Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

EVENT TO ATTEND!!!

Here is a good event happening this week over at Berkely. I am planning on taking BART over if anyone wants to join me. Just post it on the blog or mention it in class! It is this coming Wed. at 6 pm. Here is all the info:

Church and state: Evangelicals in American Politics Wednesday, October 18, 6 p.m., 2040 Valley Life Sciences
What happens when God endorses a candidate for public office? This panel discussion titled "For Love of God and Country: Evangelicals in American Politics," hosted by Berkeley's Religion, Politics and Globalization Program, will illuminate. Panelists include Lynne Gerber, Graduate Theological Union Ph.D. candidate; Mike Hout, UC Berkeley sociology professor; and Joe Walsh, National Day of Prayer CA Coordinator. They will discuss the historical and political implications of America's increasingly influential conservative Christian voting bloc — the same one that Karl Rove says could have handed George W. Bush a surefire victory in the 2000 election, and did so in 2004.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Religions Influence on Politics

The idea of politics and religion being two separate entities is a very new concept. Until a few centuries ago almost every government and society was based around a central religion. Kingdoms and empires worshiped and gave sacrifices hoping the gods would look favorably upon their nations. Wars, such as the crusades, were fought in order to claim land that had a special religious meaning. Religion was an extremely important part of historical cultures. But in today’s world, religion is almost non existent in western governments. The separation of church and state has put a wall between political policy and religious faith. However when it comes to making decisions on ethical issues such as abortion and stem cell research, many politicians examine their own religious beliefs when they are unsure of what to do. The 2004 presidential election was decided, in a good part, by religion. The Democratic Party was unable to gain the support of the deeply religious Christian South and therefore lost a large amount of votes.
The First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is true in practice. There is no state government and we are free to practice whichever religion we please. However, below the surface religion plays a prominent role in our government, influencing our choices, values, and even the laws we live by.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ground

I wonder, can you separate an individual's religion from one's politics? In the book, "Taking Religion Pluralism Seriously", Jo Renee Formicola writes about John Kerry's experience when he ran for president in 2004. Formicola writes, "Kerry, who followed three other Catholic candidates in his pursuit of the highest national office, opted to reject the hierarchy's call for spiritual and political unity, ignored the admonitions of the bishops, and took a pluralistic approach to major social issues. The Democratic nominee for president claimed to oppose abortion morally, but to support the right to choice and privacy for each woman politically".

I've shared this excerpt from Formicola's writing with friends and debated the consequence of separating one's morals to accommodate the political reality of Roe vs. Wade. Personally, I feel Kerry's stance on abortion is a sign of leadership. I gather Kerry understood his religious beliefs could differ from political rulings decided by the Supreme Court. Everyone that lives in America will face a law that differs from their moral values. Yet, what should we do about it? Do we fight it? Or do we except it? What happens when checks and balances break down in government?

Now that the U.S. government has suspended the writ of habeas corpus could you vote for a politician that looked the other way? I see it as a criminal act. My reasoning allows me to return to Roe and understand why some are opposed. I don't agree with your position nor believe in your religion, but I think I understand.

First Amendment;
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

YouTube Jesus Camp

Emmanuel Quezada
Blog 2
10/12/06

Politics and Religion in the U.S

Religion and politics are two of the most precious and highest institutions in this country. For some, they are two areas of similar interest. For others, it is a mix of oil and water. Why the difference in thought? This has been on going question since the beginning of civilization. One has to start with the basics. Religion is belief in a higher power, where as politics is an aspiration to power. Even though politics and religion often do not mix, in the United States both institutions are closely intertwined. Our head political figure George W. Bush openly religious. Many of his policies and his views are greatly influenced by his belief.

Nationally, most people vote according to how a particular party connects to their religious value. For example, many Christians who vote republican have expectations that the politicians will not act in disfavor of the religion. This means that if George W. Bush advocated the Gay Marriage Act, he would be criticized by not only his party, but also Christians who voted for him. Overall, in the United States religion and politics are jointly connected in people’s psyche, and separating the two into separate entities does not seem possible.

Politics, Religion, and abortion


Politicians usually use manipulation to get the support of certain religious groups in order to obtain power. Politicians also watch which religions are more relevant in the majority of a populace to influence views and get votes. Abortion in the United States is one, among many issues that is pressing on some religions and political parties. The Roman Catholic Church maintains the strongest objection to all unnatural forms of birth control and abortion. It teaches that abortion denies the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to exist. The destruction of any fetus amounts to murder. Any Catholic involved in an abortion, whether mother or medical practitioner may be excommunicated from the church and its sacraments. According to “Catholics for Free Choice”, 36% of Catholics are Democrat and 35% are Republican, leaving Independent with 27% and 1% other. However, Catholics ideologies run along the lines of only 6% liberal, 65% conservative and 29% moderate. The June 2004 election between President George Bush and John Kerry were divided evenly. Because of this split, the two candidates needed to appeal to the Catholic faith in order to better their chances of winning the 2004 election. President George Bush claimed to be pro- life. Senator Kerry approached the situation seemingly indecisive claiming his beliefs were pro- life, but he felt the United States needed a move toward a pro- choice view. Although President Bush won the 2004 election, most Catholics are now beginning to question their decision for voting for George Bush.
Why are most fundamentalist Christians and Catholics opposed to embryonic stem cell research? The embryonic stem cells come from the inner cell mass of a human embryo. These stem cells have the potential to develop into all or nearly all of the tissues in the body and could be used to treat diseases that afflict many Americans. However, it is still considered by these and other religious groups as the killing of a human being.
Many fundamentalist Christians and Catholics were distraught by a statement posed by President Bush pertaining to stem cell research. George Bush said "As a result of private research, more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist… I have concluded that we should allow federal funds to be used for research on these existing stem cell lines… where the life and death decision has already been made… this allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research”. The problem with the statement was Mr. Bush was pro- life, but decided to go through with the research of already existing stem cells which made him look weak in his policies. Many Catholics were at odds at what the President had said, was he pro-life or was it a front to get votes?

Religion- Get Out!

