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Politics as It Affects Religion


It is not an exaggeration to say that from a religious point of view, the United States has been a country of sects since its inception and even in the earlier colonial period. However, this work intends not to consider in depth the religious ideas of the U.S. population, but to present some aspects of the relationship of these representations with the U.S. policy. Indirect and often direct influence of religious beliefs on the American foreign policy is quite large despite the fact that, according to the U.S. Constitution, religion and politics are separated (Butler, Wacker, & Balmer, 2003).

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Religion and Politics Essay Example

The phrase "We are a Christian nation" was uttered publicly for the last time by the U.S. president Harry Truman in 1947. Since that time, the proportion of non-Christian population has grown impressively and the head of the state should not have to say such words. Patrick J. Buchanan, adviser of presidents Nixon and Reagan, one of the presidential candidates from the Republicans in 1992 and 1996, says a lot about de-Christianization of America in his book "The Death of the West”. He gives a lot of facts like that the courts banned the voluntarily study of religion in schools in 1948, Bible studies were declared unconstitutional in 1963, etc. When in 1992 the Governor of Mississippi Kirk Fordais said that "America is a Christian nation", he was immediately labeled as a chauvinist because the governor had to say "America is a Judeo-Christian country" given the political correctness, Buchanan says.

Despite this, the majority of the American population is religious (mostly they are the followers of various forms of Protestantism) and religious elements can be found in the rhetoric of many U.S. presidents. Until now, it has been impossible to imagine that an atheist can become the U.S. President. This also applies to such non-conservative presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, "patrons" of sexual minorities and homosexual marriages.

Atheism and agnosticism are not very popular in the United States unlike in Europe. Moreover, there is even discrimination of atheists. For example, in seven U.S. states atheists cannot vote in local elections. This rule is written in the constitutions of the states of Texas, Arkansas, Maryland, Tennessee, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, as opposed to the federal constitution, which prohibits associating person’s position with his\her religious beliefs (Butler, Wacker, & Balmer, 2003).

Such conservative values still prevail in most parts of the United States (especially in the so-called Bible Belt represented by Protestant southern states) and high-ranking politicians are forced to take them into account. At the same time, in its foreign policy the U.S. imposes on its partner countries modern, free, non-conservative mores. This shows that the U.S. foreign policy is not wholly subject to religious beliefs and that the support of "freedom" relegated to debauchery is an "export product" of the American state specially designed for other countries in order to implement far-reaching political plans in countries of non-Western civilization.

Over the past 300 years, the intensity and nature of the relationship between religion and politics in the United States have changed frequently. Communication between these two areas, which sometimes overlap, sometimes clash, and sometimes operate in parallel, is one of the most fascinating aspects of American history and life.

The U.S. Constitution established a secular state or a secular system of government, but it did not come from a desire to eliminate the influence of religion on the society in general and politics in particular. There were religious ideas that had a strong influence on the Constitution itself and the creation of the political system, which was established. Religious values had a very strong impact on various movements, including the abolitionism movement and the civil rights movement. In addition, religious institutions continue to be a system in which people learn civic norms. Therefore, there was no attempt to exclude religion from political life. The only thing the Constitution is trying to say is that the state represented by the government does not take any particular position in religious matters (Butler, Wacker, & Balmer, 2003).

An interesting point is that the important constitutional provisions relating to religion refer to "freedom from something" rather than to "freedom of something." The separation of church and state in the U.S. was inspired by two different political movements. On the one hand, the founders of the United States, especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, were greatly influenced by the ideas of the French Enlightenment and they came to believe that the support of any religion would hurt the state government. Hostile feelings that people can have to other religions will turn into political hatred and jeopardize the survival of the entire system.

On the other hand, there was another form, which the researchers called the Protestant separatism and which was supported by such groups as the Methodists and the Baptists. They felt that giving the state power to religion would hurt the religion, this would lead to the use of state sanctions against those religions that could be mistaken for something, or it would limit religious freedom of other Americans. Therefore, the U.S. Constitution is a two-way street, it is based on the idea that religion and government will work better if they thrive independently.

In America, there are people who believe that the position contained in the Constitution is anti-religious, that it means the separation of church and state. However, in fact, this separation was intended to strengthen religion, provided that its activities will be concentrated in the relevant field (Butler, Wacker, & Balmer, 2003).

Moreover, the Founding Fathers drew up the Constitution so that the religion backed the political goals. There were political thinkers who believed that a powerful religious sphere was important for a strong democratic system of government. Some people said that the church was in a sense an incubator for civic values. It was in the churches and parishes that people learned the habits and customs that could have a positive impact on the preservation of democracy.

