Religion should be kept out of politics

Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Arkansas governor, this weekend said that he is concerned about Islam’s role in Egypt’s future. … Continued

Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Arkansas governor, this weekend said that he is concerned about Islam’s role in Egypt’s future. As On Faith panelist Reza Aslan this week noted, Huckabee has also called for Americans to “take this nation back for Christ” and, while running for president in 2008, declared that “what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”

In America and in Egypt, should a majority religion inspire political life? How will Islam play a role in the struggles for democracy happening now in Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world?

If I am understanding history correctly, religion has always been used as a tool to keep people under control, as concerns government. Howard Zinn writes, in his “A People’s History of the United States” that the U.S. Constitution was put together by wealthy elite whose perception and appreciation of “we the people” was limited and biased.

Religion was used to help keep people within the law as formed by the wealthy elite, this group of white Christian men who used religion along with the “language of freedom” for their own purposes. Not only were African Americans marginalized, but so were women and American Indians. The religious, wealthy elite succeeded, according to Zinn, of excluding 90 percent of the electorate from running for office.

When much of the electorate rebelled against the new government and its Constitution, the language of freedom and the Bible were used to get and keep people in line. The Bible was used to justify the way the government treated women, noting inherent female inequity and dependency. So irritating was this that Anne Hutchinson, a woman who knew the Bible, objected publicly, defying church fathers and saying women could interpret the Bible for themselves.

All that is to say that it seems to be a bad idea for any religious group, Christian, Muslim, or otherwise, to inspire and control political life. It seems impossible for the religious and the political to spar for control, though religion often has the upper hand because it uses God or Allah or some divine entity, as its trump card.

I wonder what America would look like if former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had his way? What does a nation which has been “brought back to Christ” look like? Like it did when religious folks sanctioned racism and sexism? And if Islam were the dominant religion and controlled political life, what would America look like? Would women be “put back in their place,” and would honor killings become justifiable according to an interpretation of Islamic doctrine?

What is going on in Egypt now, if I understand at all, has to do with a people who are tired of government corruption. They are tired of being mistreated and manipulated by Mubarak. They want to have a voice in their government, their way of life. That’s fair.

Should Mubarak resign, and someone get into office who uses religious dogma and doctrine, however, to shape political policy and practice, I shudder for the world. The problem with religious people is that we tend to think that “our way” is the only way, and shape public policy with the blessed assurance that “our” God is nodding approval.

Who gets lost in the religious discussion, argument and policy formation are the people. Political policy, spurred and supported by religious doctrine, knock the egalitarian and humanitarian nature of God aside. The people suffer. Religious politics, or politicalized religion makes the Biblical image of God a brutal one, one who does not care who suffers because of policies set in His or Her name.

In Ohio, recently elected Governor John Kasich said in his first remarks as governor that he is a man of God. Yet, what God would that be? The God who made all people or the God who is only supportive of white men? I ask the question because this man of God does not, apparently, believe in the value of diversity –he appointed his first minority cabinet member only after intense scrutiny –yet this God made us all.

There is a disconnect for me between theology which says God is good and God made all people, and religion mixed in with politics which uses God to justify injustice, exclusion and even persecution of those who do not believe in a certain way.

My prayer is that the turmoil in Egypt will soon be quelled, that the people will be heard and their requests honored. That same prayer is hoping that, should a new government be forged in Egypt, that it will be one that is less religious and more socially oriented than any government too infused with religion can sometimes be

Susan K. Smith
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  • QuietMuze227

    It is amazing how those same politicians think that their fundamentalist conservatism is a good thing for America but shudder at the thought of Islam influencing politics in the middle east. America always has a double standard.

  • rjpal

    I quite agree with your main theme. Many religions, especially Islam and Christianity, are addicted to the idea, “We are the only game in town, and if you do not follow our path you will go to hell.” This is less true of softer religions like Buddhism.At the same time I want to dilute this by an observation.One consequence of the chauvinism is that values which are COMMON to religions and which are needed for a good society are undermined by well meaning secular people.There is a great deal of overlap between the last six commandments and the five precepts of the Buddha. Chauvinism prevents us from noticing this similarity.At one time, about one third of black children were born out of wedlock. Now 70% are. This change has coincided with the “triumph of secularism.” But it has done tremendous harm to black children and to black families. Ditto for white families to a smaller extent.Secular people are more likely to allow the flourishing of shallow values which undermine the social fabric.So it would be good if we can keep some of the good in religions, while requiring all religions to be tolerant of other religions and of atheists.One way would be remove the tax benefits from religious groups which preach intolerance.

  • rjpal

    Religious people and Republicans have one problem – that they often recommend something which is good for us but not pleasant.The Republicans want to balance the budget but that requires giving up all the goodies we have got used to. We would rather go on enjoying these goodies and shove the problem onto our children and grandchildren. (Of course the Republicans have their own goodies – namely low taxes).Similarly the Achilles heel for religions is that most of them believe in sexual morality. “Do not covet thy neighbour’s wife!” says the Bible. “Avoid sexual misconduct!”, says the Buddha.But what if the neighbour’s wife is sexy and has a nice smile? We don’t WANT to hear what the Bible or the Buddha says. And so we turn to secular people who say, “It is fine – pursuit of happiness is a fundamental right. If the neighbour does not like it, tough luck for him!”Of course the consequence of undermining sexual morality is that we end up undermining the family as well, and we fail to take care of our children who need a stable environment.I read somewhere that Chinese American girls in the US have the lowest rate of illegitimate pregnancies in the US. At the same time, Asian Americans, many of whom are Chinese, have twice the rate of going to college as White Americans.Try to take a lesson from that – IF you are willing to give up the pleasure of sleeping around.