After reading about the “religious right” and “secular left” that seem to have evolved dramatically in our country, I have come to the conclusion that politics should ultimately deny religious influence in all realms of policy making. This, however, seems quite unavoidable since Europeans “founded” this country after fleeing Europe to find religious freedom. It’s simple; our roots are embedded with religion, specifically Christianity, our hope to find true secularization appears dismal.

Religion as we have learned in class is a powerful force. Religion is one of the strongest powers that many people have devoted their daily lives to following. Sociologist, Durkheim, believed that when large numbers of people find something abstract, such as religion to be factual or truth, then it gains power and becomes real. When something is that important to a community or society, the climate they wish to live in must be safe for exercising their values that abide by a certain doctrine. But many religious views differ and many others are agnostic or atheist, so where is the balance? If religion is not a part of everyone’s daily life in society, then how can we use religion to make rational decisions for policy making?

There are only a few things everyone can agree on- hopefully: being treated as equal under the law, being a good person, and having freedom to do things that do not hurt or affect other people. To accomplish these tasks, we do not need a bible that was written and put together by men years ago with certain agendas for that current society, nor do we need religious leaders to tell us how we should live. Religion should be kept private and should not be used in subtle ways to govern a society, a democracy at that.

Though there is a separation between church and state, I tend to agree with McGraw’s concern that religion seems to be too involved in our current political world causing violence and inequality. The bipolar world we live in seems to manipulate religion and use it for support of either a certain party or political leader. The situation we spoke of in class is a prime example of this- John Kerry used religion inconsistently; therefore, Bush exploited this inconsistency and used it to his advantage to gain votes for his presidency. Who knows whether either of these men truly cares about the issue at all in a religious realm? I do believe political leaders will find hot issues in a current society that reside around religion, and will pick one side knowing that religion (the powerful force that it is) will cause people to vote based on whether a candidate will adhere to their certain beliefs based on their religion.

Ultimately, I walk away from these past few weeks of lecture and reading blown away at how powerful religion truly is in our current society, and how ridiculous our politicians can be by manipulating religious issues to gain support. If religion were to be kept private, one wouldn’t have to worry about someone across the country getting married to the same sex; frankly, it has no affect on them whatsoever. Why would someone care if a woman they don’t even know chose to have an abortion? Murder is outlawed- it still happens. Abortion has not been proven as murder yet- science has yet to determine this, so why put more women in danger to satisfy what scripture or religious leaders have said? Abortion will always happen, if it is outlawed, there will just be more back alley abortions and more women dying from infection. Perhaps safe sex practices aren’t being taught enough and abstinence is a bit too dated. If our society shifted from its Christian perspectives and began teaching what our bodies were ready for at age 13 and 14, there would be more families invested in supporting their teens teaching them safe sex rather than closing off all doors to the possibility and hoping they are just not having sex. Perhaps then, more people would be comfortable going to their parents for support in their sexual development rather than being scared and messing up, then being forced to have an abortion. This is why politics should stay away from religion, a society of different and diverse individuals in mind and action cannot be governed by religious influence where not everyone agrees.

Religion and Politics in the U.S.

Religion and politics have always been closely related. For centuries, priests and pops dictated and ruled their religions boundaries according to what they believed and also according to what their interpretation of the religion source they were using. Numerous wars were started and fought based on the religions inequalities that either party had. New countries appeared on the horizon filled with people who opposed original religions believes of the country they were fleeing. For instance, a country Pakistan was ‘formed’ not so long ago based on a different religion that wasn’t affiliated with British nor India.

US constitution separates church and state, at times they are still very closely tied together. For instance, not two days ago, Harvard announced a new requirement, a religions class. Even thought there is nothing wrong with studying religion, I feel that it should not be a burden on a student to take the class and more as an elective to expend ones knowledge.

Looking even broader into our own politics and government structure, there are significant evidence that show correlation between the voters and public officials in office. During the past election, a lot of voters made their decisions based on their religions belives and also what their religions peers voted for.

Personally, I think that religion and politics should be separate entities. But as was noted in our class discussion, based on the recent survey, over 90% of Americans believe that God exists (Baylor Survey). I feel as we are still not at the stage to have a really separate political system without any interaction with religion and maybe not at that stage for a very long time. As new religions develop such as Scientology into other cults there maybe even more struggle between them and even various sects.




In the Media

Looking back on history, America has been surrounded by the common debate of religion in politics. The first non Native American group came to the New World to escape the Church of England. Twenty four or so women were killed during the Salem Witch Trials because the townsfolk believed that they were witches, which was not acceptable for the Protestant religion. Before the Revolution, the Puritans tried to purify the Church of England. In order to establish basic principles, the founding fathers established America’s Sacred Ground.
America’s Sacred Ground generally serves as “ground rules” “A system that values pluralism” (McGraw 23) Separation of church of state keeps America from having one religion in power over others. However, there are still issues that surround the broad issue of religion in politics.
A recent issue is the controversies over the Pledge of Allegiance. The issue is the clause “under God” People are upset because they say it defies separation of church and state. People debate that they are pledging alliance to America under God and although they love their country just as much as the next person, they are pledging “under God” even though they don’t share the same belief. Debaters argue that an absence of the clause does not mean that there is a denial of God; it’s merely a matter of a disagreement to the Conscientious Public Forum.
The most recent and most controversial is the issue of gay marriage. The Bush administration is in consideration of not recognizing gay marriages. It is argued that the Bible has a negative view on same-sex marriage. What I believe is that everyone must figure out on their own how they will honor the Bible.

