Religion in the Political Realm

The question of the role of religion and faith in politics should not be as controversial as it is today, and yet it comes up time and again. Will a Catholic president bow to the Pope? Will a Mormon president bow to the Prophet in Utah? Will a candidate be willing to honor the “separation of church and state”, not allowing his faith to interfere with his politics? Will an evangelical vote to remove science from the classroom, since “science conflicts with religion”? Some of these concerns are legitimate; others are formed by prejudices, propaganda, and general misunderstanding, and thus easily dealt with.

Let’s consider for a moment the question of whether or not a Catholic president will bow to the Pope. On the one hand, it is an absurd question to even ask. The Pope handles spiritual affairs, and while he will work in the political realm, he is not sovereign over any national rulers. On the other hand, in matters of faith, it would be hoped that a Catholic president would adhere closely to the teachings of the Church, would take papal encyclicals to heart, and be as dedicated to his faith as he is to ruling the nation. If the Pope says that some action is a mortal sin, it would be hoped that Catholic president would refrain from such an action. From a particular point of view, that could be taken as bowing to the Pope, even letting national interests be dictated by the Pope.

But these observations are not the bone of contention. What’s really at stake is this: if a Catholic becomes president, will he force the rest of the nation to conform to his faith? Will he force me, a devout Protestant/staunch agnostic/firm atheist, to believe Catholic doctrine? Will he require me to pray the Rosary? Will he unleash his legions of dour-faced nuns on our children and indoctrinate them against their will?

Of course, questions like these are rarely turned on their heads. If a secular-progressive becomes president, will he force me, a conservative Catholic, to fund abortion clinics with my tax dollars, to accept and tolerate gay marriage, to embrace rampant promiscuity, and believe in the doctrine that the only evil is intolerance (except in the case of not tolerating intolerance)?

I can understand the concern people have with issues like these. We have a nation that permits us to practice the religion of our choice, not needing to worry about the government forcing down our throats a religion we don’t want to follow. We don’t want to endanger that freedom.

Religion, while a personal matter, is more than just a few beliefs which exist in a void. When we consider that religion deals with the origins and ends of all things, especially in relationship to an almighty supernatural being, we find that these beliefs ramify into all areas of life. What a difference it makes when one sees the ultimate end of existence to be the glorification of God as opposed to believing that the material world is all there is!

This is especially true when it comes to abortion. With the viewpoint that man is made eternal, and his soul has an eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell, abortion can never, ever be justified, even as a last resort to save the mother in the cases when either the baby dies, or both do. Not only is it a grave evil on part of the person procuring the abortion, but it risks unnecessarily consigning the infant to a destiny that, due to original sin, may not be Heaven.

To the materialist, though, suggesting that the mother must die, or even bear an unwanted burden due to incest or rape, is heartless and cruel. But then, the materialist only sees ends in this world, and that at least makes his viewpoint understandable, though never condonable. Moreover, a fundamental principle for the materialist is that it is acceptable to kill an infant, even it could become a human or DNA shows that it is a distinct individual, not because it isn’t murder, per se, but because the infant is cognizant of its right to life being swept away. This is similar to the cases of euthanasia. Those people who seem to be vegetables but might yet wake up don’t have the cognitive capabilities of realizing they’re about to die.

More important to note, aside from the disparities I just indicated, is how both are religious beliefs. A belief in the non-existence of God is itself a religious belief. It posits that our origin is a cosmic accident, with no destiny in mind, with the probable eventuality of a lifeless universe. We have our finite blip in the world, and then we’re done. There’s nothing more to it than that.

That being said, I find it important to know not only a candidate’s religious beliefs, but how closely he will adhere to his faith when it comes to politics. The more interested he is in separating his religious beliefs and his political policies, the less inclined I am to want this person in office.

To truly exemplify what I mean, suppose we had a Catholic candidate and a Wiccan candidate. The first states that he would not bow to the Pope and would not let his religion interfere with his policies. The second states that he intends to follow his religious principles devoutly, both as a private practitioner of Wicca and as a politician. Suppose as well both are pro-life candidates. Which should we vote for?

Obviously we don’t vote for the Catholic candidate simply because he is Catholic. Why? Because he has publicly announced his intention to manifest a schizophrenic personality: half divided against half. If he was lying about his intention, then he has lied to the public and is only after the office. If he was telling the truth about his intention, then we cannot trust him not to deceive us later on. If he can truly be such a chameleon, how could we possibly know his true colors?

