December 19, 2007

Faith and Politics

Street Prophets has a very interesting post on historical trends in religious/political speak. They tracked the usage of religious speech from our Presidents from FDR forward and discovered that talking about God in speeches has soared since Ronald Reagan. What is more interesting, to me at least, is the type of invocation. Presidents prior to Reagan were far more likely to speak about God in a "please help us" type of way--what they term speaking as "petitioner." But recent Presidents are more likely to speak as "prophet; that is, the wording suggests that one has knowledge of divine wishes and desires."

This convergence of faith and politics is exactly what the nation’s Founders sought to avoid. Many of these men were deeply religious, but they were only an ocean removed from the religious strife that had plagued Europe for centuries. With these experiences in mind, they created a Constitution that doesn't contain a single mention of God and prohibits religious tests for those seeking office.

Their vision is at serious risk today. History has shown with tragic consistency that an intimate relationship between religion and politics does irreparable damage to both -- from the crusades of medieval times to the terrorism of modern times. Constant use of the God strategy by political leaders encourages just such a relationship. When George W. Bush justifies the Iraq War by saying that liberty is “God’s gift to humanity” (2003 State of the Union) and that America’s “calling” is to deliver that gift to the Iraqi people (countless times), he is offering something quite like a divine vision for U.S. foreign policy.

It is precisely this conflation of abstract claims about God with the concrete goals of the state that led esteemed religion scholar R. Scott Appleby to call the administration’s rhetoric about spreading freedom and liberty “a theological version of Manifest Destiny.” At a minimum, this approach risks repeating the errors of the original manifest destiny: unduly emphasizing the norms and values of white, conservative Protestants at the expense of those who will not or cannot conform.

Just as important, pairing religious doctrine with public policy encourages moderate citizens to conclude that the U.S. government’s actions are the will of God -- or at least congruent with such wishes -- and therefore beyond question. Dogmatic political voices and hints of divinely inspired policy are not the ingredients of a robust republic; they’re the recipe for hubris, jingoism, and the decline of democracy. These are disquieting possibilities, but the words of our political leaders in recent decades have moved America toward them. Both the Gospel of John and the record of evils past teach one thing: in the beginning, always, are words.

To concretely grasp what is at stake, we might recall John Kennedy's address before conservative Protestant clergy in September 1960. Unlike current candidates, the Catholic Kennedy declared: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," "I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair," and that he would make decisions "without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates." Such a presidency was essential, he said, because "Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart."

At this rate we'll soon be there. Tragically, we may already be.

6 comments:

bullet said...

Uhhhh - have you not seen this (article 22) or this (article XXXV) or this (The Constitution... Article XXXII) or this (Plan or Frame of Gov... Section 10) or this (Section XXXVIII) or this (Chapt. 2 - Section IX) and this (Chapt. 2 - Section XII)?

The idea that "This convergence of faith and politics is exactly what the nation’s Founders sought to avoid" is, if you are competent enough to read basic English, absurd. Liberals assume the general population won't or can't do their homework and see for themselves that many of the early states not only recommended that the Bible and the Christian religion guide the day to day affairs of such governing bodies but in several cases even required it's leaders to affirm their commitment to said faith.

If you want to take Christianity out of our government completely, then I guess that's your right, but quit with all the BS that the founding father's were desperate to keep it out. THEY DID NO SUCH THING! They wanted, as their duty under God (the one of the Bible) to carry out their responsibilities and tasks.

The evidence is presented clearly and plainly. They followed the God of the Bible, they wanted their leaders to be as such and they knew that the Bible and it's truth was "Divinely inspired" and as such was the necessary foundation for the establishment of our governments.

I'm not even arguing that the fathers were right, just that it's pretty obvious to anyone who can read, that they follwed the Christian religion and wanted others to as well. They designed many of the original, individual state constitutions to reflect such beliefs and it's no secret if you just do a little research.

To think that prayer in school would have been strictly forbidden is laughable at best.

Streak said...

Nice comment. Thanks for the condescension. I sure hope one of those is a link to where God is mentioned and praised in the US Constitution.

Bootleg Blogger said...

Hey bullet- you're comments just ooze the love of Jesus! Praise the Lord. I don't know how Streak manages to type seein' as he can't read English. Must be some kind of miracle.

I love the notion of a group of "founding fathers" unified in intent and belief. Unfortunately their own writings don't reflect that. I'm no historian (have to read alot to be one of them) but I can muddle through Madison's words. Seems he wasn't too fond of the state supported religion idea. Interesting that the christian nation folks point to state constitutions as indicators of original intent. Why is that held in such reverence when the same documents also dictate that voting rights and offices can only be held by white males owning a minimum amount of land? Do we hold up their "intent" to keep control in the hands of white, landed males as something to emulate? Keep in mind, many of these "christian" or "protestant" requirements didn't include most of the christians currently practicing their religion freely in the US. Many of the constitutions meant Anglican or Church of England when they indicated Protestant. That meant no catholics, no Baptists, etc... There's' plenty to read (for those capable- Sorry Streak, I guess that leaves you out) on the persecution of Baptists in Virginia pre-1776 and the resultant writings of Madison and Jefferson. I guess being publicly whipped for preaching is ok if it's other christians doing the whipping. Sounds like a great system-gives me such a sense of longing for the good old days. Of course, other "founding fathers" disagreed on these issues (George Washington was ok with some state support of religion). So much for being able to generalize about these guys.

To me these examples of establishment are great arguments AGAINST any affiliation of church and state. I like it when they're brought up because I think they quickly bring to light the abuse that happens when a religion gets state support.

America will continue to change. We are changing- ethnically and religiously. There may come a time when the euro-christian tradition finds itself the minority. I hope whomever is in the majority at that time has a good example of tolerance and state-religion separation to follow.
Later-BB

Bootleg Blogger said...

Streak- thanks for the link to the whole story. I took the time to read the whole thing and it's really an interesting article. The cautionary comments about an individual in power or a nation seeing themselves as prophetic and beyond question are well put. Browsing the comments I saw one contributor making the distinction between religion and government, or church and state, and religion and politics. - BB

steves said...

I almost commented on this over on my entry on original intent. One can dig out many quotes on how the varoius founding fathers were relgious or not religious. Both sides have done this. I won't say it is entirely irrelevant, but we need to look at the Constitution and what it says. In regards to this discussion, it says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

While reasonable minds may differ, it clearly means that Congress cannot establish a state religion. It has also come to mean that the State cannot favor one religion over another, nor can it compel people to praticipate in a religion.

What is wrong with this?

Streak said...

Yeah, that was kind of my point with I sure hope one of those is a link to where God is mentioned and praised in the US Constitution.