Civil Religion: A Top Down Approach

Civil Religion: A Top Down Approach


As I work, I tend to lose myself in online National Public Radio newscasts while doing the monotonous and mind-numbing tasks that are thrown my way. Recently, while listening to the NPR program “All Things Considered”, I was struck by the insight and overwhelming relevance of a piece written by Seth Stevenson, entitled Can Rosa Parks Sell Pickup trucks? Stevenson’s article is a reaction to the latest Chevy commercial, which exploits American civil symbols to sell their pickup truck (http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2151143 ). Not only did Chevy use such influential historical figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, they also employed vivid images of the Vietnam War, Katrina, and 9/11, in an attempt to evoke pride and patriotism. Unfortunately, as Stevenson conveys, many viewers were not impressed, or even touched by the commercial’s patriotic approach. Rather, the author’s analysis shows that Chevy’s attempt to use civil religious symbols as a way to sell their product does nothing but puzzle the educated viewer, forcing them into confusion and contempt.
In his article, Seth Stevenson goes step by step through the advertisement, pointing out the ways that it appeals to the American idea of nationalism, underlining the blasphemous use of civil symbols, and the contradictory nature of the commercial, and ends by comparing it to Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech. Carter’s speech dictated the ways that America had moved away from its democratic, God fearing ‘roots’ towards a more self-consumed nature. According to Bellah, civil religion is a way in which “civil religious principles transcend the nation and represent a ‘higher standard’ by which the nation should be judged.” In the Carter speech sited by Stevenson, Carter, while reprimanding himself for not handling the energy crisis that America was experiencing correctly, alludes to civil religion, while intertwining it with the top-down idea that McGraw describes in her chapter entitled “Intro to American Sacred Ground. Carter stated repeatedly that American democracy was in danger of disintegrating because Americans had chosen to put their own interests over the common good, ignoring the fundamental building blocks of our nation, mainly faith in the “Supreme God” and an adherence to the primary American principles contained in the Constitution, in order to lead more materialistic, self-fulfilling lives. In one instance, Carter goes so far as to say: “No material shortage can touch the important things like God’s love for us or our love for one another.” Such a statement therefore implies that the government is an intermediary between the Sublime and the people, which serves to keep people on the path of God rather than materialism. Carter used these principles of religion infused with society to sell his idea and gain points in the polls.
Stevenson uses the former president’s speech in comparison to the Chevy advertisement to illustrate how this use of civil religion is dangerous when utilized to propagate or sell ideas. The Chevy commercial, aside from confusing viewers by showing them pictures of the Vietnam war and President Nixon waving from a helicopter after his resignation, also depicts images of Katrina, 9/11, MLK Jr., and Rosa Parks. Stevenson argues that these images do not compliment each other, or even make sense. Furthermore, he goes so far as to say that the amalgamation of historical characters and events, both positive and negative, creates an almost blasphemous ideology. Stevenson contends, “It’s not OK to use images of Rosa parks, MLK, the Vietnam War, the Katrina disaster, and 9/11 to sell pickup trucks. It’s wrong. These images demand a little reverence and quiet contemplation.” To use images that hit so close to home for the American spiritual reality is unethical.
Moreover, the article quotes a Chevy press release where the advertisement division relates their understanding of the commercial as being a dedication to the things that have constructed the American reality. The Chevy representatives state: “We hope that ‘Our Country. Our Truck.’ (the title of the ad) will inspire people to think, ‘Yeah. These are the bruises and scars that have shaped our nation, and we have rebuilt ourselves spiritually, emotionally and physically.” The idea of infusing product advertisements with sacred civil symbols creates a moral dilemma. Not only does it insult and disgust the American viewer by mixing civil religious symbolism with consumerism, it also pollutes the idea of American identity and religious/spiritual individuality. Bellah’s definition of civil religion was that it was “an institutionalized collection of sacred beliefs about the American nation.” By using these quintesentialy American images, and pairing them with phrases like “Our Country. Our Truck.”, the advertisers seek to enforce the idea that a true and all-encompassing American identity would involve the purchase of their Chevy pickup.
The idea of a top-down structure, from God to society would work well if the ideas and concepts were not filtered through government and media organizations. By using the Carter speech, Stevenson was able to relate the ad using civil symbols and ‘spiritual’ language in order to sell a vehicle, to a President’s exploitation of recent events and American religious identity to sell himself. Neither of these instances proved to be well received, nor did they evoke the emotion that they were aiming for. Rather, they alienated their audience by choosing to employ touchy and not entirely universal images and ideas to make their points. As McGraw reasons, religion would be much more effective if it did not have to get filtered through intermediary organizations to reach society. Consumers do not need a Chevy commercial to help them remember the events that have shaped America, religiously or historically, nor do they need a president to keep them on their path to God.

A Tool

In a class a few weeks ago, we discussed what the authors of our textbook (Society of Religion by Christiano et al.) referred to as "the age of faith". This is simply a supposed era where people "scrupulously, credulously followed the tenets of one or the other of the world's major contemporary religious traditions". This lead to a discussion on whether we believed people are more or less religious now than in the past. I don't feel I am informed and educated enough to somehow conclude that the practice of religion has diminished or grown over the years, but I have noticed something; the focus on religion has seemed to increased tremendously lately, but not necessarily belief or practice itself. More than any time in history, religion’s role in politics is in the news and in the forefront of people’s thoughts these days because of the rise of the religious right. We have many very well known, and powerful within their religious community, government leaders who have very strong shared religious views. Conservative fundamentalist Christians who don’t in any way try to hide the fact that religion has a place in politics and that their religious ideology should be in control in the US political system. They openly advocate for the integration of religion and government.

Bush himself feels there is a "Third Awakening" taking place right now, as reported in The Washington Post.
... really?

Very simply put by dpulliam on GetReligion: "If you go beneath the surface and dig a little bit deeper, all Bush is saying is that he sees America becoming more religious".

I have aunts and uncles who have been in the religious right for years and years and have, just over the last few years, been referring to the beauty that is the bible being used as a textbook in the classroom of their children's schools. They feel creationism should have equal footing as science, that Bush has been ordained by God to be our leader, and that it is their duty to back him with whatever he chooses to do.

Over the last ten to twenty years they've hit on the relationship between republicans and the religious right and the republicans realized that by focusing on moral issues (anti-abortion etc.) they can get a large voting base of people who might not have voted for them prior (this is definitely not a new tactic - just seen more frequently now). The importance of all this is that this is the first time in history that we've had a president who identifies specifically with a religious movement and has yet to hesitate with bringing that into governing. When the individuals who hold the most power in a society run like ours hold and express such strong religious views, it is not surprising that there appears to be a rise in religion. Religion has become a major tool in many political endeavors, and politics require publicity... so religion, at least appears to be on the rise.

Can you separate religion and politics?

