Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Religion misused as a political tool

In a nation of so many believers, it's no surprise that talk of religion pops up in political campaigns. This year it's taken a particularly bizarre turn, with Barack Obama accused of being a secret Muslim while simultaneously berated for not leaving his (Christian) church. Go figure.

It's always tempting for candidates, like nations at war, to claim God's endorsement. It's also tempting for ministers to use their pulpit to push a particular political party or candidate. But both should be wary of mixing religion with politics -- for the sake of church, not just state.

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist pastor and leader of The Interfaith Alliance, warned of the danger to religion in an interview on the PBS show Frontline: "Every time that religion has identified itself or entangled itself with a particular political movement or a particular government, religion has been harmed by that. I see religion as a powerful positive healing force for this nation and the world. But that force is blunted, weakened, compromised inestimably, if we turn religion into a tool for advancing political strategy; if we make it a matter of how to win political office; if we treat it as anything other than a sacred part of life from which we ought to draw sustenance and values and strength for living courageously as good citizens."

Of course religious values guide a believer's choices in the voting booth. But that doesn't justify slapping a bumper sticker on the Almighty.

Your comments welcome.


Rev. Mike said...

Jane, where do you think the appropriate role for religion's voice is in the political discourse? You tell us where you think it isn't.

Anonymous said...

I dont think religion should play a role in politics. There is a lot of bigotry that occurs because religion is involved in politics. They should be kept seperate and one should not play a role in the other!

Jane Pope said...

rev. mike, I would answer your question by repeating the end of Gaddy's quote, that religion is "a sacred part of life from which we ought to draw sustenance and values and strength for living courageously as good citizens." Religion should help us become more and more connected to God and loving toward others. If it does that, we will then be better able to make wise political choices.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question: if religion and politics don't mix, doesn't that make Wright even more disgusting? After all, that's all "liberation theology" is about - politics overlaid on religion.

I await the prompt condemnation of both Wright and Obama on this from my removal-of-faith-from-the-public-square friends on the left. But not with my breath held.

Anonymous said...

Seperation of church and state! It is there for a reason!

Anonymous said...

You can't separate the person from the religion. Religion is part of what makes us who we are.

Atheists represent the height of egomania and narcissism. They make poor leaders.

Anonymous said...

When an ISLAMIC President gets into office ,thats when Everyone will want Religion out of politics; This is one reason why all Religions should not cross the line . Why pervert Religion into some twisted operation worshiping paper money; Religion stay out of Washington and quit looking for the Anti-Christ Bin Laden is who you are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Bin Laden! Bin Laden! Bin laden !with Hunts tomato sauce.

Anonymous said...

I hate going to Church on Sundays so I will reject any Religion I have to pray seven times a day. Im not wearing a red white and blue turbine or Berka; Well now that sounds cool Red white and Blue turbines and berkas! We will Americanize Islam before Islam changes us.

D.J. said...

Mmmm. Smell that spam. :)

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

Seriously, though, I just read a great post by a guy named Andy Jackson offering 10 guidelines for "How to Engage in Politics Without Losing Your Soul." Wise advice...


Soli Deo Gloria

Iztok said...

"Atheists represent the height of egomania and narcissism."

What a crock statement. Care to explain why?

Surely there is something monstrously egocentric in thinking that my life is of such transcendent significance that I should be an exception to cosmic law - that my ego should survive when planets, stars, and galaxies are no more.

You can't pin that to an atheist, it is pure theistic thing.

Is it egocentric to think this life is all we have or is it egocentric to think we are something special? A special design of some sort? It is religious who wish they are different then other animals in terms of being specially designed and put here for special purpose. It is egocentric to wish there is something out there that is taking care of you and your needs and responds to your prayer requests.

Anonymous said...


If the religous think they are of special design, what do you care? Why does it bother you so much that someone thinks that they were created by God for a purpose?

If humans are no different than the other animals, then why are we the only beings on this planet that can build a car or make glass or fix a broken leg or even simpley brew a cup of coffee.

We are special and that's why we all have different opinions. That's also why we have politics.

