Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Is Religion Republican?

Is religion inherently right winged? This is an assumption we often make since religion in politics generally implies conservative viewpoints such as anti-gay marriage and a pro-life stance, but religion has also been a bastion of social welfare, labor rights and anti-death penalty; all positions we generally consider liberal. In the first part of his book review, Samuel Freedman tells the story of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin who left his Chicago Cathedral to teach at Fordham University. He spent time pushing for the opposition to nuclear war and then started a pro-life committee.
When we discuss liberal and conservative social values, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is right or wrong. Bringing up solely a moral issue will not pull out winners on either side because there are legitimate arguments for both. The death penalty for example: Opposing the death penalty is considered liberal, is a call for change in the current system, pro-human rights and is generally the position religious leaders take in the debate. Supporting the death penalty is a position generally taken by political conservatives who tend to be religious and believe the receiving criminal should never be back in society and perhaps deserves an eye for an eye for their misdeeds. When one side can argue the government should have no right to take a life, the other side can argue the criminal has much less of that right. Basically that argument will go in circles like many strong liberal vs. conservative debates. Another example that crosses religious and political lines is military strategy. Being pro-war is often considered conservative but many religious groups such as that represented by Cardinal Bernardin are anti-war. How could the church promote war? It can’t honestly do so.
Religion does not ascribe to every belief within right-wing philosophy, neither does it only ascribe to conservative social and moral values. Some republicans, George W. Bush being a good example, use scripture in their speeches, further giving the impression the right is the party for religion. So where is the line, how do we explain where these religious and liberal positions come from? Susan Jacoby in her book Freethinkers argues that liberal positions come from the “rational” side and conservative positions come from the “religious” side. This argument works in large part but at the same time is shaped by the religious right’s insistence on delegitimizing American secularism. Social values can also be attached to issues such as poverty and social welfare as well as foreign policy and the decision to go to war. These social issues are not considered religious even though they easily could be. Religious peoples in the political sphere have characterized the debate perhaps because what we consider to be the moral values today are still the most hotly debated. The other social issues such as foreign policy and welfare deal with morals as much as they do the economy, bringing more stakes into the argument. Other “moral” issues such as abortion and gay rights aren’t considered to be economic issues- even though poverty and benefits are an important part of both of those debates.
The piling of certain issues into religious political debate is one that doesn’t have to do with religiosity in particular but rather the way people have chosen to take them.

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