I particularly think that religion and politics are hard to separate, this was also the views of Gandhi when he said, “those who believe religion is separable from politics understand neither one.” I truly think that this view of politics and religion is correct. Religion is a belief based idea, believing in something that cannot be proven but is all peoples minds and their own ideas. In the Neusner book he states that “religion influences political structures and activity by encouraging and enforcing some attitudes and behaviors....” My personal views on this issue are that of the same, I believe that religion is a person’s choice and any decision they may make in their life may have to do with what they believe in.
In today’s world there are examples such as the war in Iraq and the different views of the public on this issue. People have many different views; some think that we shouldn’t be there while others think that we have a reason to be there. I previously went to a talk where the speaker was San Francisco’s previous Mayor: Frank Jordan. He was talking about how his personal ethics and beliefs affected his decisions while he was in office. For example, he said that there was a needle exchange crisis where the HIV illness rate was extremely high in the city from the exchanging of needles around for drugs. He was questioned about this issue and ended up decided to have a weekly needle exchange, where the addicts could come and exchange their dirty needles for new ones without getting in trouble with the law. He talked about how his personal beliefs affected his decision. He said that it was very hard to approve something that he thought was wrong but he knew that it would better the people in the communities. From this simple decision he made he was able to help the HIV virus from spreading and the rate had a significant decrease from that time on. His personal views was that he wanted to help the people but not as much if they were doing something illegal, but in the end it all worked out and he was able put aside his personal beliefs and do what was better for the community that he was basically in charge of.
Mayor Frank Jordan is one of a few politicians that are able to put aside their personal beliefs, for example John Kerry. We have previously discussed why the catholic religion and its officials may have looked down upon him when he was running for President. He was trying to talk about the abortion issue and whether he thinks it should be a choice or not. He said that he “opposed abortion morally, but to support the right to choice and privacy for each woman politically.” (McGraw) Previously he had voted against the birth abortion law and the defense of marriage act while in congress, but when running for president he promised to end stem-cell research if elected. So basically he was changing his views based on what thing he was trying to accomplish.
Based on these examples I conclude that it is very hard to separate your personal views and beliefs from any political stand that you want to take. This is why I agree with what Neusner and Gandhi say, you cannot separate religion and politics.

The Definite Line

Although fundamental values of religion and politics are supposed to be separate, their values often find ways to seep into each other’s views concerning issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, the war in Iraq, and many more. The question to ask is when and where should the line be drawn. There is the secular left and the religious right; there is no way for one to be on one side and not to be on the other. In Barbara McGraw’s book, it said “the founders’ idea was to create a space for the many voices of American society to be heard by establishing a political system that preserves the people’s civil rights, particularly the rights of conscience and expression” when should it be appropriate for morals to seep into politics and vise versa.
It is our duty to be a moral citizen. We should voice our opinions. Both sides overact on certain issues, blaming each other, and accusing each other, and always trying to impose their views on one another. There should be a standard for the way the country should be governed. McGraw does bring up many important issues and fundamental ideals but she does not address the key question of how they should be brought in to America and how they should be executed in the right manner where everyone will be satisfied. People are always trying associate themselves with a certain group, resulting in a clash of opinions and ideas. As a result, it appears that there are many lines drawn considering religion and politics but they are in a shade of gray, therefore the definite line between religion and politics can often become blurry.

An Unlikely Pair

Globalization or cultural contact, the "world becoming one single place." It is an idea that many politicians and religious leaders seem to want to achieve, to want to gain for the world. Is it because it would help promote peace or is it a power issue? I believe it is a little of both because no matter what the government professes the law to be, or what the priests and monks speak of not wanting to be involved, it is unlikely that there will ever be religion without politics or politics free from all religion.
In a recent bond, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad forged and alliance between the two countries after a thirty hour summit. The two, both trying to squeeze their way into a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, discovered and agreed after many years of discussion that ideologically the two were very close in terms of gas, oil, nuclear power and the United States of America.
Many find it interesting that the two countries dominated by very different religions, including the leaders sharing very different beliefs on the subjects of God and religion, could find this much to agree on. There is talk that they will even possibly be signing a nuclear energy related agreement in the future. It now has become common and ok for the time being that these two very separate and different groups will be drilling alongside one another in the Eastern state of Anzoategui. It seems though these religions are very different the two are showing respect for one another and learning to accept each other’s belief systems. For instance there have now been numerous mosques built in Venezuela. And when the most recent inauguration of a new joint petrochemical plant in central Venezuela, it was a Muslim man who did the inauguration of the mosque inside the plant while reciting the first surat of the Quran. This was all over the Venezuelan television showing their acceptance for this new religion in a primarily Christian socialist state.
What is most interesting about this situation I find though, is that while these two very different religions are becoming very accepting of each other and trying to make an alliance between the two work both call for the destruction of Israel, making the Jewish people especially in Venezuela incredibly nervous. It seems interesting that while they have tolerance for one religion they have no respect or acceptable for this other. It seems to me that this is all political. That like I said before, nothing in religion is without politics and nothing in politics is without religion.

Religion and Politics

Mixing Religion and Politics:

When it comes to religion and politics the two are inextricably linked. For as long as they have both been around they have come into contact with one another, usually causing disagreements on many different levels. The argument seems to be whether or not we should mix the two ideologies together, or should we try to keep them separate and not let one affect the other. In the article we read it talks about how the right side, or the religious side, wants the general public to be in favor of integrating the two; while the secular left side prefers the two to remain independent. With these two different beliefs there are many situations where strong debates are still ongoing about how specific events laws or events should be handled.
Some of these events that are still being debated that regard religion and politics are homosexuality and gay marriages, abortions, stem cell research, the war in Iraq, the death penalty, and taxes. These are all very sensitive subjects which people care deeply about because they affect all of us one way or another. For example, people that work in religious organizations by law do not have to pay the same level of taxes as people who do not work under religious order. They get tax cuts on things like living expenses because they say they are doing the community or society a service, and they devote their lives to doing that. However, at the same time there are people who work at nonprofit organizations who do not receive the same treatment when it comes to paying their taxes. They are doing the community a service as well, but because they are not working under a religious sanction the government does not give them any special treatment on their taxes. That is just one example of when religion and politics meet, and how it can cause controversy between different groups of people. Usually how people react to what’s going on depends on the seriousness of the particular situation.
Religion and Politics are two different concepts yet they are seemingly always going to go hand in hand. President Bush is another example of how religion and politics come together. This is just one man, but he happens to be the most powerful man in our country. He has to make many political decisions and he himself is a devout Christian. When making decisions regarding the war in Iraq it must be difficult for him to not incorporate his own Christian beliefs into his decisions. Either way religion and politics will always exist and I believe there will be continual issues on how the U.S. and the world as a whole can find a way for them to mesh more efficiently with one another.

