Thursday, December 13, 2007

Religion in Politics

This is another one of those non-game posts that have been banging around in my head for a while. Lets knock this big one down with a rant. Who knows, maybe I'll write about sex next? The game world is all about sales right now with not a lot of thought about other stuff (I think). So, something else:

In graduate school I did my thesis on a figure who founded the school of Soto Zen Buddhism named Dogen. This leader was warned by his superiors to stay out of politics. Religion and politics became so intertwined in Japanese politics of the 12th century that the government actually moved the capital to avoid its influences. Those religions who exerted power on government tended to be persecuted, marginalized and generally gutted when the tide of politics turned.

This is something I've had in the back of my mind since the beginning of the Bush administration. You can have your religion in government, but tides turn, the view of your religion will rise and fall on your political fortunes. Expect backlash and potential ruin to follow. Now I think we're finally seeing some backlash against the evangelical movements involvement in politics. It mostly takes the secular form of greenbacks, dollars to Democrats.

Still, one poll reports that 53% of Americans wouldn't vote for a qualified presidential candidate who didn't believe in God (God with a big G). We're not a secular nation by any means. Nevertheless, Mitt Romney has annoyed a good number of people, myself included, with his indivisible declaration of church and state:
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
What a bunch of crap. The highly secular democratic people of Europe would strongly disagree with this. Just because religion played an important role in our own country's founding doesn't make it true for everyone. The logic doesn't follow. It's like declaring that enduring freedom requires the wearing of powdered wigs, because our founding fathers were so inclined. And why do you think Europe is so secular today? It was the constant meddling of religion in politics. I think that's the fate of the US in years to come. Religion will be for old ladies with head scarves as everyone will know its societal perils.

I feel the level of annoyance and concern over religion in politics is beginning to rise. As an Economist article pointed out, there are roughly ten times as many atheists as their are Jews in this country. It's their lack of organization that keeps religion in politics alive. Nobody courts atheists, in fact, it's a dirty word in this country. I'm not claiming atheism is the answer and I don't mind religious holidays or Christmas decorations on public property, or other public acts of religion. The country is mostly Christian, I accept that. What concerns me is the crusade that Republicans find themselves on against their foes, both in their culture war and abroad. As one of my professors once told me, Buddhist-Christian dialog is open discussion to avoid the Christians from killing the Buddhists. You have to watch these people.

Perhaps the Republicans know their time is over for a while, so they pander to their base, knowing they have no chance of being elected this time. Democrats aren't exactly seizing the day, however. Rather than taking a strong stand for a separation of religion and politics, the Democrats have cleverly moved to the religious center, even holding a debate on their own religiosity. I would hope that they could instead shine the light of reason and common sense on the acts of an administration that seems to lack both. Then again, that 53% number keeps popping into my mind. People get the government they deserve in a democracy, according to Tocqueville. Unfortunately, individuals are smart and reasoned, while people are idiots.

Click to enlarge for some OOTS fun


  1. Well, to start on a positive note, I share your phobia of Republicans, even though I am a conservative born-again Christian. High level Repubs just pay lip service to their spirituality, and then hand out huge tax breaks to the rich once elected. Christianity is misused by Repubs - an electoral springboard into a political career of nepotism and incompetence.

    I also agree in some strong separation of church and state. I don't want to promote my faith by the sword, and I don't want others to promote theirs by the sword, either.

    However, to me, your post was wrong on many other issues, more than I can address here.

    Despite your claims to the contrary, there is a strong streak of Christian-phobia. Don't worry, we're not going to burn the Buddhists at the stake. I also hope you differentiate the "Christian" politicians you see on TV from the Christian person on the street.

    Christianity doesn't fuel the world's conflicts. Inherent human evil does. Sure, people manipulate spirituality to cause calamity, but if you set aside "religion" violent nationalism and ethnic strife are more than happy to take up the slack. As exhibit "A" I provide you with the 20th century: the world's most aspiritual and violent 100 years in human history. I won't hold my breath waiting for a human-made secular wonderland.

