'Freedom' of Religion

Things have been rather dry lately. My time has been consumed mostly by class, reading, writing and doing that thing I have to do to make money to pay the rent. Although I've had little time to do recreational thinking and writing in recent days, the increasing normalcy of life has given me occasion to reflect on a few things that otherwise I may not have, among them being the implications of the upcoming election, and theories of what I might like to write a thesis on in the near future. I have no definite thoughts on either, but both are coming a little clearer and that's currently good enough for me.

With the 2008 election on the near horizon, it seems that even the occasion for philosophic discourse (i.e. class) has become ever more saturated with polico-centered discussion. This goes without saying for 'normal' conversations with friends and acquaintances. It's a big issue, and something altogether impossible to avoid. The question I've been asking, though, has been this: "What is truly beneficial about discussing politics?" So often it seems that political discourse—on both the macro and micro levels—turns so quickly into either 1) mindless bickering or 2) superficial contradictions based on ill-stated or poorly articulated positions. I suppose the latter is more prevalent. It is also more dangerous.

I mention this in light of a recent conversation with an acquaintance regarding the election, and the ever ubiquitous issues of abortion and homosexual marriage rights. Our discussion began pretty much like every other discussion of the sort, however with one foundational (and I think very important) element: it was not between two Catholics, or even two Christians, but rather between myself and a practicing and devout Muslim. From the outset, the focus of the dialogue centered on just what direction each of us viewed the United States as heading toward by means of its current policies, etc. My position—and the position of a friend of mine participating on the side—was that the US is more or less tending to foster a lessened appreciation for the dignity of human life. The other man's position was that the nation is on a path toward the restriction of freedom of its citizens. Each of us agreed that things appeared to be going more downhill than not, but our perceptions of the origins of the problem were quite diverse.

The interesting part is, both of us saw a downfall; and we both identified it as being restrictive insofar as human life is concerned. The difference occurred in our understandings of 'freedom.' His definition was something much more relative, while mine, I would like to think, was one much more rooted in (at least the notion of) an absolute truth. For the other man, rights to abortion or homosexual unions were a non-issue in the political arena; "Who am I to tell someone what they can or cannot do in their private life." For me, they were not only issues, but central issues and ones at the heart of the entire political question.

I quickly realized that our differing religious views were becoming evident in our political debate. While my understanding of freedom was one aimed at an absolute standard of reality and truth, his was one directed not toward an absolute truth but by it. Such a difference in opinion was, by my best calculation, the ultimate factor in our divergence. It is, coincidentally enough, what I understand to be the fundamental separation between Christian and Islamic theology. The first seems to be focused on a notion of the divine as something toward which all reality flows and because of whose Goodness all things move, undetermined and free; the latter appears, as I see it, a theology much more focused on obligation, duty and—for lack of a better word—determinism. (I am not asserting that the Islamic faith supports a strict determinism of the will, but simply that its doctrines, in their various interpretations, are much more in accord with what we might call a philosophic determinism.)

At any rate, the discussion was an interesting one, and I hope to do some more thinking about it. I would also enjoy hearing any responses or thoughts on the matter. Perhaps I'm way off base. I'm eager to hear what others might be thinking...