Similarly, de Tocqueville argued that it was impossible to understand American society if not first to consider its strong religious foundation, which made a democratic system possible. It teaches people to think about means and ends and the importance of focus on long-term goals (Butler & Stout, 1997).

Churches are in many ways important for the democracy. The Church is an institution in which people acquire skills and develop abilities that enable them to participate effectively in democratic politics. It has been demonstrated that African Americans are more active in politics than other categories of Americans, taking into account their socio-economic status largely because their churches are the true schools of political training. In these churches, people learn to give speeches, they learn how to run meetings, and they learn how to organize campaigns. They master a set of skills that are directly related to the political process. Therefore, in a sense, these churches are the kind of schools of democracy. For many Americans who do not belong to any other organizations, given these skills, the church plays a very important role in promoting their active participation in the democratic life (Butler & Stout, 1997).

Likewise, it can be argued that the churches, having offices in Washington, often give voice to people who do not have it in other areas, for example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is widely represented in Washington, or different groups, whose offices are located in the Methodist building. They have a serious influence, speaking about the needs of the homeless, the needs of people without protection. They "voice" the position of those whose interests are not represented by influential political groups. Therefore, religious congregations do contribute to and strengthen the viability of the government, acting on a personal level and on a large scale, being represented in Washington.

This is true for the Jewish community as well. In Washington, the Jewish religious groups engaged in lobbying are widely represented. It can be argued that the expansion of the First Amendment, particularly provision on non-establishment of religion, passed through minority religious groups that lobbied for a broader understanding of what specifically the government should not do in order not to create advantages for one or another religion. The Jewish groups have been at the forefront in almost all these cases. The deceased Leo Pfeffer, who represented the American Jewish Committee, was the lawyer in these cases. However, in many critical processes, the main actors were such groups as Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, etc. it should be taken into account, that through these actions they expand the rights for all other religions (Butler & Stout, 1997).

Professor of Political Science of University of Florida in Gainesville Kenneth D. Wald, the author of the book “Religion and Politics in the United States”, draws attention to the phenomenon of original sin as the determining factor in relation to the society and politics. According to his theory of "original sin" as the core of the Puritan theology, it is assumed that a human being is by nature sinful and wicked and in principle the human race cannot be trusted. This distrust extends to any branch of government and, therefore, the checks and balances system is required. Original sin was a powerful factor present in the minds of almost all members of the Constitutional Convention.

Jefferson believed that people did not have to rely on human virtue if constitutional arrangements could provide this. It was believed that no matter who ran the country, the monarch with sole authority or the Congress, representing electoral power, a human being still, by his/her nature, would abuse the power given to him/her, would be anxious to amass more power, and would be deaf to the needs of others. According to the founding fathers, the solution was not to protect the sacred monarchy, which had the same problem, but to establish a system of power with many additional protections of freedom, providing the conditions under which it became very difficult for a person to abuse power.

Another message, which is very important for the development of the American constitutional system as a whole, is the idea of the contract. Most Americans have learned it from the Bible, reading the covenant of Moses, when God gave a number of promises to the people of Israel, provided that they would follow His laws set forth in the Ten Commandments. In these contracts, God enters into an agreement with people, providing certain benefits in exchange for certain acts. This kind of agreements also occupies an important place in the Constitution (Butler & Stout, 1997).

Religion, as it exists today in the U.S., is not monolithic and not homogenous even within specific religions. What occurs when a myriad of perspectives, beliefs, and interests collide in the political arena? How do Americans manage to avoid the culture war? The fact is that the variety and diversity of the American religious life miraculously leads to the fact that, in a sense, all Americans are representatives of religious minorities. The largest group in the U.S. is the Roman Catholic Church, and yet it makes only 25 percent of adult believers as most polls show. Therefore, most Americans live in religious diversity. This helps to avoid a situation, which experts on game theory call the "all or nothing", i.e. a situation in which one side is winning and another is losing. This situation takes place, for example, in Lebanon, Northern Ireland, or Bosnia where the religion of majority is opposed to a religion of minority.

That is why, strange religious alliances may appear in American politics. For example, Protestant Christians and ultra-Orthodox Jews are sometimes combined on more conservative positions. At the first glance, it seems that they have little in common. However, they find common ground when it comes to such issues as financial assistance to children from poor families in private schools or certain aspects of this process. Therefore, the Americans are lucky. They do not have a situation similar to that in Northern Ireland when each question turns into a confrontation between Catholics and Protestants, when one side must win and the other must lose. In the American system, there are so huge differences between faiths and such a variety that it helps to keep a certain balance and does not allow any group to occupy a dominant position.

