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Bahá'ís and the Separation of Church and State

Election years make me grumpy. They always bring out a lot of posturing and politicized rhetoric, and this year is no different. However, this is the first time I remember so much talk of separation of church and state since the campaign of John Kennedy, who became the first Catholic elected president of the United States.

While it is all very fine to say that the scope of religion is not concerned with government, but rather with the spiritual health and development of human connection to the Infinite, if that connection is not reflected in behavior that directly and indirectly effects others in a positive way, then what good is it?

Religion at its heart is a set of promises purportedly from God, that if believers act in certain ways, the world will be a better place and they will personally achieve happiness. Specific definitions of the form that happiness might take vary with time and place, but the core principles are the same in every variation throughout history.

Religion has always been the source of moral values, and without agreement upon those values, no form of government will function long, let alone result in prosperity. Insisting that the constitution of the USA separates government and religion misses the point being made by the founding fathers, who actually said only that the government could not pick one religious belief over others and set it up as a state religion.

Alternatively, insisting that "God" must be part of legislative and executive and educational institutions and agencies does not seem to be quite honest, when what those espousing it usually mean that their deity and their religious platform be the state religion.

Bahá'ís do not believe that religion is separate from life or governance. It cannot be compartmentalized that way, and is intended to be the fundamental source of good behavior when practiced conscientiously. I'm not saying that religious beliefs can't be distorted to serve evil, but rather, that the core source of goodness a believer can use for guidance is a choice each one must make.

Making that choice requires faith. And faith is in short supply when it requires sacrifice. It annoys some people when I say that any form of government would probably work, if only the majority of people were committed to living a godly life, from whatever their religious background. Such a life, with its altruism, chastity and ethical behaviors, is not considered to be the best way to succeed in our modern, material societies. Success in business and government is assumed to require strong self-centered focus--even to the detriment of others. The result is probably why trust in government and elected officials is low.

Bahá'ís cannot adopt this definition of personal success, as it means abandoning the greater good towards which they are working. "...ye who are the well-wishers of the government and are sincere, obedient and kind toward it, be ye engaged always in service. Should any one of you enter into the service (or employment) of the government, he must live and act with the utmost truthfulness, righteousness, chastity, uprightness, purity, sanctity, justice and equity. But if...any one betray the least of trusts or neglect and be remiss in the performance of duties which are entrusted to him, or by oppression takes one penny of extortion from the subjects, or seeks after his own personal, selfish aims and ends in the attainment of his own interests, he shall undoubtedly remain deprived of the outpourings of His Highness the Almighty! Beware! Beware! lest ye fall short in that which ye are commanded...!" - Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá v2, p. 403

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