Religion and Politics
Historically religion and politics have had varied views on many issues such as governance, public life, and many other issues regarding moral principles and ethics. The earliest laws that governed the people were divine laws which had a divine foundation but with time people formed their own laws which were to guide their life. This was a major cause of friction between the two. Currently, there has been an increased relationship between the religion and politics around the globe. The politics of the day are largely influenced by the religion. This is because many people are religious and they follow various denominations. The people give the government the mandate to govern them, and because the majority of same people are religious, then it is a sure fact that religions and politics have become very entangled and the two often influence each other. This paper focuses on the arguments about politics and religion as discussed by three authors namely Neuhaus, Conkle, and Audi.
Neuhaus has discussed this topic and according to him, religion should be freely practiced as provided for by the first amendment law. He describes the role that religion plays in a society that is free and democratically governed. According to him, the majority of the population in the United States of America is largely religious, and therefore it is futile to try and prevent such a robust majority, from exercising their moral obligation to their creator. In the first part of his article, Neuhaus explains how the founders such as Jefferson, once the president of United States of America, President Lincoln and others believed in the power of people’s opinion and according to Jefferson, “The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, or under its jurisdiction.”
These leaders observed that if people’s opinions were denied and instead the statutes and judicial decisions imposed on them, then they were likely to revolt anything that was said to them. During their time, Jefferson made clear that the denial of interference by the civil government on matters regarding the opinion of the people was only in religion since the people believed that superior sovereignty was also influencing the sovereignty of their government. There was meant to be the separation of religion form the state. Any views of religion were supposed to be taken as views of any other organization, and friction that usually arose from the state as a result of religion interventions was unwarranted. The state had no reason whatsoever to deny the church the freedom of free exercise.
The elites from universities and courtrooms, tried their best to remove the deep-rooted religious principles from the community, replacing them with philosophical opinions, but the population which largely followed in the footsteps of their founders really did not hear of it (Neuhaus, ?). They explained to people that separation of state from religion meant that the religion was separated from public life. This meant that to them, the state was the public life. In his view, Neuhaus disagrees and points out that the people have the opinions on how governance should be done, and that since majority are religious, then the religion was ever going to get to the public square since it is the citizens who were religious, which formed the majority.
The majority was very much important in the development of any law but they were also conscious of the minority. The main reason why the founders formed the representation democracy was to protect the opinion of the minority (Neuhaus, ?). The majority also could not infringe the opinion of the minority, since they believed in a superior being that controlled all their will. They were never sure whether that will was that of majority or minority. According to Neuhaus, it is imperative that freedom of religion be protected. He points out that the major concern is not the access of religion to the public square.
“The question is the access, indeed the full and unencumbered participation, of men and women, of citizens, who bring their opinions, sentiments, convictions, prejudices, visions, and communal traditions of moral discernment to bear on our public deliberation of how we ought to order our life together in this experiment that aspires toward representative democracy. It is of course an aspiration always imperfectly realized.” (Neuhaus, p. ?)
In the second part of his article, Neuhaus explains how the state has misinterpreted the only clause on religion. The various state organs has inverted the clause, whereby the no establishment part, that was meant to be the end goal of free exercise, has been used as a weapon to destroy the religion. The no-establishment part has been wrongly interpreted, to protect the non-religious while the free exercise has been said to cushion the religious population. This balance of the two clauses which were meant to synergize each other, has destroyed the freedom of free exercise since any attempts by religion to influence any decision, is prevented by the no establishment clause that presumably protects the nonreligious (Neuhaus, ?).
According to Neuhaus, the state has increasingly destroyed the religion, by wrong interpretation of the clause on religion in the constitutional law. He observes that as the founders had said, the opinions of the majority can make everything possible but any statutes or judicial decisions that are opposed by the majority makes everything almost impossible. The majority of the population here is religious. 90% of people are in religion and therefore stopping the religion is like stopping the will of the people to be governed democratically. He, however, takes precaution that the misuse of this clause is rife, and therefore there should be some limitation that has religious support (Neuhaus, ?). He concludes by pointing out that the promises of the first amendment law will continually generate debate until the will of majority is fulfilled.
In his discussion on the same topic, Conkle looks at the aspects of fundamentalism and the effects that this has on the politics and religion. He fundamentally talks about the secular fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism. He explains that the name fundamentalism is associated with various vices. In religion fundamentalism, he exemplifies the killings executed by the sections of Muslims, Christian, Hindus and others in the name of religion. He explains that fundamentalism in religion gives no room for reasoning or even changes to the stipulated law. The texts are absolute, plain and unchangeable.
