Religion and Politics
It’s nice to see a well-thought discussion start from factual evidence without resorting to name calling. This essay, in particular, has forced me to revisit my stand regarding the question whether religion should play a role in politics, a stand that has always responded to this question with a fervent, loud, resounding “NO!”. However, Gary Gutting’s discussion http://nyti.ms/1jKoYMxt of the overlapping consensus that led to enactment of civil rights legislation made me contemplate the matter more deeply.
I’m all for secularizing of the state, the disestablishment the church, the scrapping of unelected bishops, and oppose the idea of temples of worship receiving a penny of taxpayers’ money. Yet governments are made up of people, and people should have the right to believe what they wish.
It would therefore be naive to think you could truly separate government and religion. To say that religion has nothing to offer politics is rather like saying that moral values have nothing to offer politics. The reality is, despite the wishful thinking of the militant secularists, religion has not gone away, and will most likely not do so.
Notwithstanding, religion shouldn’t have a direct role in politics. Jesus himself said it best: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…”
Faith is an intensely personal experience. When it crosses over into political action, it is no longer faith nor even religion; it is politics. Whatever role faith should play in a person’s life, when it transcends into the public arena, it becomes fair game for all that is political, which is to say, compromise. And who has ever considered her or his faith the result of compromise?
There certainly shouldn’t be a state religion, or state denomination. However I do see a place for the transcendent VALUES of ALL faiths to inform our political debate to create the society that we hold dear. Let’s inject QUALITIES such as tolerance, patience, empathy, kindness, beauty, balance, harmony, justice, wisdom, courage and loyalty.
Religion/faith will continue to have an indirect role, as it will form part of the hinterland of some people participating in politics. However, that hinterland will be made up of many elements – philosophy, education, gender, orientation, ethnic background, cultural background, etc. And not everybody’s hinterland will include religion/faith. Some of the people who bring their faith to bear on their political statements and actions are admirable – Desmond Tutu, for example – others are not – too many to mention.
Religion/faith in itself is no guarantee of quality, just as the absence of it in no way means an absence of principle. Principles come from all sorts of sources and what we need now is people with some principles in politics.
So, what does religion have to offer politics? Only the same thing that the intellectual and moral background of any participant has to offer. An effect on, and facet of, their views as a whole. It should not be elevated above that status.