8th place: Grad student essay contest — Sonia Bajaj

Sonia Bajaj

Religion and science are like oil and water

FFRF awarded Sonia $500.

By Sonia Bajaj

Religion is not bound by the same constraints as science. There can be no conversation tethered completely in reality that is guided solely by religious doctrine. By contrast, scientific debate is typically guided by a motivation for the distillation of truth. Politics is also a fluid process that is, in an ideal world, informed by rational decision-making. Thus, science is relevant to the issue of politics as a methodical, self-reflective approach to discerning fact. 

Experiments aim to minimize external variables in order to test specific hypotheses and determine causality. Even non-experimental designs take measures to reduce the influence of bias. Errors are certainly made in this process, but the aim among most researchers is the same: to discover the truths of this universe as they are. Similarly, the political process is inherently an active one. As societies evolve, so do their concerns, technology, access to information and understanding of the world. As new information is added to the collective database, growth occurs accordingly. Politics is an active process that requires a growing knowledge base, not a stagnant one. 

Religion, by contrast, is a passive process. Centuries-old books written by humans are taken to be the word of God. Critical review of these doctrines is frequently condemned, and, in some communities, dissent is punished. Like oil and water, religion and politics are quite separate entities. Where the two intersect, there is turbulence. Abortion, an issue that has been debated heatedly for decades, is one such example. Religious views on the subject tend to impose a version of the “correct” response to unplanned pregnancy that is at once restrictive and subjugating to women. It denies a female’s essential right to choice in favor of some “godly” version of virtue. It denies the fact that children born without access to proper financial, emotional, and environmental resources are less likely to reach developmental milestones for their ages. It fails to acknowledge the role that circumstance and experience play in human life.

It simplifies a nuanced issue.

Religion, when used to inform political decisions, has devastating consequences. Planned Parenthood has faced a decades-long battle against conservative religious groups. In the past several years, it has experienced defunding and restriction of its lower-income patients insured by Title X. In certain states, entire clinics have been closed. Missouri’s last abortion clinic in St. Louis was threatened with closure, but after a year-long battle, fought for its continued existence. 

The consequences of closure would have impacted not only individual lives, but society at large. With social services experiencing greater cuts, it seems unlikely that every fetus, if given the chance at life, would receive the care and protection it would need to thrive. This is but one consideration of many in the efforts to secure reproductive rights in this country.  The lack of respect and empathy afforded to those individuals who choose abortion and the continuous, underlying threat to their autonomy is yet further evidence that religion has no place in political debate.

Ancient texts should not be doctrines for use in any rational discourse. Government is a space which affects each of us, regardless of our political stances. For a free and fair political system to be functioning optimally, it must use every resource at its disposal to dispel myth, bias and fiction from its internal process. Only then will fact reign and truth be preserved from distortion. 

Sonia, 28, attends Benedictine University, studying clinical psychology. “I appreciate expressive approaches to therapy, including art and dance. My professional goals include supporting individuals who have experienced childhood trauma and advancing our understanding of trauma recovery through research and clinical practice.”