Bill Maher had a great commentary the other night on the French:
Last week France had an election, and people over there approach an election differently: they vote. 85% of them turned out... Now maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research, or gay marriage. And if a candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback. The electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with. Nor do they care about private lives...They have weird ideas about privacy: they think it should be private.
He goes on in his usual irreverant and sometimes crude way to talk about how the French aren't obsessed with so many trivialities like nudity and a varied sex life as we americas are, while having real public intellectuals, being less fat than us, and being independant of mideast oil. I'll add that no French political debate would have 30% of the participants denying evolution (that would be Brownback, Huckabee, and Tancredo, for those of you playing "Spot the Idiot" at home). What an national embarassment that was. And the sad part of that is a huge majority of those who were proud of the Three Republican Stooges hate the French.
Look again at the issues Maher lists as not appearing in French politics: evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage. Toss in another he could easily have included, global warming, and what do you think all those issues have in common? They have one side of the issue dominated by people whose opinion is based on their religious views, which tend to run contrary to the secular arguments on the other side. Often that opinion involves flat denial of sound scientific findings, and arguments sorely lacking in logic.
This is why we are, as Brit Tony Benn said to John Bolton, "you're a declining empire, as we were". We spend too much of our political capitol on issues where one side is, sorry, not dealing with reality. We are not a reality-based nation. We as a society have made telling someone their opinion is wrong, even politely, the rudest thing one can do. We respect feelings more than facts. We respect effort more than accomplishment. And we give way too much respect to opinions that are not based on solid science and reasoning.
By any measure the French are smarter than we are. They are smarter than we are because they respect intelligence, education, and plain ol' reality, more than we do. Consequently, they get candidates that are more interested in debating different social security plans than flag burning. Of course they show up more: they aren't always having to choose between dumb and dumber.
They are, in many ways, what we could be, if only we had the intellectual courage to tell people that their religious beliefs are fine for their personal life decisions. Believe what you will. But when it comes to public policy matters, these views are no more appropriate than are astrological views. Objective reality, discerned through science when possible, is what we should base our policies on, because it is the only method available for view to all. Religious views are personal, and based on faith, and there is no way to have a meeting of the minds with faith: you either believe or you don't. It is this lack of potential compromise, or objective persuasion, that lies at the heart of why religious conflicts can so often turn violent. Without reason, there is no other recourse.
So I say again. You're religious? Great, that is one of our great freedoms. But its your personal view, and yours alone, and attempting to inflict that view on everyone else via the ballot box is not only an embarrasment to the rest of us in the eyes of the educated world (thanks Brownback, Tancredo, and Huckabee), it goes against the teachings of most of the major religious leaders. Jesus said "give to Caeser what is Caeser's, and give to God what is God's". He didn't say "Go vote so that Caeser must behave as I see fit". Want to be better than the French again? Follow Jesus' example.