Sources:

Henriques, Diana B. Religion Based Taxes: Housing to Paychecks to Books. Oct. 11, 2006. New York Times. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Religion & Politics: Where's the Distinction

It seems that the issue of religion and politics is growing in the United States at a rapid pace. It is apparent that religion and politics go hand and hand in this country and in the rest of the world today. The growing conflict between the secular left and the religious right has become a controversial topic.

The secular left view states that the nation should stick to a strict interpretation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. The public square should get rid of religious influences which would safely preserve the liberty and justice for the people. The religious right states that the “public opinion should be swayed to produce a majority in favor of infusing government with Christian, or some say Judeo-Christian, values”.

In the book Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, Barbara A. McGraw sheds light on the fact that the heated debate between these two camps is only separating the people. McGraw explains that, “The current polarization in the popular political discourse of the nation into these two main camps not only divides the nations people, but also obscures the fundamental structures and principles that make the whole conversation possible in the first place” (McGraw, 2). McGraw states that the two feuding sides are dealing with confusion because the debate has turned into a contest between the opposing sides. Each side is striving to gain the most votes in order to gain power over the other side.

An interesting article that I found on the Pew Forum would likely see the religious right siding with the views of the article. The article is titled “How would Jesus Vote”. This article deals with Democrats trying to give the religious right reasons to vote for candidates other than Republicans. It is stated in the article that it is not known how Jesus would vote these days. But it is outlined that the debate over how Jesus would vote is heating up around the country. “As the Nov. 7 election approaches, Jesus’ affiliation is up for grabs to a degree not seen in a quarter century.” Democrats and liberal clergy are aggressively seeking the support of value-based voters by redefining Jesus as a democrat. The Democrats strategy for this election is to bring the authority of Jesus on your side because the wide-spread respect he gets in the American society. Democrats state that “Jesus has over the top approval ratings.” I disagree with this strategy used by the democrats and any other party. I believe that there should be a clear distinction between religion and politics. But in today’s world that seems like a doubtful world.

Religion, Politics Can Be Combustible Match

When people think about religion, they usually did not associated with religion. According to the article, Religion, Politics Can Be Combustible Match (http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/Politics/story?id=742265&page=1), there were nine longtime members of East Waynesville Baptist Church who was kicked out of their congregation for supporting Democrat John Kerr’s presidential bid. The pastor of their congregation says “at those who do not support Republic Bush need to leave, that they were sinners that believe in abortion and all the wrong things.” It seems that a majority of the people who consider themselves a conservative, they will associate with Bush who is a republican. In the article, they discussion how religion plays a role in politics in that institutions such as the Catholic Church refused to offer communion to Kerry who is a Catholic who supports legal abortion rights. The effect that politics has on religion seems to make people have to choose a side, whether they are for it or against it. During the last presidential election, religion was used a means to get people to view for a specific party. In the article, “Chandler asked: "Why do you support an unbeliever over a man who says, 'This is the day when I saved and now my life changed'? Why do you support an unbeliever over a believer? Let me see, do I support a Christian or a non-Christian? Do I support someone who kills babies or I support someone who says.” Political affiliation plays a role in religion, since voters tend to base their decision on whether they think the candidate is the best the position that support their believe views. Politics should not really have a relation to religion because it seems that they are two whole different issues.
When people who are involved in the church, express their politics opinions, it sometimes bring a negative connotation and effect on the church.
The discussion of the role of politics in religion related to Neusner Jacob’s God’s Rule: The Politics of World Religion in that it discusses the politics of the world religions from five perspectives: classical sources, political theory, medium of expression message about politics and relationship to nonbelievers. Each different religion has their own view upon politics and the author talks about how religion is not only influence by politics, but is also influenced by politics. The example of the East Waynesville Baptist Church is clear example of how politics influences religion and vice versa. The choices that people make regarding either what religion or political group they want to associate themselves with is determined by how that specific religion or political group’s ideas and view connect with their own. Any religious institutions should not have any role in politics in that people all have their personal freedom to make their own choices and should not be influenced either by the view of their religions institutions.

Renewalism and the world

Although my silence in class does not reveal it, I was actually quite fascinated by the conversations about secularism. I was surprised, to say the least, that spirituality is not waning; rather, it is increasing, although membership in religious institutions is decreasing. I kept this topic in mind while I searched for an article concerning politics and religion. An article I found particularly interesting was from the Christian Science Monitor Website. It tells readers how “Pentecostals and charismatics, one-quarter of the world’s Christians, will shape politics and culture.”
The article details the “global renewalist movement,” a movement that has quickly spread around the world, and now currently represents about “1 quarter of the worlds 2 billion Christians.” This movement believes that God has a role in every aspect of our lives. According to the Christian Science Monitor, renewalist is “an umbrella term for Pentecostals and charismastics. The renewalists, like other “resurgent faiths,” have now reached a point in which they can influence the social and political aspects of the countries they reside in. Renewalists believe in an active role for religion in government, and in a free-market economy.
I fund this article interesting, since it disproves one o the theories of secularization, that religion is “declining in active faith.” Although, as I have stated before, membership of religious institutions is shrinking, it seems that the number of people who consider themselves spiritual is now growing.
As we all know, Evangelicalism has seen a major surge in popularity, which undoubtedly means that they will have an influence on the United States, both socially and politically.
Personally, since I consider myself somewhat of a Christian, I would like to see some Christian values incorporated into government actions, especially in these turbulent times. However, I hope that in this age of pluralism, the voices of those who practice a different faith will be heard, rather than drowned out by the dominance of Christianity in this country.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Theocracy: How the Third Rail of Political Theology Might Actually Save Us

In her introductory chapter to Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America's Sacred Ground, Barbara McGraw outlines John Locke's political theology and shows how his theories formed the basis of the founders' views on religion in the public square. McGraw shows how experience with authoritarian states, particularly those fused with or subservient to a religious sect, motivated Locke to devise a new form of government.

