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David Hegg: Religious values and American ethics

Posted: May 22, 2010 2:17 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The news that the United States Supreme Court may soon find itself without a Protestant raises a question whose importance extending far beyond the borders of political campaigns.

While some work hard to say otherwise, the truth remains that personal values are the fundamental platform from which a public official launches public service. The things we do reflect the things we believe, and this applies in all walks of life.

Simply put, that which forms our moral belief system will ultimately drive our decisions and our actions.

In the academic world, ideas about morals and behavior fall into the area of ethics. And while we hear a lot about ethics today, it's always helpful to be reminded about what is involved.

We all have a set of beliefs about what is good and bad, right and wrong, useful and destructive. We use these beliefs as a roadmap for decisions and everyday life. We also use them to critique the world around us and those who live in it.

These beliefs and values form our ethic, the grid through which we see the world. When we see something that does not fit our grid, we consider it unethical because it doesn't align with the standards we have affirmed.

When societies are first formed, they most often are built on a shared ethical foundation. And while the extent of the religious commitment and agreement among our Founding Fathers can be honestly debated, it cannot be denied that they shared a belief that religion was essential in the formation of their ethical system.

The frequent references to God, prayer and "divine providence" in our founding documents and their personal writings testify to this over, over and over. When our country began, there was widespread acceptance that God existed, that He was the creator and sustainer of life and that His word and ways were to inform both individual and societal behavior. They accepted as a given the essential connection between religious knowledge, the formation of moral standards and ethical behavior.

But as we all know, our country was not founded on a single religious viewpoint. From the beginning, our unique brand of religious freedom has guaranteed the rise of a pluralistic society, a society in which competing religious systems - as well as atheism - all have the right to exist. The American experiment endeavored to chart a new course where allegiance to the benefits of liberty would allow us to handle our religious differences differently.

Of course, the challenge of pluralism is not small. And the fact that competing truth claims will produce competing ethical systems is apparent in our day. People on both sides of contemporary issues lay claim to religious arguments, and this shouldn't surprise us.

As a Christ follower, I believe that the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible - and brought rescue to our world through Jesus Christ - is the starting point of truth, and of a belief system that can both explain the reality of our world, and bring real meaning and purpose to life.

As an American, I believe that my Christianity is best displayed through my willingness to live life with those who disagree, and with whom I can enter into useful, winsome discourse.

In my mind, pluralism allows Christ followers the chance to prove that Christianity produces good people.

Over the years of America's existence, the challenge of religious pluralism has been a constant. Yet, in recent days it has taken a new turn. We used to believe that religion was good for the country, regardless of what flavor it was.

We used to believe that, despite our religious differences, acknowledging our dependence upon the Almighty was a national privilege as "one nation under God." But now that is changing, and not slowly.

There is an aggressive movement today to separate religion from ethics, to suggest that religious beliefs are either unnecessary or harmful in the public sphere. Rather than uphold the genius of a pluralistic society, of freedom to be religious, many powerful interests are succumbing to the inevitable pressure pluralism brings and choosing to write off religion all together.

So, am I concerned that the Supreme Court won't have a Protestant? Not really. I'm concerned that the country is losing its appreciation of religious values altogether and fearful about what that will mean for our national ethic.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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