Consider the case of Senator Biden. He said publicly in an interview that he believes that life begins at conception, in concert with Catholic doctrine. But in the same breath he then goes on to say that he won’t force his views on anyone, and thus will support legislation that promotes abortion. If this isn’t a textbook case of cognitive dissonance (holding two contradictory notions in the mind simultaneously), I don’t know what is. If I believe that life begins at conception, and I know that it is murder to kill an innocent life, then I know that abortion is murder. If I turn around and support abortion because others believe that abortion isn’t murder, what have I just done? Either I have violated my conscience, or I never believed abortion is murder in the first place. In either case, there is deception involved, and deception is the last thing I want to see in an elected official.

Surprisingly, I can give Speaker Pelosi something of a pass. While I abhor her stance on abortion, I have seen slightly more honesty from her than from Senator Biden. Whereas Biden specifically stated that his religious views mean nothing when someone disagrees with him, Pelosi at least tried to reconcile her faith and stance on abortion through what she believed was a loophole. She misunderstood, of course, and has been corrected ad nauseum by various bishops around the nation, but she was trying to be at least visibly consistent on the point. Where she’ll go from here, I don’t know. It may be that she’ll have a moment of truth and realize that she either has to abandon her faith or abandon her stance on abortion. We can always hope.

What about the Wiccan candidate, then? Well, I might not vote for him because of his religious beliefs, and that is a fair statement to make. If I understand him correctly, that he is devout in his practice, then I know a great deal about the nature and direction of his policies. Those, at least, I can evaluate at face value and decide whether or not I can tolerate such a person in office. Unlike with the Catholic candidate, I know what I am dealing with.

Do religious beliefs have a place in politics? Inasmuch as our political standpoints and policies are directly shaped by religious beliefs, then I have to answer “yes”. And because of that answer, I want to know not only what a candidate believes, but how strongly he believes it.

When people cry out that a particular candidate is bring his religion into the political realm, we should answer, “Good. Now we’ll know what he really believes.” or “So what? Everyone brings in his religious beliefs. Putting a name to that religion only makes it easier to evaluate the candidate.” But of course, those crying foul aren’t really interested in the fact that there might be religious overtones to the debate, but that someone might, against all reason and in total unfairness, somehow disagree with them.


5 Responses to Religion in the Political Realm

  1. Tito Edwards says:

    Senator Biden is a schizophrenic by his mere statement of “personally” believing in the sanctity of life, but “pubically” against it.

    Regardless, good article Ryan.

  2. Ryan Harkins says:

    Thanks, Tito. I suppose to be fair, though, I should try to think of other excuses for Biden than just deceit or schizophrenia. Maybe he really does hold a relativistic mindset in which the only truth is personal truth, and the freedom of personal truth trumps rights to life. Or maybe he fundamentally believes that true Catholics will avoid abortion regardless of what the government permits, and thus he can support legislation contrary to the Catholic viewpoint for the sake of those who are not Catholic and will try to procure abortions with or without government support. However, I think those are rather weak arguments. If you believe you know the truth, you want to spread the truth, especially when error is dangerous. Correcting an English student from “through Mama from the train a kiss” to “throw a kiss to Mama from the train” is not horribly vital, though it helps the student learn how to better communicate. Correcting an engineering student on his statics homework is much more vital, because if you crunch the numbers incorrectly, bridges collapse and buildings fall down. Moral truth is especially important, because of the damage to the soul. Thus if I believed life begins at conception, I cannot but warn people against abortion.

  3. Tito Edwards says:

    …or he could be holding those two conflicting ideas for political expendiency.

    But truthfully, we won’t know unless he is asked these questions directly as to ‘how’ his moral compass operates.

    My best guess is he trully believes it is possible to “personally” against something while “publically” for it.

    Mario Cuomo’s infamous Notre Dame speech helped to pave the way for this. Where he stated pretty much the same thing.

  4. Chris Burgwald says:

    Excellent post, Ryan… everyone has a religious belief, insofar as “religious belief” is a synonym for worldview. Regardless of what worldview a public official claims to hold, their “real” worldview is better determined by their actions & policies than by their public proclamations.

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