Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Religion Has No Place in Politics

An excellent op-ed in today's New York Times.

What is striking on the current American scene the extent to which people see certain political and economic positions  as required by their religious commitment.  We may understand — even if we do not accept — the thinking of those who condemn abortion on religious grounds. But many conservative religious groups  endorse a wide range of political and economic positions that have no religious basis.  For example, The Family Leader (the group that has called for presidential candidates sign a pledge supporting “family values”) has a Voter’s Guide that specifies the “attributes of a strong Christian leader.”    According to the guide, a strong Christian leader “understands key elements of God’s law,” which means that, for example, the leader “upholds the Biblical principles of responsibility and accountability in civil life, thereby limiting the size and cost of civil government”; “encourages an ethical and free enterprise system, and understands it is the only economic model in accord with Biblical principles”; and “understands the right to bear and keep arms” for defensive purposes.   The guide also specifies that strong Christian leaders must subscribe to various views about how to interpret the United States Constitution.

There is no honest line of argument from what the Bible says to substantive conclusions about the size of the United States government, the need for a free enterprise system, the right to bear arms or the proper interpretation of the Constitution.  Family Leader (and many other religious groups with a conservative political agenda) are disguising partisan political positions as religious convictions. This cripples efforts to have meaningful discussions about their political views.

Proponents of conservative views that require sober argument from empirical facts and generally accepted principles, instead merely assert them with religious fervor.  Opponents are understandably irritated by the irrationality of claims that distinctively modern questions about capitalist economics and democratic government were answered in the Bible 2000 years ahead of time.

In the run up to the 2012 US elections right wing candidates are being coerced by right wing religious organizations into signing some pretty controversial "pledges."  It's becoming a huge problem when fundamentalism, like corporatism, demands - and gets - front bench seats in our legislatures.


Anonymous said...

Equal opportunity religion-in-politics is still religion-in-politics. There is a place for morals in politics, but I don't know why you'd need some special religion faith training program to have someone else show you where your conscience lies.

The Mound of Sound said...

Surely conscience is rooted in morality and that is anything but the exclusive preserve of religion, especially fundamentalist religions. There are some faiths that apply divine sanctions to some pretty brutal actions. Surely both conscience and morals are living things that have to be constantly challenged and exercised and narrow religious dogma is a poor substitute.

The Mound of Sound said...

BTW Anon, thanks for the link. I read the "faith political interface" business and it left me pretty skeptical of its objectives. It can claim to be an "equal opportunity religion" programme but I'm sure that, in practice, it caters to a fairly selective audience.

Redbedhead said...

Interesting post. And, of course, the Christian fundamentalists are a pretty odious lot, but I'm not sure that I agree with the blanket "no religion in politics" - not only is it not practicable - people will always be guided by their whole belief system, which will include religions. But it's not the case that religion is necessarily retrograde and vile. Even in the USA the social gospel movement of a century ago advocated and mobilized its constituency on a progressive basis. The Civil Rights Movement was organized through the Baptist Church in the South. The man who trained Rosa Parks in civil disobedience - Rev. A.J. Muste - was a leader of the American Workers Party in the 1930s that played a key role in the sit-down strikes amongst rubber workers in Akron, Ohio.
South of the US border, liberation theology has guided many a progressive movement and inspired revolutions against injustice. Even the Islamists - once you sort through all the demonizing bullshit in the media - often has lots of interesting things to say about injustice and the fight for equality - thus its significant hold in the wake of the failures of secular nationalism. Dr. Shariati, an Iranian Shia and liberation Islamist theologian, was a key inspirer - and a leftist - of the people who rose up against the corrupt and brutal Shah. That revolution may have turned sour - in its defeat - but its religious origins were both honourable and ubiquitous.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have your point, RBH, and thanks. Yet the religious movements you describe and today's fundamentalists are quite different, sometimes deeply opposite.