I heard a politician say something that was very important to discuss. When approached by a reporter about the science of climate change, this politician said, “I believe that coal is a necessary power source and does not hurt or pollute the earth.”
He started the sentence with “I believe”. Generally when people do this it is because they know what they are saying is not a shared belief with the person they are speaking to, or the general populace. They say “I believe” so as to not push their beliefs on others, so as not to start a fight but simply to express their beliefs. Its a polite thing, really.
I hung out with a lot of LDS believers when I was in high school. One family in particular always said, “We believe” which was a super nice way to hear about their beliefs. It didn’t feel like they were saying their beliefs were unavoidable fact for everyone, it was like they were just offering their beliefs to the conversation as fact for themselves, and giving the listener a choice to believe or not.
In debates where people are simply speaking on personal morals, ethics, and values, this is a fine strategy that allows for the ego of the listener not to feel defensive or attacked or trapped and so it allows the conversation to continue in a less confrontational way–which is always more productive to understanding and allowing diversity between friends.
However, when the person saying “I believe” has power over the lives of the people/person he says it to, when that person represents a diverse multitude of people, when that person is employed to write legislation that has a real world impact–using personal beliefs to write or influence that legislation is not acceptable. That is a severe abuse of power. That person is saying, “I believe this, and even though I don’t want to hear what you have to say or get you angry or make an argument out of it, I’m going to impose those beliefs on you and make it seem like you have a choice, but you don’t.”
So in the case of this politician, he is using his personal beliefs about coal and pollution, which contradict science, to make decisions that affect our entire planet.
The importance of separation of church and state, in our modern world, is not necessarily the separation of organized religion and organized politics. Spirituality is not strictly about God or religion. It is a separation between the beliefs we hold as individuals (church) and the beliefs we know as a collective species through shared observation or scientific conclusions (state). I like to refer to these things as Individual reality and Shared reality. The truth is that we all hold individual opinions and beliefs, and we need to stop thinking those individual beliefs are only held by those following an organized religion and those collective opinions are right to be reflected in our government.
Our individual reality is the reality we exist within as individuals living our own lives. This reality is lived, hopefully, from your singular perspective, understanding, and belief. It is dogmatic in nature, even if you have cleansed yourself of societal dogma, because it is a construct in your own mind. It is the routine of your thoughts, the motivator behind your life decisions, the roots of your expression of Self. It is based in a series of personal, subconscious beliefs held by the individual which affect the way that person experiences the collective or shared reality. Individual reality is your spirituality, your morals, your values, your beliefs about yourself in the world, other people and the way the nature of the world functions. These beliefs can come from anywhere. They can come from fear, experiences, upbringing, nature, manipulation, society, personal exploration, etc. But they are not always shared or acknowledged by the whole of existence. Individual reality is abstract. It can be understood from the outside, it can be empathized with, but it cannot be experienced by anyone except the individual to which that reality belongs.
Shared reality is the reality we all collectively experience. It is our physical world, the laws of that physical world. Science is the study of our shared reality. Science is an undeniable fact for us all. We cannot deny that the sun rises, that things fall when you drop them, that people’s physical bodies die, etc. Some individuals may deny pieces of it, but the evidence is tangible. You can see it, measure it, and know it to be true. We all can, and not based just on a feeling.
While Individual and Shared reality affect each other, and are certainly interconnected, they are separate entities, separate ideas and should be seen and acknowledged as such.
Going back to the original point, anyone using their personal beliefs to limit the freedoms of our shared reality is abusing their power. My father did it to me growing up. Many parents do it to their children in our society, because our society does it to us and people gain the habits and beliefs of the society in which they exist implicitly if they aren’t careful. My father would impose his personal beliefs on me. His beliefs were based in his own experiences, which were scary but not mine. I did not have the choice or option to disagree and so his individual reality became mine, except while he was very comfortable in that reality, I hate myself and everything I am in his reality because of how he believes. This is called narcissist abuse–and our politicians have been doing it to us for thousands of years.
This politician, who used his personal beliefs on coal to override the collective reality of science and fact, he is abusing his power. He is bringing his personal beliefs, his personal dogma, his personal reality into consideration when making laws that affect the whole, collective reality. He is doing this, not based on facts or things he even dares to say out loud, but based on his personal dogmatic views which are clearly influenced by his own agenda. This happens all the time, actually. It’s manipulation. It’s abuse of power. It’s narcissist abuse, actually. It’s costing people their well-being and lives. It will eventually cost us all our lives and the planet we live on.
Your personal reality is valid–for you. But you do not get to use it to deny the shared reality and impose your personal beliefs on others. Using personal beliefs to deny science and continue to harm the planet is an abuse of power, and a clear violation of our constitution.