Monday, February 2, 2009
Argument for a Secular United States
Posted by katiesol
In his article "Secular Europe's Merits", Roger Cohen compares religion's forceful influence in the American political sphere with secular Europe. Cohen writes that in Europe the Enlightenment principle of "separation of church and state" continues to be extremely valued and meticulously practiced. On the other hand, many American citizens want to tear down the "wall of separation", as termed by Thomas Jefferson, that is meant to divide religion and politics. As we have seen in class readings throughout the first few weeks of the semester, religion and politics have been and continue to be inextricably linked in the United States, unlike in other nations. For instance, Wald and Calhoun-Brown in "Religion and Politics in the United States" compare the trend towards secularization occurring in other industrialized nations with the strong religious presence that continues in the United States despite modernization.
Cohen's editorial, written in 2007, largely focuses on Mitt Romney's religious and political views; however, Cohen's discussion of the close relationship between religion and politics in the United States remains relevant even after Romney's defeat in the Republican primary this past year. Cohen's analysis of Mitt Romney sheds light on, as Cohen puts it, a larger movement of "new American religiosity", which is a movement that poses many dangers to the United States. Cohen argues that we should observe the merits of European secularism in the United States in order to ensure the continued success of our nation. While Wald and Calhoun-Brown explore several unique and valued American political traditions that led to religion's uncommon presence in the United States, I agree with Cohen that the more secular societies in Europe have many positive aspects worth emulating.
Cohen alludes to the words of a French king as he writes "Washington is well worth a mass", meaning it may be necessary to move away from such a strong public religious presence in order to preserve the nation. There are indeed many dangers involved with such a close link between religion and politics. As Morone discussed in "Hellfire Nation", a strong sense of religious morality can create societal divisions based on feelings of "us vs. them." As was the case in much of Europe, this religious tension can lead not only to cases of extreme partisanship like we are experiencing today but also bloody struggles that can ransack an entire nation. Although this last danger may appear extreme and not likely to happen in the United States, certainly today we continue to see both violent actions throughout the world due to religious intolerance and religious conflicts within our own nation. Abortion, cloning, stem cell research, gay marriage, and even recently emerging left-wing environmental movements with "What would Jesus drive?" campaigns are examples of controversies that are based on religious differences and threaten to create irreparable rifts within our society. As argues Cohen, only by moving towards a political system that is not so entangled with religious beliefs and practices can we avoid such dangers.
at 1:06 AM