I was thinking the other day how does a religious politician make ethical decisions in office that protect his religious integrity and his democratic obligations.
Christian ethicists have said that ethical behaviour flows from religion, that without religion as the reason for ethical behaviour there is no real reason to be ethical. I’m not so sure that this is 100 % true, but in choosing why I behave as I “ought to” my reason for doing so is highly based on the presupposition that there is a God and the rational laws he has created are acceptable to me thus I have faith in those laws, but not always how they are interpreted.
As Ethics are based on what we ought to do, we need to choose the reason why we ought to do what we do. I believe we ought to do something because it is good either by Gods standards or by mans (aside from the objective vs subjective arguments on the nature of what is good), which to some degree puts me outside the definition of Christian ethics and to some degree outside any other non-theist system of ethics.
So I don’t necessarily criticise politicians for having faith based ethics or non-faith based ethics but I think they need to consider both their faith and other rationality when deciding what is good.
If you first assume that Christian ethics are rational then I believe you need to be able to defend that rationality. I feel that you must as a politician search out the rationality of your faith’s position before you put it forward as a legislation for all others to follow. If you are looking for the rationality behind what you are voting on this should just be part of the equation.
When you have decided on what we ought to do a democracy behoves you to put it to your constituents with your rational and let them decide to support it or not.
So what if you end up voting for something your faith does not agree with?
The answer is simple, you don’t, at this point you must resign as a politician.
That may sound like kind of a drastic choice, so how can you avoid such a dilemma? Go back to my first point, if you accept that God’s laws are rational then you must find the rationality and convince your constituents, and in the interim abstain from voting. If you still end up being required to vote against your faith because of your constituents then you have to choose to be part of the government or a non elected official and resign and lobby from without.
I guess it all boils down to being honest to your constituent about your faith before you are elected and during your time in office. Then if a conflict arrises be honest enough to step down.
Politics need to remain rational and democratic. That is why I believe politics need a degree of separation from faith which is not entirely democratic. As I pointed out above a politician can be a man of faith but his political career may be short because his obligation in politics is to support democracy first then faith. Since a man of faith can’t do this when he conflicts with his constituents he has no choice but to step down. This is not a problem, because if the church does it’s job and convinces the people of its ethical position the politician should never be in this conflicting position.