    Christianity is not going to be just for "old ladies" in the future. If anything we are due for, and experiencing, some backlash against rising lefty worldview in the personal sphere. People are sick of the aggressive foisting of alternative lifestyles, living only for one's own pleasure, broken relationships, foulmouthed, tawdry, empty pursuit of material goods, and soulless sexual hookups. You can't even turn on the TV or walk down the street without anti Christian propaganda being drilled into you. It makes me chuckle when people complain about the overwhelming influence of Christianity. Thanks, I think people are pretty good at keeping ol' God out of their life, LOL.

    In the public sphere, there will be a shake-up. I think the George W Bush debacle will change the way evangelicals vote. They are demanding more than Spiritual and moral credentials - they want more competence! More Christians are demanding action in traditional left-wing areas neglected by Republicans, like the health of the environment. I think that's a good thing.

    Anyways I don't think I got my points across very well in my very limited time but if it makes you feel any better, I didn't vote for Bush :)

  2. Being a Republican is not the same as being an Evangelical Christian.

    Personally, I think that Huckabee is almost an exact clone of Bill Clinton - with just two exceptions: one, he isn't groping and demanding favors from half the women he comes into contact with (at least not that we've heard of), and the second is that he is anti-abortion.

    That makes only one political difference between one of the Democrats most reviled by the religious right, and Huckabee - their stance on an issue that neither can actually change.

    It will be a great day for America when the Republicans distance themselves from the religious extremists, and once again embrace the conservative national (defense, rational immigration policies, rule of law, personal responsibility & freedom) and economic (low taxes, small government)policies that most Americans actually support.

    Sad that the single issue that the Presidential election is set to hinge upon is whether or not a politician says abortion should be legal or not.

  3. Competence would be a nice change. Before Bush, I used to think, yeah, a Republican isn't what I want, but at least they believe in balancing the budget and keeping troops out of war.

    I'm probably more libertarian than anything else, although they can get a little wacky when their philosophy is pushed too hard.

    I have nothing against religion, having spent years studying it with seminary students. I consider myself spiritual, but not religious, but only because I'm not part of a religious community.

    My big point was that I think it's a bit dangerous to mix it with politics and is likely to lead to some serious conflict down the road, with religion suffering the consequences. I've read that many young people are now very wary of religion, after nearly eight years of Republicans hiding behind it. It's pretty shameful.

    I applaud the young evangelical move towards a more diverse platform. The environment and social justice are there for the picking. I'm personally against abortion, being a big proponent of adoption, but I'm not for changing public policy.

    It would be nice if these smart, motivated young Christians could actually accomplish something productive, rather than spinning their wheels on this one, divisive issue.

    What strikes me as deeply suspicious about evangelical politicians is their interpretation of the Bible and how it intersects with global politics, especially in regards to the Middle-East. There seems to be a lot of Armageddon talk out there, with evangelicals aligned with Israel to move things along. Scary.

  4. You're talking about a radical fringe group of extremists - they are considered extreme both by the majority of Christians and Republicans who actually examine what they are saying and stand for.

    Pete Wilson - God bless him! - Told it like it was back int he 1990s when he went to the Republican convention and had the balls to say that over 75% of Republicans support keeping some form of abortion legal and safe. He also asked why the party was turning its back on all of those Republicans - as well as the centrist voters - by pandering to 7% of the party - 7% that really have no place else to go if the Republicans moderate their stand on abortion.

    When the religious nutjobs threatened to go to a third party if Guiliani or Thompson is nominated, I called out "Hallelujuah! Praise the Lord!" The sooner we get those freaks out of our party, the better off we will be.
    Republicans need to be the party of a strong America, reduced crime, smaller government, lower taxes, sensible laws, independent people (who maintain their rights under all of the Amendments - rather than just 1st, 4th, and 14th), personal accountability, economic growth, and small business - not the party of "making abortion illegal".