Religion belongs in politics just as much as politics belong in religon. No matter what your religion (or lack of)it is everyones moral guide and forms the standards to which we follow.

If we do not take a political stand (religous or not)on what we say we beleive, then Iztok is right and we are no better than the other animals.


Iztok said...

Jed1013, I don't care. Just don't accuse others of egomania. (Pot calling kettle slightly tarnished.)

I didn't say we aren't different. I just claim we are not different in terms of being special. Big difference. Perhaps you should have read post more carefully.

Our moral standards come from being humans. It evolved with us and some of it is not even that unique to humans, other animals share them too. Our moral standards still evolve (as seen from what was acceptable couple of thousand years ago or even few hundreds of years ago and what is acceptable for us now) and will continue to evolve, they are not cast in stone or passed down by some "moral lawgiver".

As far as politics go. We do stand by our views (not necessary believes) when it comes to it. Some people believe that woman are not good enough to be equal to men (they even find Bible to support their claim why women can't be priests etc...), some of us think this is morally wrong and women deserve the same rights and respect.

Rev. Mike said...

Jane, you still don't really answer the question. If one is part of a religious community, one's political engagement will be informed by that experience, should one choose to engage. There is an attendant world view that is grounded in that experience, and that world view will express itself in the public square.

How do you see that world view expressed in the public square? How does that world view interact with other world views? Gaddy's quote, by the way, is hyperbolic nonsense. Did religion suffer for its engagement in the abolitionist movement in the case of Wilberforce? Did it suffer during the civil rights movement because of Dr. King's religious grounding?

Religion is not going to go hide in a box if for no other reason than that if it goes away, that vacuum will be filled by a secular or atheist world view, what Richard John Neuhaus would call an "ersatz religion," that will be indistinguishable from the worst aspects of what it replaced.

Rev. Mike said...

By the way, a couple of comments on the comments:

If religion goes away, when can we expect the utopian community absent bigotry to emerge? Or is not the implied notion that removing religion from the conversation will remove the bigotry itself a rather flamingly bigoted comment in its own right?

Also, in regard to separation of church and state, has it occurred to anyone that the "no establishment" and the "free exercise" clauses of the First Amendment are there every bit as much to keep the state from interfering with the church as to keep the church from interfering with the state?

Iztok said...

"Religion is not going to go hide in a box if for no other reason than that if it goes away, that vacuum will be filled by a secular or atheist world view, what Richard John Neuhaus would call an "ersatz religion," that will be indistinguishable from the worst aspects of what it replaced."

Wow what a crock not really based on facts.

"This is the idea that without a god we’d have no basis for morality. However, a secular moral code existed before the Bible: the Code of Hammurabi. In Plato’s dialogue called Euthyphro, Socrates asks a man named Euthyphro whether something is good because God says it is, or does God announce something to be good because it has intrinsic goodness? If something is good because God says it is, then God might change his mind about what is good. Thus, there would be no absolute morality. If God merely announces something to be good because it has intrinsic goodness, then we might be able to discover this intrinsic goodness ourselves, without the need for god belief. Christians can’t even agree among themselves what’s moral when it comes to things like masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce, contraception, abortion, war, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and the death penalty. Christians reject some of the moral laws found in the Bible, such as killing disobedient children or people who work on the Sabbath. Therefore, Christians must be applying their own ethical standards from outside the Bible to be able to recognize that these commandments in the Bible are unethical. [Thanks to Dan Barker for this point.] In fact, most religious people ignore the bad ethics in their holy books and concentrate on the good advice. In other words, theists pick and choose their ethics just like atheists do. Other animals exhibit kindness toward one another and a sense of justice. We have found the part of our brains responsible for feelings of sympathy and empathy – “mirror neurons” – which serve as the foundation for much of our ethics. Morality is something that evolved from us being social animals. It’s based on the selfish advantage we get from cooperation, and on consequences. Helping one another is a selfish act that has evolutionary rewards. (See also Argument 25, against the existence of altruism.) We also judge actions by their consequences, through trial and error. The best formula we have come up with is to allow the maximum amount of freedom that does not harm another person or impinge on that person’s freedom. This creates the greatest amount of happiness and prosperity in society, which benefits the greatest amount of people (the greatest good for the greatest number). This view includes the protection of minority rights, since in some way we are each a minority. Since there is no evidence for any gods, it follows that any moral belief can be attributed to a god. So, rather than being a certain guide, religion can be used to justify any behavior. One simply has to say “God told me to do it.” The best way to refute this reasoning is to discard the idea of gods altogether. Even if a god doesn’t exist, some people think that a belief in a god is useful to get people to behave – kind of like an invisible policeman, or, in the words of President George W. Bush: “(God) is constantly searching our hearts and minds. He’s kind of like Santa Claus. He knows if you’ve been good or if you’ve been bad.” [April 8, 2007 (Easter), Army post, Fort Hood, Texas.] Do we really want to make this the basis for our ethics? Any decent ethical system does not need the supernatural to justify it. However, belief in the supernatural has been used to justify many unethical acts, such as the Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, gay-bashing, and 9/11." (from 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God)

