McArdle on religion

Megan McArdle, everyone’s favorite super-tall, agnotheistic web-logger, over at The Atlantic.com has written a couple of really good posts on religion and the public sphere, which I heartily recommend.

America, and to a lesser extent other western nations, have a long history of keeping doctrinal disagreements out of the public square, an excellent notion. But my reading of political history, admittedly incomplete, does not indicate that our predecessors actually thought that people were supposed to vote entirely without recourse to their relgious faith–that the Almighty God was supposed to be kept in a dark corner of your heart where he couldn’t possibly affect any public portion of your life.

Indeed, though I myself am pro-choice and mostly irreligious, it seems more likely to me that the main effect of faith is to spur people to embrace causes that are personally and socially inconvenient. Slaveowners didn’t need religion to motivate them to defend slavery; they had a powerful financial interest in doing so. Similarly, the pro-choice movement, at least in my experience, gets most of its activist energy from reproductive-aged women who have a strong interest in being able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

By contrast, what self-interest was served by the abolitionist movement then, or the pro-life movement now? There’s a legend among many pro-choicers that everyone in the pro-life movement is a patriarchal, selfish man who wants to force women to have babies in order to control them. In fact, women and men are roughly equally likely to be pro-life. The best that pro-lifers get out of their movement is–having to carry their own unwanted pregnancies to term.

Thank-you, Megan McArdle.

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