This new government would rest on the idea that God speaks directly to individuals through their consciences, and that these individuals should come together to create a just society. There would be no need for an intermediary, such as a king or a church, to dictate God's judgment. God himself would impart this wisdom to the people, who would in turn put His wisdom into practice in governing themselves.

Locke's philosophy, while righteous in its ultimate aim of liberty and equality, is nevertheless fundamentally flawed because it rests on two faulty assumptions. First, Locke assumes that people are inherently good. This doctrine comes into direct conflict with the very scriptures in which Locke presumedly believed. As it is written,

"… sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned …" Romans 5:12

The second problem with Locke's political theology is that it does not take into account humanity's perpetual unwillingness to listen to the voice of God. While it is true that our God-given consciences affirm the Truth, the stiff-necked, rebellious nature of the unrepentant sinner refuses to acknowledge reason.

Ultimately, Locke's political theology cannot create the good society which he envisions because only a fraction of those people involved in creating such a society are actually listening to the voice of God. While it may be possible and even laudable for those in society who know the Truth to engage in a dialogue with those who do not, this uneven footing will inevitably result in an imperfect society.

The perfect social structure set up by God for the Hebrews, a "kingdom of priests," (Exodus 19:6) is precisely the type of melding of religion and politics which McGraw and Locke abhor. While religious people may have a place in the Civic and Conscientious Public Forums, theocracy is anathema to what McGraw calls "America's Sacred Ground." However, it is precisely this type of government which God Himself established for the Hebrews, and will establish in the world to come.

It is important to note that this government was established by consensus. In Exodus 24, Moses read the Law to the people, and they affirmed that they would follow it. This covenant established the Hebrew theocracy not by imposition, but through collective acceptance. Only later, when Israel rebelled against God, did problems arise that threatened and ultimately destroyed their society. Later theocratic models focused on the right of kings or popes to dictate the will of God, whether or not that will matched with the clear teachings of Scripture. Thus, the principle problem with theocracy lies not with God, but with human beings whose sinful nature and thirst for power distort and demolish the system that could bring salvation to humanity.

In today's immoral culture, it would be impossible and inadvisable to create a large-scale theocracy, because so few people actually follow the will of God. The best one can hope for in the present moral climate is that those of us who do believe in Scripture can, through engagement in the Conscientious Public Forum, convince others of the Truth. This could lead to concrete political changes in the civic realm. Until then, small communities of believers would do well to govern themselves by God's Law, in the hopes that the visual example of righteousness might persuade others to join the cause.

The Merging of the Two Views

The Merging of the Two Views
When thinking of religion and politics, I always thought the two were suppose to remain two separate concepts and on two sides of the spectrum; however, in the book by Barbara McGraw’s Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously it seems evident that it is hard to distinguish where the separation between the two exists. It is difficult to notice the difference because of an on-going debate that Mcgraw notes is between the two opposing worldviews of the religious right and secular left. She says about the two sides, “the current polarization in the popular political discourse of the nation into these two main camps not only divides the nation’s people, but also obscures the fundamental structures and principles that make the whole conversation in the first place” (Mcgraw 2).

The conversation that is supposedly to happen between the two groups is not coming to an agreement, with the religious right wanting the “public opinions to be swayed to produce a majority in favor of infusing government and Christian or some say Judeo-Christian values” while the secular left wants the concept of government and religion to be two separate view(Mcgraw 2). The constant question that remains unanswered is how should the United States be run under? Which one do the people want more under the views of the religious right or secular left?

The decision seems so far off from being settled with new issues that occur in both government and church. As described by Jo Renee Formicola in the chapter titled Catholicism and Pluralism restates what McGraw said regarding what the forums are set to do is,
In the Conscientious Public Forum, the church works to persuade others of its moral positions by acting openly to protect the unborn, to speak as the voice of the voiceless, and to contribute to the moral debate over life issues. In the Civic Public Forum, the Church also seeks to influence others, but in this arena it does so by articulating ethical public policy choices and by becoming involved politically to effect changes in the law (Formicola 61).
The government and church hold these forums, the Conscientious and Public, to discuss the issues that are occurring within society especially the issues regarding abortion and sex crimes committed by clerical members. When it comes to these issues it remains at who has the power or final word. With the issue regarding abortion is it considered a personal decision or is it the governments last decision with the law stating either “yes” or “no” or is it morally wrong and the fact of another life ending and that no one has the right to end a living beings life according to the church? How about the issue regarding the sex crimes committed by clerical members who are to hold these titles of spiritual and guidance, and to follow the life of purity and celibacy, but instead have intimate relationships. Is that not morally wrong as well or looked down upon by the church and society? Should the government get involved with this situation and interfere? Does the church protect them because they are under the church?

There are more questions then answers and the debate is a constant battle between the views and the two seem to merge together not giving any distinct difference between them. In a sense, the secular left cannot work without the religious right and vise versa, but when does it become too much to have them interconnected and interrelated?

Gay Marriage and speration

Barbara McGraw in her book, Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously, notes a difficulty in establishing and understanding the boundaries of the separation between Church and State. In taking a closer look at this it may be useful to look at a specific case to gain understanding of the problem as a whole, namely gay marriage. This seems especially useful since marriage has both political and religious meanings and is an institution within both spheres.

Marriage has distinct meanings for each group. In terms of the political sphere it is a legal contract between, currently a man and a woman, and is used to determine legal rights. However, there are also religious views on what marriage is and how it is defined through religious documents, teachings and traditions. So we must look at where and how these definitions and functions of marriage come into contact with one another and through that, perhaps, see how and why they seem so fatefully inseparable in our society today.


