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"