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Does Obama GOP exchange resurrect the role of religion in politics?


Photo by Francine Adams

After the feisty historical exchange between Obama and the GOP perhaps the world is wondering, "is the glass half empty or is it half full".  Could religious conscience bring down the barriers of seeming impasse? Leaders and laymen alike in America, have sustained that religion and politics should not mix. For generations, that belief has held ground as the fundamental position of the nation with varying degrees of separation, while zealous opposition continues.  'The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life' is a "nonpartisan, non-advocacy organization that does not take positions on policy debate". TheForum surveys:

  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion and the Law
  • Religion and Domestic Policy
  • Religion and World Affairs

The Pew Forum is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trust.  The Forum conducted a phone survey from a nationwide sampling of adults 18 years and older, the majority of whom were registered voters. 
They reported that in 1996, 43% of Americans surveryed believe churches should keep out of social and political matters. This opinion increased to 52% in 2008. The study, it appears, was limited to churches (as no mention was made of synagogues, mosques, temples) but  will suffice for this article.

On the other side of the coin, reports The Pew Foundation  "since the Bush administration first established a White House office to expand the role of religious organizations in providing social services, support  has declined between 2001 and 2008 from 75% to 67%, respectively, colored by opposition to Muslim mosques".  Opinions vary among American according to ethnicities, churches, synagogues, Catholicism, Protestanism, Republicans, Democrats, as to the value gained by providing federally funded social services. Eastern religious organizations who provide charity, aid in disaster efforts and social services were overlooked in this study.  According to a survey done by Trinity College, reported in US News by Dan Gilgoff, "15 percent of Americans today report having 'no religion".  "This number is expected to rise to 25% in twenty years, says Gilgoff, and "those surveyed were reported to be religious skeptics rather than atheists".

From an international perspective, Santa Clara University has analyzed "Religion Ethics and Politics by Country and Region" a significant book by Eric O. Hanson who studied the impact of religion on politics in thirty-five countries. "Religions of the Book (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), Meditative Experience (Hinduism, Buddhism), and Public Life (Confucianism, Maoist Marxism)."  Gilgoff found that:

   Dominant religions can offer a “Sacred Canopy” legitimizing state power;

   State and religious organizations can battle for expressive and instrumental power within the nation;  

   Religions can compete for national power;

   Religious groups can seek to control the national culture.

To echo Gilgoff, internationally, there are numerous historical scenarios of religion and politics ranging from domination in a country by a single religion to battles akin to power struggles during elections between warring sects or denominations.  It is no secret, sadly, that many wars in the past, present and future are/were grounded in religious differences.  Worthy of mention is the page on this site listing "Organizations and Events that have Promoted Interfaith Dialogue"

With all of this said, the question remains on the table, "Should religion play a role in politics?" Somehow the whole issue of separating religion and politics suggests that individuals should make decisions in worldly affairs without fully involving deeply  personal religious, moral or ethical values. On the other hand, for centuries, the influence of religious belief has been used as a tool of persuasion. Perhaps there lies the danger... or the delivery from evil. The author does not propose to have answers that academicians, religious leaders and politicians have struggled with for generations. While pondering these matters, in all circumstances, there remains one eternal truth which is applicable to all including world events, national events, the delivery of social services and the initiatives to have successful bipartisan dialogue in American politics:

"It is the heart alone, that really matters"
Nichiren Daishonin


For more info: On international perspectives visit Santa Clara University World Affairs/Religion


  • Shirl 5 years ago

    I agree with your last statement. When it becomes that heartfelt decisions are made for the greater good without the focus of which is right or wrong, better or worse, not until then will we gain a different perspective.

  • Carey Rowland 5 years ago

    You raise an a timely question, Francine, and its about time that we as a nation talk about this. America's fifty-year drift toward secularism has been arrested by the influence of Islam. The Muslims, for instance, raise, in spite of their jihadist fringes, some legitimate questions about western morality. These moral concerns, especially questions about sexual responsibility, are shared by conservatives in our time. So religion is still very real for people, in spite of what elitist humanists would prefer. And religious beliefs are politically divisive.
    The willingness of our President to take on the paralyzing effects of these value-laden divisions is timely and wise. People should follow Mr. Obama's precedent and seek dialogue with their neighbors to reslove our societal differences.
    Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

  • Ronny 5 years ago

    Religion and Politics can never be separated. Even an atheist believes in god. They are worship "Mens", the Greek goddess of the mind and consciousness. Her festival is May 8.

    Our country was founded on the Christian religion, which is based on freedom of choice for everyone. Our struggle in this country continues to be centered around class and racial divides but the press wants us to focus on religious differences which is the very basis of the strenght of this country.

  • Francine 5 years ago

    Ronny, I must agree. Despite the constructed attempts in society to keep religion out of politics there are inevitable invisible forces operating within us that are essentially our religion, good or bad.

  • Francine 5 years ago

    Carey, what a unique meeting and a pleasure to have you respond with you insightful and perhaps to some perusive response. You offer very legitimate additional concerns and we need more study of these matters. I am absolutely a proponet of dialogue and hopefully we can get past more of our closed-mindedness and begin to construct meaningful dialogues to effect change. I picked up your book. Cannot wait to get into the plot.

  • Francine 5 years ago

    Shirl, Yes we are in unison that the ultimate goal is the greater good. I thank you for your thoughts

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