One function of politics is to create a definition of acceptable and unacceptable behavior through the formation and enforcement of laws. This leads inherently to a “moral” code within the larger legal context- for instance there are degrees of crimes and corresponding lengths of incarceration for different crimes. This shows that we make moral and ethical decisions on the basis of our legal system. Morality and ethics, therefore is where I believe the overlap is. Religion is, at its core, an ethical and moral code of behavior that is in line with what God would want of its people. Yet we must have a way of determining how to resolve conflicts between these two systems of morals and ethics- if the Bible says you should cut of the hand of an adulterer and the law clearly states you should not, what do you do? It seems clear that most people would not commit this act and therefore we see that all but the most religiously adherent, perhaps fundamentalists, will abide by the laws of their country over the laws of their religion, when the two conflict.


It is, therefore, imperative that we place our citizenship and role within our society above our religious beliefs. This is to say that we must first be good citizens and then good adherents and not visa-versa. I believe this point is emphasized on page 228 of McGraw’s book “… it is truly difficult to see how other are harmed when gay people have the same civil rights as everyone else…the lack of equal civil rights is harmful to gay and lesbian people. If marriage did not involve enormous legal and economic benefits… the issue would not be so serious.” We cannot allow any religion to deny civic rights to any individual. By placing our citizenship first we recognize that only because of the laws of this country are we so free when it comes to religion. We must then a hard look at who we are when we try to deny these types of freedoms to others on the basis of something we believe in that is given to us by the very freedom of this system that we are denying these people.

This is where gay marriage comes into play- as a strictly legal and political issue it would seem discriminatory to place legal restrictions on the rights of people who love each other- it does not seem too different from the discrimination of the mid-20th century toward African-Americans or any other minority for that matter. Yet as a religious issue, marriage has a history and meaning outside of today’s current society and laws and while religion should not be allowed to force it’s ideas, views and morals onto the civic arena of U.S. life, neither too should politics be allowed to force it’s ideas and views onto religion and it’s arena. Thus, the need for this separation- that we can clearly see is well intentioned is also clearly flawed. Obviously religion and politics are closely tied and they share an important and somewhat over-lapping function- determining ethics and morals. How a person decides to act in balancing these dual roles of citizen and believer is where the key lies in understanding how to better separate these two sphere of modern American life.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Religion in Politics? Or Politics in Religion?

Tyler Core

Religion in Politics? Or Politics in Religion?

When talking about religion, it is easy to get sucked into what Diana L. Eck calls exclusivist thinking in her book Encountering God. In her writings she explains that many times when dealing with religion, people tend to reject the idea “that there could be two Gods” (50). In other words, this exclusivist thought simply is “our way of thinking about God excludes all others”(50). When dealing with religion today in society, this is exactly what is happening in the public sphere. This exclusion of others in the public forum draws a thick line between different interest groups, and this is mirrored in the struggle of religion in politics today.

Religion in Politics is an every day occurrence and the latter to encompass the former is as old as the ages. For example, In God’s Rule, Jacob Neusner writes of the fact that in Judaism, most particularly the Rabbinic writing of the first six centuries that politics has had a foremost impact on religious traditions. In this effect, religion would have been in politics for at least 4,000 years. Neusner accredits religion in politics as well in “what we see in the Judaic politics set fourth in the Mishnah’s laws is how politics serves as a medium for the concretization of the generative myth that animates the entire religious system” (12). This medium laid in concrete has been a little chipped along the way, but has remained firm in our belief system. Only today, some people would like to completely oust religion from politics completely.

Lou Dobbs wrote an article for CNN entitled Keep religion out of politics. (See the full article here http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/09/26/Dobbs.Sept27/index.html ). In this article Dobbs writes that “The IRS discovered a disturbing amount of intervention by religious groups in national politics in 2004 (Dobbs).” This intervention includes activities such as “violating laws against political activities” or becoming “extensions of both Democratic and Republican political message machines at the local and national level (Dobbs).” Also, Religion has been caught “becoming involved politically to effect changes in the law, particularly with regard to the issue of abortion” according to Jo Renee Formicola in an essay entitled Catholicism and Pluralism: A continuing Dilemma for the Twenty-First Century.

Religious involvement has made some, like Lou Dobbs angry, and he simply feels that “the intrusion of religion into our political lives […] should be rejected in the same fashion that we constitutionally guarantee government will not interfere with religion (Dobbs).” The intrusion that he speaks of is the ability of religion to influence political outcomes and the frightening fact that “Clearly, Christian Americans could dominate our political system, and many argue that the outcome of the 2004 election was determined by Catholic voters (Dobbs).”

On the Flipside of this influence, many people do not think of fact that politics also influences, and invades the religious sphere. In the same article written by Lou Dobbs, he writes that this summer the IRS “sent out a warning letter to more than 150,000 churches” throughout the nation and this warning letter is meant to “serve notice that any sort of politicking could endanger their tax-exempt status (Dobbs).” No matter what the issue though, If it is religion in politics, or politics is in religion that they both influence one another greatly. This influence creates a need for examination, and within this examination of these two powerful groups in the public sphere that the thick black line in-between the two can evolve into a thin white line.

Sources

Dobbs, Lou. Keep religion out of politics. 2006. 27 September 2006.
http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/09/26/Dobbs.Sept27/index.html

Eck, Diana L. Encountering God. Boston: Beacon Press 2003.

Formicola, Jo Renne. “Catholicism and Pluralism: A continuing Dilemma for the Twenty-First Century.” Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously. Ed. Barbara A. McGgraw. Baylor University Press, 2005. 61-85.

Neusner, Jacob, ed. God’s Rule. Georgetown University Press, 2003.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Where are te Rights of the Faithful?

