Friday, January 04, 2008

On Politics and Religion...

I have been struggling with these thoughts since the beginning of the Presidential election season. There will likely be a very different perspective on this very same issue at my other blog, Rants of a Confused Christian, explaining the dangers to faith when religion plays a central role in politics. This post is not directed at religion in a derogatory way; rather, it aims to consider the pragmatic aspects of having a political leaders who focus on their religious beliefs instead of the needs of the people they are elected to serve. This should be considered as an examination of the detrimental effects caused by religion playing a central role in politics.

A fundamental principle undergirding the structure of American democracy is the concept of personal autonomy. Given the history of this nation, it is no surprise that part of this concept of liberty is the right and ability for any citizen to follow the religion of their choice. After all, this country was founded by people persecuted for their beliefs. The structure of our government aims very specifically at escaping the trappings of restrictions on religious beliefs.

While religion is very important on a personal level, it should not carry a strong focus in American politics. The law of the land declares this country a secular nation, lead by reason, and aimed at protecting the personal interests of the individual. Religion should be personal and remain that way for several reasons.

First, the duties of a President are to consider the interests of the individuals making up our melting-pot society. To have a President who is driven solely by religious fervor is to disregard the interests of every other individual who does not share the President's religious ideology. Current Executive policy is rife with examples. Abstinence education is an apt instance. Take the position of one think tank. Ideally, abstinence education would solve social problems created by teen sex. However, the numbers suggest such a policy fails. Abstinence only education originates from a strong Judea-Christian moral structure that advocates purity of the body before marriage. I agree with the concept, but the reality of the situation is more concerned with what non-Christians do in the face of Christian-influenced policy. The fact of the matter is this so-called "religious" policy fails because it doesn't concern itself with what non-Christians will do. Considering more ubiquitous policies that approach a problem in a contextual manner is clearly the only adequate method. This means religious ideology cannot be the driving factor behind public policy.

Second, broad executive decision making should focus on determining the consequences of policy and the effect of such policies on American citizens. All too often it seems that religion creates a singular vision in the eyes of a political leader. They may be serving God's purpose, but does that purpose live up to God's mandate? The best example of this situation is the President's "war on terror." Policy decisions made in the face of this singular agenda ascribe to a focused ideology also common in many major religious organizations. The leader loses sight of the tress, so to speak, for the forest. The only thing that matters is the major goal. Beyond this point, the minutiae makes little difference. However, in present historical examples like the "war on terror" or the Iraq War, it is all to clear that the costs to the country were not adequately considered because too much weight was/is placed on the ultimate goal. The current net result is large American casualties, a reduction in protections for civil liberties, and the creation of new enemies intent on using "terrorist tactics" against American citizens. Clearly, this kind of mono-focused policy track fails to adequately preserve the needs of the people. Limiting the role of religion in pursuing foreign policy may provide a desirous result.

These are two of the most prevalent examples of how having a political leader driven by religion in making policy can, and do, detrimentally affect the greater secular whole. The result is not a better America, but one that fails to pragmatically approach social issues confronted by the average American. The executive loses sight of the important interests of the people (the trees) for the goal of their grand policy (the forest). This single minded approach to governance fails to benefit those whom the establishment was created to foster and protect. As a result, we should aim to elect leaders who put the people before the plan, who consider the practical effect of those plans, and adjust the goal according to the best interests of the public.

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