American religion is moving towards even greater diversity. The number of adherents of Asian or Eastern religions has increased significantly since the laws of immigration were changed in the 1960s. Many experts think that in a way this is the future of religion in America: the growth of diversity and diversity even within the same religion. For example, Southern Baptists are divided into two separate denominations. There are already two different directions. American Jews consist of 4-5 different denominations or traditions. Therefore, the development is moving towards a greater differentiation. Due to this fact, the domination of one religion over another becomes practically impossible.

In the U.S., religious groups are actively involved in lobbying. In general, lobbying methods used by religious groups and ways of lobbying of economic and trade interests are very similar. However, there are some differences. For example, religious groups rarely resort to direct funding of political campaigns, which is typical for usual political action committees. However, religious groups are engaged in the so-called "local" lobbying. They can prompt their members to contact with elected officials, hold public awareness campaigns and demonstrations, and sometimes resort to the services of professional lobbyists to present their standpoint. Therefore, in some ways they are similar to secular associations (Butler & Stout, 1997).

At the same time, experts have noted for many years that there is religious intolerance along with religious tolerance. On the one hand, the facts show, however, that, if to talk about the grassroots level, there is a rise of religious tolerance. Open anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism are clearly peculiar only to marginal groups. For example, American people have shown that today they are much more inclined to vote for candidates representing religious minorities than ever before. So, today there are less open religious prejudices in the USA, they have become less socially acceptable, and belonging to religious minorities is not an obstacle to success.

On the other hand, the increase in sectarian violence is observed in extreme political movements. For example, this was demonstrated by the extreme wing of the anti-abortion movement when they blew up clinics where abortions had been performed and killed their personnel. This was done by extreme advocates of some paramilitary movements, mainly in the Western states where a movement called "Christian Self-determination" inspired a series of murders of prominent figures. Events show that it is possible to oppose violence of this kind, primarily through active law enforcement, which is very important, i.e. it is necessary to realize the seriousness of these threats and take appropriate actions against them. Another area of struggle, which is perhaps even more important, should be the statement of the society’s position (Putnam & Campbell, 2010).

Great Expectations are inspired by an incident that occurred in Billings, Montana, where there were manifestations of anti-Semitic vandalism. Committee members decided that if vandals’ actions during the holiday of Chanukah were directed against houses with Jewish holiday candlesticks in the windows, all the residents of Billings would put such candlesticks in their windows. This incident proves that if a society clearly shows that it will not tolerate such behavior, this will have a very significant impact.

Over the past 10-15 years, there have been two very interesting developments in the political and religious life of the country. The first is the emergence of evangelical Christians on the political arena. Now, they make up 25 percent of the population. Previously, they were not politically organized. Since 1980, they have started gaining an increasingly strong political weight.

Another event was probably much less significant, but no less interesting. It is the changing role of American Catholics. Previosuly, Catholics were involved in political life only when their interests were directly affected, for example, in financing of parochial schools or anti-Catholic actions. However, now, without a doubt, Catholics occupy a central place in the political life of America. However, their path to this aim has been very interesting, but not always distinguished with constancy. Many people perceive the Catholic Church as an ardent opponent of abortion, defender of the movement for life. However, at the same time, the Catholic Church very actively advocates on behalf of deprived Americans. It shows the transformation of the American church since more and more Spanish-speaking representatives and workers pour in its ranks. In addition, this is partly a consequence of a series of transformations in the Vatican.


In general, it can be argued that religion has ennobled American politics and forced politicians to act in the appropriate way. The movement for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s is perhaps one of the clearest examples of constructive participation of the church in the American political system.

Nevertheless, it is clear that religion has also caused a number of incidents. Sometimes, religion awakens savages in people if it is mixed with politics. There are a number of events that make the Americans shameful: throwing firebombs into abortion clinics and violence among paramilitary civil society groups are only two most recent examples.

Relationship between politics and religion can be bad or good, depending on how people use their religious values in the process of politics. If they consider themselves to be sages in the last instance who have answers to all the questions and who believe that it is necessary to subordinate the political system to traditions of religion, then this will inevitably cause problems.

Americans have very sophisticated religious traditions and their use in the political sphere demands great care and understanding of the fact that people only vaguely imagine all the effects of faith on the worldly life. When people are cautious, show tolerance in this matter, and realize that if they appeal to people, then it is necessary to speak in their own language, then religion and religious impulse will play a very constructive role.

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