  5. Dammit, you're supposed to hold the political and/or religious talk until I have my internet back! (scheduled for next Wednesday if you're keeping track)

    I'll just run a few quick responses:

    1) Several of our most famous founding fathers were not, in fact, Christians. They were Deists. An important distinction between the two are that Deists, while respecting Jesus as a philosopher, did not believe he was divine. Jefferson and Franklin were both Deists. I believe Washington was too, but could be wrong on that. They were all spiritual men, and were not atheists, they definitely believed in a God, just not necessarily the God of most Christian churches.

    2) If you live on the coasts you may feel that religion is being somehow oppressed in this country (I'd argue that you're wrong, but I could see how you might see it that way). It only took me a couple of days here in "flyover country" to see how false that is. You can't buy a condom in a grocery store here because of the influence that Churches have in all areas of society here. A few movies or TV shows isn't going to do much to dent that, it just gives them a convenient strawman to grasp for even more influence.

    3) Clinton and Huckabee are both religious men from Arkansas who also happen to be politicians. I'm not sure they have much else in common, especially not in how they let their religious beliefs influence their policies.

    4) That radical fringe is the one with the political clout. I've listened to James Dobson and his ilk for years, and while they lost their way a long time ago, they still have a huge following among otherwise sensible middle-americans. In many ways it comes to the same problem with the radical Islamists, until the moderates stand up and actively denounce them, they will continue to appear to support them regardless of their actual views.

    5) I'm more or less with Joe on where I wish the Republican Party would go. To borrow a religious metaphor: it's going to take a while in the wilderness for them to ever get there.

  6. The Repubs didn't get themselves into their current mess because of the actions of an active minority of "religious nutjobs." They got in this mess because they are Republicans. The greed and corruption in the party stems from both its religious and non-religious members. How many Repub crooks were found with their face in the feedbag the last few years? How many $$$ scandals? It's shameful.

    Christianity doesn't drive Bush and Reagan to massively overspend. Christianity doesn't make Bush hand out massive tax breaks to the ultra-rich when we are running record deficits. What, was Bush too busy attending anti-abortion rallies to review the budget? Yeah, right, nice try. Despite their religious rhetoric, "Christian" Republicans are quick to fulfill the "secular" Republicam agenda - like dismantling the estate tax for the megawealthy and ignoring industrial pollution. Blaming a history of bad economic and foreign policy on a small minority is a convenient way to ignore the greater rot in the party.

  7. "2) If you live on the coasts you may feel that religion is being somehow oppressed in this country (I'd argue that you're wrong, but I could see how you might see it that way). It only took me a couple of days here in "flyover country" to see how false that is. You can't buy a condom in a grocery store here because of the influence that Churches have in all areas of society here. A few movies or TV shows isn't going to do much to dent that, it just gives them a convenient strawman to grasp for even more influence."

    Right. I had imagined that gay partnerships are being legalized, and that there was a multibillion dollar entertainment industry that glamorizes liberal lifestyles, and that millions of people are shacking up instead of getting married. But that must be only happening in SF, right?

  8. The reason for the massive spending by R's and the tax cuts to cause deficits is that it follows along with the far right's desire to bankrupt the Federal government. Only after that occurs can they gut all of the social programs that they so abhor. Bush is following right along by refusing to allow SCHIP to be expanded even though it is supported by a majority of both parties (just no enough to override a veto). Grover Norquist and the gang have been working on this for years.

  9. I came upon this op-ed piece by Roger Cohen of the New York Times today that expresses this stuff much better than I could:

    Highly recommended.

  10. "Right. I had imagined that gay partnerships are being legalized, and that there was a multibillion dollar entertainment industry that glamorizes liberal lifestyles, and that millions of people are shacking up instead of getting married. But that must be only happening in SF, right?"

