Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 28, 2005

Religion and Politics or Topics Polite People Avoid

Hi Everyone,

We've been talking alot about religion and politics lately. The aftermath of the 2004 election seems to be dominated by this question. Most of it is strictly about the Christian conservative movement without much discussion of religion in politics more broadly. Most of the regular posters on this blog are also regular church goers but have political opinions far to the left of the typical evangelical conservative voter/activist. I for one am an atheist - one of the few subsets of American society it is still acceptable to exclude and persecute.

In this posting I propose two subjects for discussion. First, what is the role that religion plays in American politics and life? Second, what is the role that religion should play in American politics and life? The first is an empirical question that has an answer out there waiting to be discovered. The second is a normative question to which answers are essentially opinion.

Here are some basic statistics I found at (see link to the right):

-42% of all Republicans think that people with strong religious beliefs are discriminated against. 62% of Republicans think that evangelical Christians have the “right amount” of influence on President Bush’s decisions.

-53% of Republicans believe that the greatest concern should be public officials who don’t pay enough attention to religion and religious leaders. In contrast, 65% of Democrats believe that the greatest concern should be public officials who pay too much attention to religion and religious leaders.

- 72% of respondents believe that it is proper for the 10 Commandments to be displayed in public buildings.

- With regard to the religiosity of political candidates, 70% agree that it is important that Presidents have strong religious beliefs. 25% disagree.

- Republicans are split almost 50-50 on the question of whether religious leaders should try to influence politicians. 71% of Democrats believe that religious leaders should not try to influence politicians.

- 15% of Americans say that religion is “not very important” to their own life. 55% say religion is “very important.” 29% say it is “fairly important.”

- 43% of Americans say that they attend religious services “seldom” or “never.”

- 64% of Americans support the use of federal funds for social programs run by Christian religious organizations. 56% of Americans oppose the use of federal funds for social programs run by Islamic religious organizations.

- 40% of Americans believe that government can promote the teaching of religion without harming rights. 54% believe that when government promotes the teaching of religion it always harms rights.

I believe that the above data shows some interesting items. It comes as no surprise that Americans are very religious. Comparisons with other democracies will show that Americans are more religious than any other democracy except for Italy or Ireland. The Italian government is a rightist coalition that includes openly fascist elements.

American views on religion are complex and at times contradictory. 54% believe that governments always harm rights when they promote religion. However, majorities of Americans support federal funding for Christian organizations and oppose similar funding Islamic organizations. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the same people making up all three majorities but the overlap means that many Americans have inherently contradictory views of politics and religion. For example, advocates of an entirely secular policy would oppose federal funding to both Christian and Islamic organizations. Also, religious faith is not universal in America. 43% of Americans say that they attend religious services seldom or never.

So what should the role of religion be? My own view is that there is already too much devotion to devotions in American politics. I long for the strict seperation of religion and politics advocated by Jefferson and Madison. Personal spirituality and public policy should be separate debates. When political parties get into the business of taking sides in theological debates (such as what policies are most closely based on Christian teachings), both public policy and private religion suffer. Of course, such a separation is very unlikely in the United States. Ironically, several of the European democracies which have officially recognized state religions have less religion in their politics than does the United States in which the Constitutions calls for their separation.


The Law Talking Guy said...

One of the scary things about GWBush is the way he embodies these contradictions. He doesn't attend church. Neither did Reagan. Bill Clinton, G Bush senior, and Jimmy Carter did. This is scary because he claims to be a Christian on a mission from God, but has no need of ministry, fellowship, or teaching. It's enough that he has a "personal relationship" with God, but doesn't need any church.

In most traditions, Church is properly a place where religious ideas are taught and reflected upon, where the faithful can come to renew their faith and check on how they are doing, in particular how their own ideas measure up. It is also a place to experience fellowship, to experience one's place as a member of a community. Church is also a place to worship, to both celebrate God's love, to express love for God with one's voice, heart, and body, and recognize to one's humbleness before God. It should be beautiful. Religious leaders, priests, pastors, or reverends, are meant to help lay people interpret religious doctrine and scripture, and to apply it to their own lives.

Protestantism means you should read the scripture and think for yourself, but -- like history or science -- there is teaching to be done. The self-taught man is a dangerous creature who has never had any outside reflection on or correction of his ideas.

Bush doesn't think he needs any help. He doesn't think he needs to learn anything -- he's already got it right. He doesn't need to worship. That's scary.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Conservative preachers are quick to say that their liberal brethren have strayed from the true path, that their beliefs are against biblical teachings, and that they are working against the will of God. I would give a lot of money to hear liberal preachers start saying the same things in public discourse. Liberal pastors are too timid in this regard, maybe because they do not wish to judge the faith of another--but I think it's time they stood up to the bullying from the "Christian" Right.

No matter what he claims, George W. Bush is not a true Christian, and it is time men of the cloth started saying so. To make the point, let I leave you with the words from another politician who claimed to be a Christian doing God's will:

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who, once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who--God's truth!--was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter... In boundless love as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.--Adolf Hitler, April 12th, 1922 (later published in "My New Order")

Raised By Republicans said...

"No matter what he claims, George W. Bush is not a true Christian, and it is time men of the cloth started saying so."

I was sympathetic with most of what both LTG and Dr. Strangelove said until this point. If Bush or anyone wants to call their particular interpretation of the Bible "Christian" isn't that their right? Perhaps they are different kinds of Christians from someone else.

This is the kind of statement I would hate to hear from Democratic politicians. Should public officials get into the business of defining who is and who is not a good Christian?

Granted, Bush's supporters are much worse about making these kinds of judgements than anyone on the Christian left.

As for the Hitler quotation: Is it really an appropriate comparison? Hitler's NAZI movement was secretly trying to revive some twisted version of pre-Christian Germanic religion. SS ceremonies were big on Wotan and Donner et al. SS ideology was openly dismissive of Chrsitianity. So might Hitler be better seen as a horrible cynic and Bush seen as a misguided (or as LTG points out - totally unguided) soul.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Bush is most certainly not Hitler and I was not trying to equate them--my apologies. RbR also says that if a person wants to call himself a Christian, that is his right. OK, I'll accept that too.

Could one say, though, that Someone's actions are incompatible with Christian values? Could one say that someone's beliefs are contradicted by Christian teachings? Could one say that a certain interpretation of Christianity is wrong? I hear conservative Christians say similar things about liberal Christians and their beliefs, but I rarely hear the reverse.

I worry that this is because many liberal Christians feel that to make such an exclusionary claim is itself in contradiction to the liberal interpretation of Christianity--and I think that this kind of religious relativism is dangerous, because if liberal Christians do not allow themselves to question the Christianity of other people's beliefs or actions, then they must accept Hitler's outrageous claims in silence. And that doesn't seem very Christian to me.

Raised By Republicans said...

I knew you weren't trying to make some flip comparison between Bush and Hitler. I took it to be a more limited comparison for the illustrative purpose that not all who claim to be Christians would be regarded to be on by reasonable people.

I'll clarify my position. I don't really have a problem with various Christians engaging in debates with each other about what it means to be a Christian. That's been going on a long time - to say the least.

But, it is no business of the government or of political parties. Political parties and public officials should refrain from making religious belief a matter of political debate. The problem as I see it is that Christian conservatives indulge in far too much politicization of faith. To my thinking, increasing the link between theological debate and public policy still further is not the answer. Rather we should decrease that link. The Constitution - arguably - calls for such a decrease. As for the founding fathers' intentions: Madison and Jefferson clearly called for a total ban on mixing religion and politics in other writings and they wrote the Constitution.

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