JayCee said...

"Every time that religion has identified itself or entangled itself with a particular political movement or a particular government, religion has been harmed…” Well, apparently it hasn’t been harmed enough to keep it from intruding again and again and again.

Every few decades of this nation’s history we’ve had a religious fervor link itself to politics with the goal of imposing some religious view or symbol upon secular government. First we had to inscribe “In God We Trust” on our coinage. Seemed innocuous enough. “God is God”, reasoned the majority of evangelicals who get these things passed by Congress. “There is only one God. Therefore my God is the same as yours, and none of us should have any problem with this intrusion into the secular world”. Unless you are an atheist, a non-Christian or even a Christian like myself who has begun to wonder just how many Christian Gods there are, based on the far-ranging attributes I’ve seen expressed by responses to this blog. Just whose version of God are we trusting? Is there anything wrong with coinage that is God-neutral?

Then we had the WCTU get in a dither about demon rum and prod politicians to lead the ill-fated charge to impose Prohibition on the secular realm. In the 1950s, fundamentalist America got fired up about Communism, and decided our politicians needed to add “Under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance to make sure we marched to the right beat. But under whose version of God?

And for the past eight years, thanks once again to Evangelical America, we’ve had a president who blatantly used religion as a tool to advance political strategy. His latest gamut, wholeheartedly endorsed by those who see a great opportunity to proselytize, is “faith-based initiatives”.

As Dr. Gaddy described them in that interview Jane mentioned, this involves handing out public tax dollars to churches for them to become de facto government employees in performing social services. And amazingly Dubya and his religious backers can’t fathom, or don’t care, that this violates the establishment of religion clause.

But don’t worry. Forty years from now someone will holler “They’re Baaaaaacccck”!

Rev. Mike said...

Wow, Iztok, what a crock based on not actually reading what I said. What I said is in fact what you're essentially saying, to wit, absent "religion," another basis for morality will emerge, and it will look an awful lot like what it replaced. At no time did I say that apart from religion there would be no morality.

And by the way, you might want to consider another alternative to "What a crock." It's losing it's what little impact it might've had were anyone actually convinced of anything by the invocation of scatology to gainsay rational discourse.

As for a good number of the rest of you, by all means, let's keep on making nasty, bigoted, unsupported statements that prove my point that absent religious bigotry, all we'll have is bigotry based on some other moral-ethical system.

Iztok said...

Mike, you said: "Religion is not going to go hide in a box if for no other reason than that if it goes away, that vacuum will be filled by a secular or atheist world view, what Richard John Neuhaus would call an "ersatz religion," that will be indistinguishable from the worst aspects of what it replaced."

You said that secular or atheist society would replace and look indistinguishable from the worst aspects of what it (religion) replaced.

This is what I've reacted on. Secular society has proven that has higher moral standards then theological society (just look at secular US vs. any other theocracy in the world).

Rev. Mike said...

Proven. Wow. Speechless. Almost. Not really. Can't believe, in the face of 20 million dead Russians, Ukrainians, and miscellaneous other Soviet casualties at the hands of Josef Stalin; 10 million dead Europeans at the hands of Adolf Hitler; I can't even recall how many million dead Chinese at the hands of Mao Ze Dong, that anyone would have the chutzpah (complete with full guttural pronunciation and the associated phlegm ball) to suggest that atheism has no blood on its hands.