Religion and politics are two forums that are inextricably linked. Religious institutions usually unite based on shared values and generally agree on big topic issues within the particular institution. Such issues include abortion, gay marriage and more notably, the government’s role in the separation of church and state debate. This is where the two forums intermix, and religion and politics often become a debate between the “secular left” and the “religious right,” as Barbara McGraw notes in her discussion on America’s Sacred Ground. McGraw emphasized the unbreakable link between both religion and politics, discussing political theology as a theology that underlies our political system. While separation of church and state is at the core of American politics, McGraw argues that there is a theology, or moral structure, that underlies the U.S. constitution. To add to her argument Formicola discusses the idea of a civic public forum that exists as a realm for debate and a conscientious public forum that serves as the realm of duties not subject to government action.
The picture for a pluralistic society based on America’s Sacred Ground that McGraw depicts is wonderful in theory, but legal issues can arise when the separation of church and state is not clear. Most recently, an article in the New York Timeson October 9th, Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights, brings to surface the special rules protecting religious organizations. In the article a novice nun in a Roman Catholic religious order in Toledo claims she was dismissed from the order when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mary Rosati, the nun suing, was told that the order’s governing council had concluded that “she was not called to our way of life.” Rosati ultimately lost more than just her health, but also her home, occupation and health insurance as a result of her departure from the Church. The fact that Rosati was not a secular employee is why her complaint was dismissed as an “ecclesiastical decision…beyond the reach of the court.” Basically, Rosati was not protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act because the First Amendment “requires churches to be free from government interference in matters of church governance and administration.”
While I recognize the greater good in the First Amendment’s separation of church and state, it seems a contradiction when it is being used as a tool for discrimination. The judicial protection that confronted the novice nun is called the ministerial exception, or the church autonomy doctrine. The article goes on to mention other cases where this exception has been applied in gender bias and even age discrimination claims. The First Amendment protects a church’s right to freely exercise religion without interference from the courts, but who is there to protect people like Rosati and to ensure her rights are enforced? When can the state step in to protect civil liberties in an arena that is already so carefully handled like the religious realm? It becomes a “judicial roadblock” that gives too much power into the church’s legislation. As certain rights are preserved (the autonomy of the church), others are taken away (the liberties of the individual).
This article directly reminded me of the Catholic Church’s dealings with clerical abuse cases that have been in the news in the last couple of years. Formicola took issue with the hipocracy of the Church's handlings of the clerical abuse cases internally and not as a civic matter of law. In doing so the "no harm, no hipocracy" statement that McGraw felt was vital to the flourishing of America's Sacred Ground was broken. The separation of church and state can not be so clean cut; there must be room for the courts to step into the church arena and have power. It becomes a debate over rights, between the institution and the individual. The First Amendment protects the right to religious freedom, and in doing so it heavily protects the church from outside government influence. Nevertheless, the Constitution also includes rights against discrimination that should not be overlooked in the religious arena. Those individuals like Rosati are citizens of the United States just as much as they are members of a congregation.
It is in issues like this that the link between religion and politics is made clear. Perhaps, however, the distinguishing roles between religious institutions and the political scope are not so clearly defined. While the church currently seems to be trumping its First Amendment protection over other individual rights, I think that it is only a matter of time and media coverage before the political forum shakes the ground.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Where is the line between religious identification and public citizenship?

In the most recent article in the New York Times’ series of articles about the growing exemptions from a large number of government laws for religious institutions, the conflict between freedom of religion and its physical manifestations and all the good of a secular society continues to grow. The article (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/business/08religious.html?pagewanted=5&th&emc=th)
details a number of specific examples from around the country, each highlighting a different reason why we should take notice as a nation to the growing leniency the federal government is showing to religious institutions. Acknowledging this, the article uses examples of mostly cases when a Christian church organization conflicted with a certain public belief as represented by secular law. As the idea of a “culture war” permeates public discussion today, this article is an important look into the growing effect non-secular institutions are having on secular society. Much of this sort of information is important for anyone interested in looking to see just how religious organizations are claiming they are in a “culture war” and what they are doing to try to defeat this imaginary secular attack on religion. I believe a few specific areas are rightly brought up in this article, which I highlight below.
One area in great conflict with secular law is the growing trend of churches expanding beyond just the place of worship. Originally, churches have been exempt from paying taxes because the framers of the constitution believed in a country where the government could not dominate the religious realm and at the same time no particular religion could hold any sway over the secular government. This type of tax exemption is a generally agreed upon and celebrated attribute of American life, adding to the unique national society founded upon tolerance and acceptance. However, there is a growing number of examples of church influence and ownership extending far past the weekly worship centers and into church owned fitness centers, video arcades, theme parks, movie theatres, conference centers and the like in America, yet their tax and civil liberty exemptions continue. Thus, these sorts of business places are not actual places of religious worship (they are simply businesses that provide revenue for whichever church organization owns them), yet they all depend on the public services such as police protection, fire fighting, electricity, roads leading to their gates, general city maintenance and street lighting and storm draining, just to name a few. Yet the costs of these public services are passed on to other places while untaxed profit from the general public flows freely into the churches’ accounts. Another area of conflict is the secular civil liberties ideals in the American workplace. Church run daycares, schools, senior housing centers, etc, do not have to ascribe to the secular laws concerning equal treatment of their employees. Harassment, discrimination and misappropriation of funds, for example, cannot be taken to court in suit against one’s employer if it is a religious organization because they are exempt from these laws within their own institution.
Also, in a situation where a church run soup kitchen or public service center of some kind is operating along with a secular organization in the same place, the religious one dodges any extra expenses and secular restrictions while the secular one is forced to comply. Furthermore, these exemptions are not just for the church group that is actually working in the community for the public good, but also for those that do not attempt to help anyone outside of their own clientele. Now, it is unlikely that there is a greedy, ambitious church organization that is buying up property across the nation with a plan of gaining enough power and money to take over the country and blah blah blah. However, if a secular public service organization cannot survive the competition with an untaxed religious one, the specific religious values held by the winning non-secular group may be forced on the recipients of whatever service the group is providing, for example in addiction treatment centers or counseling services. Even in the terrible case of the Rocky Mountain Church in Boulder, Colorado, the lax laws allowing for churches to sue to get around public zoning laws may allow a growing super-church to build over long protected public lands around the town. This is obviously a dangerous line to be tightwalking, ironically as the same constitutionally protected right of free religion may also be allowing religious groups to impose their beliefs on secular society. It is unfortunate that laws made for the good of the country by the people in a democratic republic can be so easily dismissed due to an abuse of another of these laws; freedom of religion should not also be freedom to infringe on the public, secularly founded beliefs.