When I set out to understand the role of religion in politics, I made several assumptions. I believed that with enough research, with enough discussion, and with enough analysis, I would find a definitive answer. I thought I would gain a concrete understanding of this particular subject. I could not have been more naïve. The election inspired me to research this, being a very significant issue. As I talked with people from many faiths, I realized the true scope of what was to become a more complicated and controversial issue than I had originally envisioned.
I always imagined that I would research religion and politics in the same way I would research the biology of a tree frog. That jumping into the details of someone’s religious beliefs and how they view their religion’s relationship with politics would be the same as delving into the molecular structure of a tree frog. As with the study of the tree frog, I believed that I would walk away with a set of facts that would give me everything I would need to know about the role of religion in politics. What I have come to learn is that there are no real facts about the extent to which religion should play a role in politics, only beliefs.
I have had many amazing conversations with people throughout my community. Their forthcoming opinions surprised me. My grandpa, who has very strong beliefs, has influenced my political beliefs as well. He once described his opinions on intelligent design. His arguments opposing the issue sparked more conversations. The hours of heated family dinner discussion about politics, religion, or both have formed my beliefs and understandings.
I had a class discussion at my school that provided interesting results. I was surprised at how outspoken many of my classmates were. They were engaged, and expressed opinions that really surprised me. Many bits of information I received from my classmates were very similar to those of other people I spoke to. These kinds of interactions led me to develop my own ideas about the role of religion in politics.
Based upon my discussions, it is clear that many people believe in order to make good moral and ethical decisions, one must have religious beliefs. And, if one has no religious beliefs, they have little ability to make good moral and ethical decisions. Religion according to the people I spoke with provides a moral and ethical compass. Based on this information, I asked myself, how might this understanding of religion affect political decisions? For example, if I see my political decisions through the lens of my religion, then how are my political decisions affected? What if my religion is not the same as someone else’s? What if I am a Muslim who reads the Qur’an, and my neighbor is a Catholic who reads the New Testament? Could we ever agree on rules of law? If we only view politics through the lens of our own personal religions, how can we as a nation come together and agree or even compromise? As Sam Harris writes in Letter to a Christian Nation, “We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God’s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father’s doorstep” This statement basically says that one person’s interpretation of the Golden Rule may be completely and utterly different from another’s. So different, that one religious perspective may seem “brilliant” and another’s criminal.
If religious beliefs can be so incredibly different from one person from the next, yet we wish to use religion as a way to help us make political decisions like laws, then I of course would want my political leader to have the same religious beliefs as mine. So would millions of other Americans. And each and every American has different religious beliefs. I believe that it is impossible to have everyone’s religious views represented in our political structure. It is basically a recipe for disaster. As Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest stated, “once you identify a faith with a particular candidate or party…it is the faith that suffers. Compromise may work in politics, it is less appropriate to the realm of faith and belief.”
Through research, discussion, and writing, I have come to a conclusion. I believe that religion should have little to no place in politics. Political issues are public, while religious issues are much more personal, affecting just you and your family, that’s the bottom line. It is somewhat dangerous for personal religious belief to become intertwined with political decisions, because there is no “compromise” in religion, yet compromise does exist in political decision making as it stands separate from religious influence. This is what I believe.
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