Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Now this is really getting to be a bit much. . .

My colleagues the Reveres and I are often asked why we discuss religion so much on our public health blogs. For me, it's largely pragmatic. I tried to move my more basic, philosophical concerns off of this site to the Dialogue blog. (Which is in suspended animation right now, but I'm still hoping to find some participants who are willing to represent the side of religion.) However, there are essential problems in public health in which religion is deeply entangled.

These include the allocation of potentially life saving and health producing resources, end of life treatment and extension of life, abortion, embryonic stem cells, contraception, HIV and STD prevention, drug abuse treatment and prevention and harm reduction . . . All of this is obvious because these are issues prominent in current political controversies. There happens to be a faction of Christians in this country right now, who have effective control of the Executive Branch and dispositive power in the Congress, whose beliefs about all of these issues stand in the way of what scientific knowledge and rational analysis show to be the policies that would bring about the greatest enhancements in population health and longevity.

Now, I admit there is an underlying conceptual principle of the good on which they may differ with me. Their preferred policies would result in more babies being born in the first place, and if someone believes that constitutes The Good, then I'm a bad guy. But those babies would have worse lives, unhappier lives, and shorter lives, than would the fewer babies born in my world. They would have less freedom, less personal autonomy, suffer more sickness, and be materially poorer. Perhaps some people think that is a price worth paying, but I am making my own position clear: it is not. It is also entirely unclear to me what these purportedly Christian views have to do with Jesus, but perhaps that is beside the point.

I bring this up now because Mr. Bush has declared that the reason he believes Harriet Miers should be a Justice of the Supreme Court is that she is an evangelical Christian, whose faith condemns abortion and homosexuality. Mr. Bush's friends James Dobson and Pat Robertson enthusiastically endorse that view and threaten Senators who vote against her with political extinction.

We face a profound historical crisis in this country. Secularists -- and that includes athesists, agnostics, and people of all faiths who believe that religion is a personal matter and that government must represent all people without regard to their religious persuasion -- must stand up proudly, confidently, and publicly and declare that the United States is a pluralist democracy, committed to the advancement of religious and intellectual liberty, and that George W. Bush, James Dobson, and the entire movement that they represent is antithetical to our traditions, our values, and our hopes for the future. And then we need to throw them onto the dustheap of history.

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