Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How To Make Our Religion Divisions Worse

8/31/2011—A story from the New York Times (here) tells about a dispute at a National cemetery in Houston. According to the story, the new cemetery director began enforcing a 2007 directive that prohibits honor guards at funerals, especially veteran funerals, from reading recitations, including religious ones, unless the family requests them. The policy infuriated veteran groups who have been conducting essentially religious internments, with references to God and faith. They have now sued, of course.

At most national cemeteries, this matter is worked out quietly. So, there is some political stuff going on here.

That said, this boils down to a matter of identity politics. No one disputes that this is a matter in which families of the deceased should decide. The fight is about the default position. If the family says nothing, what should happen? So there is much more common ground than at first appears. And an inquiry to the family will settle the matter.

And notice something else. The veteran groups who conduct these internments are asked to do so by the families. They do not intrude themselves and they volunteer.

In a way, this dispute represents what happens when, in accordance with the question by Ronald Dworkin, we try to decide whether we are a religious country tolerating nonbelief, or a secular country tolerating religion. Every time you try to decide that, you are going to get pointless rancor.

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