08/21/2006 12:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Sad Legacy of Bad Science and Bad Religion

There wasn't much consternation last week when President Bush vetoed a bill that would have lifted restrictions on stem-cell research. In a country where political lines have hardened into battle lines, people know where they stand already. Few were going to like Bush less or dislike him more for his increasingly isolated stand against using embryos as a source of stem cells. Private funding for this research wasn't affected, and other countries in Europe and Asia continue to make progress on their own. Pres. Bush must think those countries are either morally insensitive or outright godless.

I was trained as a scientist, but you don't need that to realize how badly the waters are muddied between religion, science, and politics these days. When John F. Kennedy ran for President in 1960, there were dark mutterings that as a Catholic he would take political orders from the Pope. That was nonsensical and prejudiced, yet somehow Pres. Bush is tolerated for taking his science from the Bible and then turning it into politics.

His version of the Bible, or perhaps his personal connection to God, tells him that microscopic clumps of embryonic cells contain a soul. Such a position merges bad science with dubious religion. Jesus made no comments about babies' souls, just as he made none about two other "moral" points that Bush hammers on, abortion and homosexuality. Bush didn't bravely adhere to a moral line that he wasn't going to cross. That might be his version, but no politician has the right to call everyone who disagrees with him immoral. Doing it on religious grounds is just as shaky.

I can't help but wonder how we are going to get back to rationality after Bush leaves office. If JFK had made a series of decisions that never veered from Catholic dogma, he might well have been impeached. Bush has done the same thing along fundamentalist lines with impunity. He's laid down a kind of legacy. Thanks to him, God can be used for any purpose whatever, including medicine, science, and partisan politics. You don't even have to cite a relevant Bible verse. who needs one when radio preachers and reactionary literalists are the source of your theology?

It doesn't matter, so far as the Constitution is concerned, what the Bible says about abortion, homosexuality, or stem cells. God has his say on these matters in church, not in government. By condoning a religious president who mixes his faith with the enormous power of is office, we ordinary citizens made a huge mistake. Now we remain silent while Bush is praised (in some circles) for sticking to his moral principles. It's moral to keep your word, and Bush took the oath of office to defend and protect the Constitution. When he turned his back on that oath and rode roughshod over the division between religion and government, he spoiled a lot more than the freedom of scientists to conduct basic research on stem cells. He spoiled the climate of tolerance that is supposed to be the greatest strength of the American republic. He handed power over to a very narrow conception of God as a sop to an intolerant slice of the American electorate.