Separation of Church, State, and Science

We support a strong separation of church, state, and science.

It is crucial to protect our society from fundamentalist attempts to impose a particular religion on everyone. At the same time, we will not fall into a First Amendment fundamentalism that attempts to keep all spiritual values out of the public sphere.

To this end,

  1. We will promote a world based on a New Bottom Line in which every human being is treated as fundamentally valuable regardless of who they are, what they have or have not achieved, and what they have or have not done in their lives, and in which we celebrate the awe and wonder of the universe.
  2. We will protect science from pressure by the state, religious, and corporate priorities. Science is under attack from the religious right and needs strong defenders to insulate it from pressures to reach conclusions contrary to what empirical evidence provides. The inordinate influence and concerns of the funders (whether corporations, universities or government) impose other more subtle pressures on the focus of scientific research.
  3. To ensure that scientific research focuses on the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and on potential contribution to people’s health, environmental sustainability, and cooperation and mutual caring, we will promote independent scientific institutions with adequate public funding and insulation from corporate, university or government pressures. We will also promote the exploration of approaches to the physical, biological and social sciences that may be contrary to the contemporary dominant paradigms in each field, whatever they might be.
  4. While enthusiastic supporters of science, we challenge “scientism,” a pop culture religion that claims that everything capable of being known or seen to be intellectually “objective” and credible can be subject to empirical verification or falsification or can be measured; and anything that cannot meet this criterion cannot be considered objective knowledge, and hence ought not to play any role in shaping the economic, political, or educational decisions we make as a society, nor can they be used as a foundation for making ethical claims or guiding rational decision making. Scientism thus takes what works as a methodology inside science and illegitimately proclaims it as the guide to all aspects of reality.

We call scientism a religion, because its claim that “everything that can be known or is objective and credible must be empirically verifiable, falsifiable or measurable” is a claim which itself cannot be empirically verified, falsified or measured, so by its own criterion it cannot be known and is not intellectually objective or credible. Unaware of the absence of a verifiable foundation for their own claims, people in the scientism religion dismiss ethics, religion, spirituality, aesthetics, love, and so many other important aspects of life as “merely” subjective and having no place in public life. Just as vigorously as we support scientific research we oppose this misuse of science to legitimate a worldview that has no scientific foundation and which seems to bolster the worldview of capitalism with its glorification of money – the ultimately most empirically verifiable and measurable aspect of the contemporary world. Many working scientists agree with this critique of scientism. (See, Spontaneous Evolution by Steve Bhaerman and Bruce Lipton.)

Spiritual progressives believe that public life should seek to support behavior which embodies caring for others, generosity, love, kindness, compassion, empathy, non-violence and many other values that spring from the religious and spiritual traditions of humanity in the past ten thousand years, but which today are also embraced by many atheists and secular humanists. Our Network of Spiritual Progressives provides an organizational framework for these kinds of atheists and secular humanists as well as people from every religious tradition who seek to make these values the New Bottom Line for reshaping our communal lives and our economic and political arrangements.

CONTRAST: LIBERAL AGENDA — Liberals confuse the separation of church and state with the separation of spiritual values from any state-funded institution including education, the judicial system, the health care and welfare systems, foreign policy, and economic life. They claim to defend the neutrality of public space but fail to realize that there already is a religion operating in the public space: the religion of scientism and the secular worship of the dollar. Thus, liberal defenses of the First Amendment are based on the false assumption that we actually have a neutral public space and that it must be protected from all values.

Spiritual Progressives, to the contrary, want to introduce the values articulated in our New Bottom Line to challenge the values that already dominate in the economy and public life and manage to present themselves as “value neutral” because they are values like competition, looking out for number one, getting ahead at all costs, seeking power over others, and maximizing one’s own wealth. These values have become so dominant in Western societies that they appear to be “common sense” rather than what they really are (namely, a specific set of values backed-up by the power of ruling elites and the educational and media institutions that those elites own or control).

So, for example, we think that education, drug and alcohol abuse programs, or programs to support childcare, elder care, or physical and emotional healing will be more effective to the extent that they address human beings in all their rich complexity, including their emotional and spiritual needs as well as physical or material needs. These programs are impoverished when the providers of these services worry that introducing the values we champion in the New Bottom Line would put them on the path of a slippery slope toward religion.

CONTRAST: CONSERVATIVE AGENDA — Conservatives often seek to privilege Christian values in the public sphere. They get support from parents who want to resist the corrupt values that cause their children to come home obsessed with “making it” in the larger society (either through good grades to get the best career or through their ability to dominate others physically) and ‘making it in their peer group.’

Or they want to protect their children from the cheapening of sexuality that pervades the media and is increasingly prevalent in middle schools or even earlier.

Conservatives mistakenly attribute this to “public education” and hence advocate for private schools that have more freedom to teach conservative values, often unaware that it is the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, not the public nature of public schools that is decisive in distorting values. Yet conservative critiques of government and the public sphere will continue to resonate as long as liberals fight to keep all values out of the public sphere, and the shaping of public education and government-supported programs.

Read on to #8, A Cooperative and Caring Legal System