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Religion and Politics - A Dangerous Mix

Michael Borucke

Why has religion become such an important campaign issue all of a sudden? Is it because the presidential race is so boring and devoid of real meaning that the political analysts needed some controversy? It certainly hasn’t been an issue upon which to differentiate between the two major party candidates. George W. Bush’s support for prayer before high school football games garnered a lot of media attention, as have Joe Lieberman’s recent speeches about his faith. Yes, with three Christians and a Jew who believes that Jesus inspired the idiom “all men are created equal,” the Republicrats are unified in yet another campaign issue.

But what are presidential candidates talking about religion for? I thought the amendments guaranteeing the separation of church and state put an end to the legal debate. There shouldn’t be any point of contention. Isn’t it fairly obvious that public schools shouldn’t be hanging the Ten Commandments on the walls, or leading prayer at a football game? For goodness sake, move on already.

Actually, the parallels between American religion and American politics are quite interesting. The leaders, male in both cases (one because of dogma, the other because of oppression) stand behind a podium in front of an audience “preaching” that belief in religion/capitalism is all that is required to be saved/democratic. They say things that make people feel good: the country is the most advanced society in history, theirs is the one true religion. But a look at the inherent contradictions in either case (the increasing wealth gap/biblical inconsistencies) tend to discredit their entire basis. Still people are glad to listen; perfectly willing to ignore their naked emperor when contradictions dictate they must. All the while there is absolutely no assurance that these leaders believe in what they are saying themselves.

Of course, I don’t seem to hold the majority view -- the public evidently wants to hear about God in politics. According to a Newsweek poll, more than 60 percent of voters believe that it is appropriate for politicians to talk about their religious beliefs. Personally, I can’t believe such a percentage of Americans still consider religion at the ballot box. But the religious drivel continues to be spewed forth by both main party candidates and it continues to be caught and displayed unflinchingly by the mainstream press. So it goes.

But there are some serious disadvantages to all this religious electioneering. Any reasonable look at history will show that the amount of political bible-thumping done by politicians shows little positive correlation to any trait we would like to attribute to a religious person such as compassion, reason, or morality. So will the next administration be any different? Do they really believe in what they say or is it lip service? Just ask yourself if you think Bush or Gore would think twice about speaking about being “saved” if polls showed it would be in their interest to do so. The deception doesn’t have to stop once the election is finished.

Imagine a president in time of war, responsible for the deaths of millions, going on television to speak to the American public, “My fellow Americans ... and so, with God’s help we can bring an end to this horrible war.” This rhetoric is typical, and it allows people to believe the president is working trying to bring an end to the war. You would hope he wouldn’t invoke the name of God if he weren’t. Religion then gives a quick answer, there is some Judeo-Christian ethic at work and nothing more needs be said. No need to look at the monied interests at work in the equation, no need to do anything about the issue ourselves; it’s up to God and the president now.

This brings up another interesting parallel: absolute and utter adherence to both the party line and religious dogma. Besides prayer, what other activity is repeated so many times in America that it has become ritual? Of course, pledging allegiance to the U.S. of A. Done before every single sporting event, implicit in every Fourth of July parade, pledging allegiance has had the effect of making anyone critical of the government an evil, disrespectful, ungrateful, unpatriotic son of a bitch. Just as some can’t fathom being a good person without believing in God, some can’t believe it is possible to love a country while simultaneously being critical of the government or its symbols.

Taking all this into consideration, it would seem that Jesus Christ would not make a very good president. He wasn’t the most patriotic messiah of his time: if you recall, he was condemned to death for fear that he would lead the people in revolt against the Roman government. In addition, his propensity for feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and healing the sick would probably win him the communist label rather than either the Democrat or Republican nomination. This begs the question of whether Gore or Bush can successfully reconcile their capitalist politics with their religious beliefs in a raging commie.

Maybe the appeal is not precisely what politicians are saying but simply that they are saying it. I can understand a citizen’s desire to have their representative share in his or her beliefs; especially in one as sacred as religion. Voters want to feel that the moral values they try to live by are the same values running the country. However, I cannot understand why the public has allowed religion to take up such a large portion of the campaign spotlight this year. Besides allowing the candidates to avoid more tangible issues like defense spending or education, religious politicking will insure that the next president will be the one to have appeared the most devout. But I don’t want to rely on faith when choosing a leader and I certainly don’t want to choose a candidate I have no faith in.