Religion, politics, and Democracy

Politics is the creation of societal priorities and in America is supposed to shift with the will of the people. Religion is supposed to reflect the unchanging will of their God.

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I recently attended a talk headed up by Rabbi Gary Greenbaum hosted by the Interfaith Council. Part of the discussion was about the dangers of the process of faith based government programs.

The issue for Greenbaum seemed to be that while the process was used for causes that we did not like in the Bush years, and may be used for causes that we like in the Obama term, it does not mean that the process itself is advisable.

The true danger may not be in the actual things accomplished or positions taken, but in the erosion of the separation of Church and State. What we legitimize because we like what it is doing may easily be redirected against what we want as well, which is basically what is going on now in the Christian Tailban movements who are watching as their previous positions against Stem Cell research, abortion advice, family planning, and equal rights for Gays/Lesbians are being reversed, and their rival religious organizations are coming into Federal Funds favor.

The discussion led me to review later what was the salient issues of religion and politics from the viewpoint of an American raised in our sense of democracy.

First, let me advise my bias that I view faith and religion as two very separate items. Religion is the organized, disciplined, dogmatic application of ritual and instruction that essentially attempts to direct and manipulate people of faith into their particular structure of right and wrong in support of a certain specific society.

Faith, I view as one of an individual’s aspect of sentient beings: being able to believe in something without rational/scientific support. From my bias there are no wars of faith, but there are wars of religion.

So what is it that rubs at the core when it comes to Religion and Politics in American democracy? We are taught that democracy comes from the people and rises up from the masses to the government. Government represents us and is supposed to do what we tell them…in theory as taught anyway.

However, in the main, religions as they interact with U.S. politics, the very opposite in the extreme is the case. The bottom masses have no say in the course of the religion and, what is worse is, that everything is not only top down, but as the top folks are either getting their position from their God, or they make the official interpretation of their God’s will.

There is no chance to influence the organization for the average person who takes a contrary view of the interpretation. Further discipline is enforced by the most hideous of techniques: eternal damnation.

Now that makes for some serious discipline punishment. Historically in the US, this has resulted in social condemnation of the heretics, tar and feathering, discrimination in the work place, shunning, boycotts and assorted other negative actions directed at the challengers or different believers.

Religion’s interactions in the political field are also tailored and selected by the leadership of the religion on the basis of the priority of the elite generally in alliance with political elites so that only those actions that mutually overlay and prove useful to the political elite are brought to action. So rather than put the full spectrum of the ethics and values of the dogma to the fore, only select issues that enhance the political agendas are brought forth.

So it is OK to denounce stem cells, but it is not OK to condemn the Death Penalty.

Politics is the creation of societal priorities and in America is supposed to shift with the will of the people. Religion is supposed to reflect the unchanging will of their God. Hence the wisdom of the separation of Church and State is once again brought to the fore.

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