    In most of the country "gay partnerships" are being specifically outlawed (as they were here in Arkansas). California doesn't even allow legal gay marriage. Last I checked there's still only one state that does and it's constantly under attack there. Announcing that "we're easily winning the fight against gay marriage" doesn't bring in the same level of donations as "we're under assault and about to become the next Soddom or Gamorah."

    Personally, if you think that gay marriage is a litmus worthy issue, then I don't consider you to be a moderate Christian. The Bible says as much about the evils of usery as it does the evils of homosexuality, but I don't see a lot of these self-proclaimed Christian politicians calling for a radical overhaul of the US banking system.

    The actions of individuals pursuing their own happiness in ways that do not directly harm you is not an assault on your beliefs, it's part of the American ideal. An ideal that is being increasingly forgotten.

  11. You totally missed the point and went off on a tangent. I'm not here to start a pro / anti gay rant. I'm only pointing out the incredibly obvious cultural change that has occurred.

    My point is, if one has not noticed the gradual liberalization over the past 50 years, then one has been in cryogenic freeze. The country's culture has changed, big-time, leaning a hard left regarding standards, "norms", and lifestyles. It's gut bustingly hilarious that people are complaining about the alleged growing cultural stranglehold of churches.

  12. My point about W.J. Clinton and Huckabee being alike is this:

    With the exception of the abortion issue, both seem willing to go whichever way the wind blows on most issues.

    Many Dems considered W.J. Clinton to be "soft" - centrist or even conservative/right wing - on some policies. These would include walking out on Kyoto, following many of the Republican congress' economic policies, etc.

    Many Repubs consider Huckabee to be "soft" on a lot of issues as well, but he's rock solid on the issue that matters least to most Republicans.

    @Nikolas - There is as much greed and corruption among teh Dems as among teh Repubs. The biggest difference is in how the party members treat their politicians when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
    Dems will back their corrupt leaders all the way, while Repubs are more likely to ditch the crooks pretty quickly (for notes, see Congressaman Jefferson with the freezer full of bribe money - still in office, and Sen Feinstein directing contracts to her husband's companies over and over again, or how Hillary continues the legacy of improper and illegal campaign contributions used so successfully by her husband and Mr. "no controlling leagal authority" Gore - compared to how Cunningham was drummed out by the Repubs).

    The beltway culture is responsible for a lot of the corruption.
    Along with the deficiencies of a two party system, this beltway disconnect from mainstream America causes no end of political nightmares for us.

  13. If I misinterpret anyone's statements, I apologize. I'm trying to respond in between bursts of connectivity, so I'm not putting my replies through my usual level of scrutiny before hitting "submit".

    Now, let the ranting commence:

    @ Nikolas: you're the one that equated my comment on religion being oppressed with gay marriage and people choosing to live together without being married. That's what I was responding to.

    Your perception that American culture is leaning "hard left" is true only when comparing it to the culture of America in the 1950s. Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, and many other periods of American history, we are still quite conservative.

    The one exception is our entertainment media, which currently tends to be more liberal than the overall culture; however, with the huge variety of programming options available, it's quite possible to consume only "wholesome" entertainment if one chooses to do so.

    I don't think I ever mentioned any "cultural stranglehold" that Churches have, but they definitely have a very real impact at the local and regional level that influences far more than their congregations. I point back to my earlier example of the condom.

    That's not even a legal restriction, simply the fact that no grocery store would carry them for fear of being picketed or boycotted. I could go on and on about the asinine liquor laws here that restrict the sales of alcohol in stupid ways, and the way they stay on the books because of church opposition.

    The end result is annoyance for everyone, regardless of faith. Not to mention a far higher number of liquor and "adult" stores per capita than in supposedly liberal east bay California :P

    @Joe: Huckabee is a Creationist with a capital "C". To me that's a huge difference right there. I'm tired of having a President that doesn't accept the validity of the scientific method.