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Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: How Does Religion Influence Politics

"How Does Religion Influence Politics" is enlightening in some aspects. From now on, I will keep an open mind when listening to the ideas of  religious politicians or even  religious people that vocalize their political opinions. Certainly, not all religious folks in politics are nonsensical. There are some good apples within the bunch.   Sure I think that there are a great deal of religious crazies out there. There are people who want to blanket their ideas on the entire country, regardless of its heterogeneity. That will never change. They exist in every religious or even non-religious sect.

I am not oppose to religion. Politicians who promote policies based solely on religion, alienate much of  the public. By some folks standards, those who utilize religion for political gain, have not only corrupted their political affiliations, but the religious hierarchy. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum deepened this sort of sentiment when he campaigned for the 2012 presidency, throughout the Republican primaries. Santorum made it clear that Conservatives and right wingers were on the side of God, and those who were in political opposition, were wasteful and loose. Political arguments such as these are not simply divisive but demeaning towards those who are different. This sort of rhetoric is intolerable in a country that promotes democracy, equality and freedom. The Senator's controversial method rallied social Conservatives around him, but the thunder left him, just as quickly as he became the Republican  party's overnight sensation.

Not all religious people are destructive and attempting to place judgement on others. Nor are they all attempting to cast out evil and throw holy water on nonreligious people.There are some secular groups that lump all religious people in one group, as though all religious folks are all back-water, backward thinking, uneducated folk.  Paul Marshall gives an insightful statement, "The world is full of religious extremist who harm no one and make positive contributions in society; secular pundits would benefit from learning about these groups."(1)

At best,"How Does Religion Influence Politics by At Issue: American Politics" is an educated assessment of religion and its contribution. We must be careful when we pass judgement on folks that have different political opinions than our own. For some, religion may be a nuisance in politics. Religion has served a historical purpose on policies. "Jehovah Witnesses  annoy many by ringing our doorbells while we're having dinner. But growth of religious freedom in almost every Western country owes much to the Witnesses' peaceful quest to be allowed to be conscientious objectors to military service". (2) In fact, religion has affected our moral thinking, therefore influenced how we view policies.

Though religious people can be merited to good policies that we all benefit from today, religious principles  are being aggressively utilized for less than honorable agendas in our present day. Republicans started to take an excruciating right, as they take a great leap into the eye of religion. According to this book, George W. Bush vetted the religious right, making the Republican Party possibly the most Conservative in history, as he consulted  with religious leaders on social issues throughout his presidency.  Bush courted traditionalist religious leaders from various groups and successfully utilized it for its political advantage, even building an alliance with the Orthodox Jewish community. This mere tactic was successful in pushing fundamentalists over to the Republican Party and ultimately, the GOP won in the Bush years. G. W. Bush's tactic was successful in garnering a powerful special interest group, but it excluded Americans who were pro-choice, pro- gay marriage and advocates of stem-cell research. This did very little to unite the nation.

A major political party that simply touts religion runs out of gas eventually. While our country is inclusive to religion, its foundational purpose did not want the two the merge. For example,  John Kennedy believed in the separation of church and state.  The separation of church and state has allowed religion to flourish without interference from government. It is not an assassination of religion. People who oppose separation between church and state want government to promote religion, which is unconstitutional. However, separation of church and state does not mean that religious views should be excluded from politics. "The public needs to hear voices of the religiously based morality for a fair assessment of ideas for the purpose of justice and equality".(3) After all, religion was the basis for the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement and women's suffrage movement.

Yet the right must have done something right. Right? As one writer notes, Democrats have been out of touch with a large segment of the American people. They have lost a bulk of religious voters to the opposition. They clearly need to get involved in the religion-discussion; After all, Democrats lost the elections in 2000 and 2004. They have been huge supporters of  issues like gay marriage and abortion. They are similar to Republicans. Their campaigns have been restricted to social issues. It's a short-term strategy.
The two most powerful political parties couldn't be further apart. Even though the Democratic Party consist of a religious sect, in recent years, it has been associated with progressives, secular groups, and liberals. Republicans are associated with the very far right , attracting the who's who of the religious society.
It is not a perfect model for Republicans in a long run, though. There is something very wrong about turning the preachers against those he is attempting to save.  It's some sort of twisted ordained righteousness. Jim Wallis quotes " The right is comfortable with the language of religion, values, God Talk, so much so that they sometimes claim to own that territory, or own God..."(4)

"How Does Religion Influence Politics" instills a semi-healthy debate on politics and religion. Be prepared to open your mind up to opinions that are entirely different than your own. This book was not meant to be one-sided. However, some arguments are lacking sufficiency. It attempts to bridge a gap between secular and religious individuals, by formulating reason for acceptance of religion in political debates. It does very little to explain the skepticism regarding religion on the left. It just appears that it spanks Republicans for utilizing religion for political gain, yet promotes religious activism in politics anyway. With all due respect, it is understandable that religion has influenced political decisions in the past. More specifically, the book should have specified that people of faith have influenced policy decisions. Saying religion has directly influenced policies, maybe somewhat incorrect, especially if we are adhering to the legalities in policy-making. It is indeed a fine line. This book is too short and far too narrow in its opinions. Certainly, much more was needed. I give "How Does Religious Influence Politics" a two out of five stars. In my opinion, it is incomplete.

(1) Chapter 5- Paul Marshall, The Religious Right is Unfairly Criticized, p30
(2) Chapter 5- Paul Marshall, The Religious Right is Unfairly Criticized, p34
(3) Chapter 7- Separation Between Church and State Does Not Mean That Religious Views Should Be Excluded from Politics, p49
(4) Chapter 4- Jim Wallis, The Religious Right has too Much Political Influence, p25 

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