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A Toxic Combination: Religion and Politics

Posted by Anthony on September 16, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

One of the more interesting aspects of the current Presidential Election is the manner in which both candidates seem utterly determined to convince the voters that they are more religiously minded than their opponent. On the surface, there is nothing inherently odd about this: The United States, an anomaly to the statistics, is by far the most religious industrialized nation in the world. Religion in the United States tends to color every aspect of our lives, even for those who wish not to partake in such beliefs, for it is through these religious beliefs that our lawmakers justify their political views and thus the fruits of their labor are the results of those mustard seeds planted by a pastor many years ago.

The problem with religion in America, and specifically in the political arena, is that it is not a passive force; conservative Christian groups have essentially morphed the Republican Party into something quite different than what it was even twenty-five years ago. With this newfound strength, Christian groups have pushed for congress to bend more and more to their will even if it means violating the understood Constitutional guarantee against the establishment of a state religion. For these people, the founding fathers were not in fact the product of enlightenment era deism, but rather fundamentalist Christians who really meant for America to be a Christian country from the beginning. They are in fact determined to change things in America so that it resembles something more to their liking, and they have made impressive inroads in several areas to date.

Take if you will for an example the teaching of evolution in schools. Since biology is mandatory in high school, everyone will be familiar in at least a general sense with the theory of evolution and concepts such as natural selection. Christian conservatives, however, feel that this “theory” goes against their biblical belief that man was created by God and never “evolved from monkeys”. If one does not wish to believe in evolution, that in and of itself is not problematic; evolution will exist and be reality even if nobody left on earth believed in it. The problem is when politicians, as they have done in many states, attempt to change the curriculum so that students are exposed to creationism (and we might add a very specific version of creationism) as well as evolution. This kind of injecting beliefs that are based on nothing but religious texts is creating a generation of students who will be confused as to what reality is and will lag behind in science against other countries who stick to the facts.

It was particularly distressing to see both candidates sit down with Rick Warren for what amounted to an inquisition about their level of faith. Of course, the “talk” was not mandatory; either candidate could have just as easily declined the appearance on whatever basis they chose. This, however, would have been political suicide and both candidates knew it since the majority of Americans believe in God and the vast majority of them are Christians; to shun such a man as Mr. Warren would have been a slap in the face to a large swathe of the electorate. Apparently Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for office, has become passé, and in order to become elected to the highest office of the land it is necessary to express a devout belief in God, and more to the point a very specific God.

Religion is dangerous in politics primarily because it allows people to believe that they are qualified to make decisions for other people based upon a system of right and wrong that is potentially antithetical to the secular values enshrined in the founding documents of the country. It’s not enough for a politician to personally oppose abortion: instead, they feel the need to enforce their particular belief on every woman in the country by trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ignore what the medical community says: if you believe that homosexuality can be “cured” through prayer, then that’s what matters. Don’t bother with this whole sexual education program: just tell kids not to have sex before marriage and leave it at that. All of these things go against the pragmatic decision making that would otherwise manifest itself in our government, and we are the poorer for it.

At the end of the day, it is not about whether both tickets have deep religious beliefs (they, by their own admission, do) but rather if they will allow these beliefs to influence their policy making. Will belief that life begins at conception lead to abortion being made illegal again in America? Will belief in school prayer lead to non-Christian children being made outcasts within their own classrooms? Will belief in a coming Armageddon lead to continual warfare in the Middle East? All of this remains to be seen, and while one would hope that the candidates would keep their religious beliefs personal throughout their time in public service the signs point to the opposite happening: the vote pandering is getting worse and worse with each election cycle. As an informed electorate, we need to remind our officials that this country is not beholden to any particular sect or creed, but rather that it is a pluralistic society and that all people, religious or not, devout or casual, are equally deserving of their support and attention. Anything less would be an insult to the ideals upon which our nation was founded.

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