose my religious beliefs on the state. I am simply casting my vote based on my own values, just like anyone else. Asking me to set aside my values before I vote would simply be asking me to put aside my humanity. I believe in separation of church and state specifically because I appreciate living in a place where we don’t do things like force people to separate themselves from their values when they exercise their right as a citizen to vote.
  2. I am no more trying to impose my values on you than you are trying to impose your values on me. Just as your votes may result in policies which go against my values, my votes may result in policies that go against your values. The nature of a democracy is that each person has the ability to place their single vote, whatever their vote may be and whatever their vote may be based upon. We each have that one single vote. That’s it. (Consequently, we also have a really, really good Constitution for which I am very thankful.  It protects us from a tyranny of the majority, which can be a dangerous thing.)
  3. Just because I have religious beliefs does not mean that when I vote I do not use my brain. If you think that having faith means not having an intellect, I challenge you to find a realm of human achievement where you don’t find people of faith. Arts, sciences, literature, philosophy….we are everywhere. And we do enjoy using our brains when we vote just as well as any other person does (or does not. Democracy is a funny thing like that. We don’t give tests to determine upon what a person will be basing their vote to see if it is appropriate before we hand him or her a pencil and ballot.)
  4. And just because I have particular values, doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep talking with you about this. Even if you have dramatically different values from mine.  I truly enjoy a good, intellectually honest, respectful debate.  And if we can agree on those ground rules, I’m all about digging in. Let’s not disrespect each other by assuming we can’t handle an opinion that dissents from ours.  My favorite conversations are the ones I’ve had with people who are not threatened by ideas different by their own.  That’s the place from which the absolute best policy-making is done. So let’s get at this!