Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What it is about religion that makes it impossible to limit its influence in government?

Pew Research Center conducted a survey this summer to collect statistics on the voting public’s opinion of the relationship between Church and State The survey reports that more Americans prefer Jefferson’s strict separation than have in the last ten years. Interestingly, this increase was more apparent among Republican voters than Democratic voters and for conservative voters in the survey, political decisions regarding social issues, such as gay marriage, warrant this separation more strongly than less “important social issues.”

The article makes a key point that “it seems that the more important social issues are to conservatives, the more likely they were to say that religion and politics should not mix…Among people who said gay marriage was a very important issue, the number saying houses of worship should keep out of politics doubled.” This fact is reminiscent of George D. Armstrong’s pro-slavery argument. His argument maintained that the separation of Church and State with regards to this social issue was imperative and that the decision to emancipate the slaves was solely that of the State. However, although the conservatives and Armstrong purport to advocate for the separation of Church and State, religion still appears to be at the base of American politics. Armstrong cites scripture to justify his pro-slavery argument and according to Greg Smith, “ ‘voting intentions among white evangelicals have not changed at all’ …Sen. John McCain, ‘has a huge lead even among younger evangelicals” just as President Bush had in his election year.

The survey results suggest that American voters in the current election understand the importance of isolating government from religious influence, yet “still feel a president should have strong religious beliefs.” This view is consistent with Jefferson’s vision for the young United States. Just as Jefferson, despite his adamant rejection of joint Church and State, acknowledged the importance of religion in the history of America and the in making of “honest men” (Meacham pg. 75), so too do current American voters return to religion as a key factor in their voting decisions. The Constitution clearly describes the principle of separate Church and State to be at the core of American government, while at the same time the Declaration of Independence includes the, “Creator,” and “Nature’s God” in its text. Similarly, while the survey’s statistics report a majority that believes in the separation of Church and State, the presidential candidates are constantly critiqued on their religious beliefs and backgrounds and even asked to debate in churches. The survey illuminates a discrepancy between the ideals of voting Americans and the reality of how they vote. The survey indicates that most voters advocate the separation of Church and State, yet the reality is that voters continue to allow religion to influence their vote. The predictable presence of religion in U.S. politics begs the question: What it is about religion that makes it impossible to limit its influence in government?


Liz C. said...

I think a lot of it is because law takes so much from religion. The idea of freedom came from the bible. The morals that govern society are almost based on the morals found in the bible. Murder is wrong. Adultery is wrong. People want to keep religion out of politics, yet their morals are the determinants of whom they vote for. It’s impossible to keep religion out of government because of the fact it’s so crucial to it. Religion is the reason that 9/11 occurred. It’s also the main reason for movements such as pro-life.

I think it’s interesting though that the Republicans want religion out of politics more than the Democrats. It’s the Republicans who are more non-secular in their beliefs. The Democrats openly voice their opinion in the mixing of religion and state. It’s interesting to see where the elections takes us this year because of the fact religion is playing a bigger role now than before.

Carmine said...

The main reason that I think religion is so difficult to separate from politics here in the States is because of the lack of voter turnout.

A faction--i.e. any group--cannot by definition be 'apolitical', they might not be politically active, however, the fact that members have values that bind them together essentially translate into political issues--for example, as mentioned above, the abortion issue.

Now, this means that as a political candidate I have--in a country of non-voters-- groups of like minded people that I simply need to appeal to in order to get elected. Hence, the organization of like minded people into groups is half the battle for a politician in the US; all a politician needs to do is demonstrate how a group's collective values are in fact political and the rest is left up to the church in a rally call for upholding THEIR values, which are now a collective political issue of the congregation.

The only way to squelch this would be increase voter turnout--increase the number of factions with organizational capabilities-- therefore decreasing the need for politicians to appeal to peoples already organized into neat, transparent packages of values. Or if by some amazing epiphany church groups realize that THEIR values are not directly translatable into political issues, (that is, one does need to abandon 'Thou shalt not kill' to endorse a woman's right to choose--this is quite fallacious logic) But that is just wishful thinking isn't?