Proven. Wow.

Iztok said...

Hitler? Hm... perhaps you should read what he wrote?

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.”

“The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will.”

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

“We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”

Stalin: Yes Stalin was an atheist, but his killings were not due to atheist dogma. He didn't wage war in the name of atheism. Communism, when practiced as a religion, combined with Russian culture, was the fatal combination. Atheism was incidental to the whole thing. Had Stalin held his atheism like I hold mine, he would have (1) never been accepted as a leader of the Soviet Union, and (2) never permitted the execution of even a single criminal or rebel. In other words, the Communists leaders chose atheism: atheism neither created nor encouraged Communism!

Rev. Mike said...

I'm not really keen on Wikipedia as an authoritative source, but here is its judgment on the matter of Hitler's religious affectations:

Hitler's religious beliefs can be gathered from his public and private statements; they present a discrepant picture and some attributed private statements remain disputed and a number of his public statements come from propaganda works.

Can we just agree that he's a mixed bag, and neither side would be all that thrilled to claim him? As for Stalin, I'd even be willing to spot you a couple of points because he was a former seminarian.

But as for your comment that if Stalin had held his atheism the way you hold yours, I'm not sure what's relevant about that. You aren't him, and he's not you. And therein we find a huge problem, in my opinion, with the line of reasoning you're taking. You want to hold religion corporately guilty for the sins of some of its practitioners while holding only individual atheists guilty for the sins of its individual practitioners.

Is there really no point at which we can all step away from the generalizations here, particularly the fairly crude, simplistic and bigoted ones, and speak as people who, individually, have different views regarding values (and we all have those) and their grounding? Is there no point here at which a religious individual like myself can say, with sincerity and no desire whatsoever to conform you to my view of the world, that when, for example, OUR laws, yours and mine, require compulsory education, put the onus on me to justify any deviation from the cultural "norms" and take money from my pocket, whether I choose to participate or not, to support something that may be contrary to the values that I hold? Can we all maybe make room for people like that to have a voice, too, and to want that voice to be heard and not just pushed off into a religious ghetto? Is it possible for all of us to say to one another that civility basically requires each of us not to shove our world views down the other's throat and that sometimes it requires each of us to sacrifice a little bit of ours because hopefully the other person is willing to give a little bit of theirs?

Just asking.

D.J. said...

Wise words, Mike.

Soli Deo Gloria

Iztok said...


I mostly agree with what you said. Here is why I disagree to a degree.

You (religious) are a majority. When it comes to US Christian religion is a majority. Most people when saying they demand respect they are really asking for special treatment of their particular religion or world view. Most atheists just want equal treatment. NC for example prohibits me (by constitution!) to be able to take any public office just because I am an atheist. Yet most Christians I meet would tell me that me asking same treatment is persecuting them.

When it comes to ilk of Stalin, Hitler, etc... I will give you that good people will do good tings, bad people will do bad. Main issue is that there is no way you can find any atheist principle that was used to justify what these people did. On the other hand it is way to often that religious principle is used as an excuse for people to do bad things. Muslim violence comes to mind and I am sure you can't argue much there. But it is not limited to Islam. Largest Christian denomination uses holy writ to explain why women can't have the same role in their church as men do. They use it to sexually discriminate against women. Many other Christian denominations had gone past that and award same privilege to women as for men. Mind you, same book is used to support both but you can't deny that Catholics deny women taking clergy role because of their religion and they justify it with their holy writ. On the other hand you can't find anything like that in atheism.

Sometimes term selfish behavior is being used in conjunction with atheism especially when it somehow relates to evolution. People don't understand that "selfish behavior" has a very specific meaning in biology. It is selfish for a being to help others? You bet it is! Our altruistic motives are purely selfish in biological sense. Species as a whole benefit being altruistic. That is selfish in biological sense.