The source of truth is absolute in the sense that it cannot be questioned on the basis of external evidence or arguments. It is plain in the sense that it requires little if any interpretation. It is unchangeable in the sense that it need not be adapted to contemporary circumstances.
This indicates if it is the bible, then all the truths that are supposed to govern our private and public life are contained there and no thinking outside that law should be considered. In the case of secular fundamentalism, a Conkle mention that this is associated with other believes that followers consider as their truth and follow it to the letter. In application of its principles, it is comparable to the religion fundamentalist and they never compromise on their stands. However comprehensive secular fundamentalist derive their believes from scientific facts as well as principals of the secular fundamentalist. They however never follow the rules of religion.
Conkle (350) indicates that the American political system has intellectual foundations in reason as well as religion. They derived this from the enlightenment which provided that religion could also be tested through reason, and also from the republican political theory. Conkle (351) outlines that the political system was completely incompatible with the religion fundamentalist, but not the general religion. He was opposed to the proposition by professor sherry that religion was antirational and that it was not likely to succeed in persuading a compromise in religion.
She argues that since the religion cannot give in even to rational argument, then it should be given a blackout in all policy development in America. Conkle however believes that religious believes can be source of rational thinking, just like faith. In his view, non religious fundamentalist have no conflicts with the enlightened population on policy formulation and are responsive to other truths apart from the text truths. In the private domain the problem of religious fundamentalism are apolitical and cause basic problems such as undervaluation of human reason, sin of intellectual pride and religious faith that are not genuine.
The secular fundamentalism does not recognize the participation of religion in the political system and it is viewed as a vehicle to political liberalism in the public domain. It is known to cause many problems that are similar to those caused by religious fundamentalism in political decision making. It is viewed to be inconsistent to the political foundations of the United States. Comprehensive secular fundamentalism moves beyond political liberalism and rejects all religious way of thinking. It finds its answers for the truth in science and secular rationalism. This applies to all questions, whether in matters of facts or moral principles (Conkle, 359). Due to this compromise, comprehensive secular fundamentalism does not have major problems with the political arena and supports the idea of naturalism (Conkle, 361). Conkle (362) explains that the search for truth is not found in fundamentalism. Other methods of truth search include dialogue and multi-lingual approaches.
This entails thinking and frantic search for answers, to questions and challenges, which are faced by the people in their daily activities. According to Conkle (364) multilingual discourse requires that participants learn and understand the moral languages used by others and they are obliged to communicate in moral languages other than their own. For example religious thinkers may not only communicate in the language of their own religious traditions, but also those of others and also in secular language. The conflict between the state and the religion is real and Conkle tries to bring out the core reasons why this difference arises and how the compromise by either helps in policy development.
Audi has also discussed the same topic with a focus on the sociopolitical role of religious arguments and the explicit use of, or tacit reliance on, religious considerations as grounds for laws or public policies (Audi, ?). He first introduces the concept of religious argument and states that the fact that religious arguments are well understood is the cause of conflict with the laws that are developed by the political class. To clarify this and help the reader in understanding the religious argument, he point to the different types of religious arguments which includes the content criterion, the epistemic criterion, the motivational criterion, and the historical criterion. According to Audi (?) religious arguments have various roles and emphasis on the roles that impact on liberal democracy. They include expression of one, communication between people to understand the deepest feelings of each other, persuasion so as to convince people to support certain views, providing evidence to the questions that are fostered by the challenges in life and also play a heuristic role derived from the teachings of the holy books.
Audi then discusses the roles of the religious arguments in politics and ethics and according to him religion and politics are very close domains among humans and the two should compromise some of their principles with the changing times to accommodate for developments that were absent when they were written. This he indicates would reduce the constant friction that is observed between the two domains. He also says that just like the church and the state separated are separated institutionally, religion should also be separated from law and public policy matters, especially when passing restrictive laws. This would require motivation and rationale principles (Audi, ?). He holds some principles and says “my principles imply that one should ask of one’s reasons certain evidential, historical, and hypothetical questions. One is entitled to use practical wisdom in deciding how much effort is reasonable to expend in a given case”. (Audi, ?).
The authors have a similar view and they concur that there is a conflict between the politics and religion but approaches the issue from different angles. According to me, Audi proposes the strongest argument since he first tells us about the beliefs held in religion and how they can be constructively integrated in politics without really hurting the pride of the church or the political class in a big way. The way he goes deep to explaining the various criterion of religious arguments help one understand from what point in religion the argument is based and how to blend it in way that helps in mutual acceptance of decisions made. However the other two arguments are also very informative, with Conkle deepening our knowledge the word fundamentalism and how far ii affects the two doctrines.