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.