As for religious, you do have a voice! Just about every politician caters to you as the most predominant population in US. Out school systems bend science to please religious to the point where we are a laughing stock of the rest of the developed world. It is people like me who don't have a voice as powerful as yours in our politics. Sometimes (as in NC constitution) we are even prohibited to do things that are otherwise granted to religious people. (Just a side note, I've wrote couple of political candidates here in NC what they think about NC constitutional prohibition mentioned and they didn't even bother to respond. Cowards.)

BSA (Boy Scouts of America) are notoriously known discriminatory organization (kudos to Girl Scouts who are not!). Yet every year we award them tax payers money for their activities. I am forced to pay (and believe me I pay above average share compared to majority of residents) such activity. I am forced to subsidize your church activities (as most churches are tax exempt organizations). I am forced to contribute to clergy (they are entitled to not paying taxes on their primary dwelling - so I've been told).

Tell me why am I being forced to subsidize such activities that are clearly against my views?

Why is my kid being offered substandard scientific education at school because giving them proper education would make some people having more difficulties to explain their holy writ? Why are teachers told to avoid teaching evolution theory in school? There is no other scientific theory that explains our world better or even just as good or even slightly worse. It is to appease religious, that is why. Yet the same people get flu shots every fall. And guess what, flu shots are based on science around evolution.

As far as respecting beliefs of others is concerned. I don't think beliefs deserve automatic respect. It has to be earned. On the other hand, individuals having such beliefs should be respected unless they prove it otherwise. Problem I see is that people can't separate the two when it comes to religion. You think your belief system is you and other way around. It is not. "Attack" on your belief system is not attack on you as a person.

As far as morals are concerned. If examined you can clearly see that most of the people here have morals that are higher then what they claim they have them from (namely their holy writ as word of their particular deity). They claim they got them from their deity. (While they choose not to follow certain guides that were perfectly acceptable in their past from their same deity.) Our civilized norms evolved and are better then we can find them in holy writs. It is us humans who made them better over time. (We don't stone adulterers anymore, we don't hang homosexuals in this society either and one I am especially thankful for is that we don't burn heretics at the stake either.)

But these norms are result of modern secular world view, not a result of religious change within. Science for example has built in checks and balances for their theories. Religion has built in brakes for their beliefs. Only when we can constantly question things we see progress, when questioning and reasoning is frowned upon we get backwardness. You can see that in predominantly theistic countries in this world when you compare progress there vs. secular countries like ours.

Democracy is a good thing, but by itself is a wicked thing. It has to be paired with certain basic rights that can't be trumped by democracy. Otherwise you will have wolf and fox democratically deciding that they will have rabbit for dinner and then wonder why rabbit would object such democratic decision. Or in other words, it is what freedoms we allow minorities to have (I am big proponent of equal rights, not special treatment) that will make our society better. So no, Christians in this country are not being persecuted, they mostly want special treatment when claiming such thing (based on majority or whatever reasoning they present). An example is teaching evolution theory in school. I've seen people demanding "equal" treatment to their idea of "intelligent design", but when comes down to it, that is simply not science to be thought in science class. It should however be part of the religious study classes if you ask me.

Iztok said...


one thing I was thinking about Hitler. Would you agree that for an atheist the worst case scenario (from what is documented about Hitler) is that he was an atheist pretending he was Christian?

D.J. said...

Iztok said...
"one thing I was thinking about Hitler. Would you agree that for an atheist the worst case scenario (from what is documented about Hitler) is that he was an atheist pretending he was Christian?"

He could have been an atheist pretending to be a Christian, he could have been an atheist who knew the value of some good propaganda and played on the nominal "Christianity" of his people, he could have been a "Christian" in the same sense that I am a "Professor of Taiwanese Literature and Culture." Simply calling myself such does not mean that my life shows any evidence that such a claim is true and that I should be regarded as such.

In any regard, even if we demonstrate his athiesm all you are going to do is claim that like Stalin and Mao (whose athiesm cannot be questioned) his athiesm wasn't a motivating factor in his evil and find some tenuous connection to actually blame religion for his actions, so I don't much see the point.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ said [of Iztok], "...so I don't much see the point."

Welcome to the club.

Lisa said...

It's going to be interesting to see how the country responds to Obama's peculiarly messianic campaign.