Politics and religion: strange bedfellows or longing soulmates?

Warning: This post is strictly me spit-balling my way through some thoughts.

“Separation of Church and State!”

Yada, yada yada.

I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve gotten tired of hearing it. Most people don’t know where the phrase originated from or what it meant in its original context. Most people think that it’s found in the Constitution (of the United States) but it’s not. There is this thing called the “establishment clause”, but even it has a definite historical context that should be considered carefully before whipping it out and beating someone over the head with it because, the first amendment, (1) was aimed at Congress and (2) the word “religion” meant something completely different to the founding fathers in their context than it does to us in ours.

Religion has become a broad subject that some (read: atheists) have mistakenly assumed applicable to someone other than themselves. Religion is spoken of disparagingly without any self reflection. It is assumed that it is bad, without recognition that such a belief is itself a religious belief. For example, as a credobaptist, I often take jabs at my pedobaptist brethren because my foundational beliefs dictate something about the significance of baptism that I believe they miss. The nature of one religious belief necessarily connects me to other beliefs and people who hold similar beliefs just as the beliefs of those opposite me tie them to beliefs and yet we, in spite of our differences, have similar beliefs that tie us together. Why is this?

Religion, depending upon the source, roots from one of two possible Latin stems: religare, which means “to tie or bind”; or religio, which means, “to repeat”. Perhaps the English word religion catches both meanings in that there are certain key beliefs that bind people together, and that binding only has real meaning or effect on the bond if those key beliefs are repeated in specific contexts. We use certain words to describe our differences (eg Southern Baptist and Presbyterian) and others to describe our similarities (eg Christian or, more generally, theist). The distinction is made based upon differentiation from what is held in common.  Politics, plays most of the same games.

Politics, like religion, binds through repetition. All nations are political animals, and those animals are healthy and productive when there are common values that unite the different parties that exist within it. Politics is its own religion. It has its own values and beliefs. The problem comes when the political values and beliefs develop the mistaken assumption that they exist on their own, independent of any presuppositions, that they are merely “brute facts”.

Politics, like religion, has its dogmas and mantras, its moral justifications, many of which only make sense in a normally “religious” sense. Politics, in spite of its denials, is its own religion with its own adherents, orthodoxy, and heretical opinions. The state composed by politics is not free from religion, it is a competing religion.

The founding fathers did not intend for the political state to become the chief, unquestionable religion.  When the constitution was composed, unlike every other nation in existence, the United States was not built upon a particular theological whim of doctrine. Rather its philosophy grew out of faithful men, from different religious persuasions, who worked together for greater freedom. They were men who had enough presence of mind to reflect on history and recognize that they were the end result of political conflicts that had been given a theological top-coat. They recognized that the pursuit of happiness included men feeling their way towards God without compulsion. However, they recognized something that can clearly be seen in many of their writings: their existence and success was only possible because they recognized the one, true God and dedicated themselves to that end.

Every state, every nation that existed in history had one common aspect: there was no separation from religion and politics because religious beliefs ultimately determines the policies set forward in the political state. 

Start working backwards in every policy or position and you will come into a larger worldview that informs and influences those decisions. Worldviews are religious objects that influences everything else.  And in the end, one cannot begin to discern any meaningful difference between the two.

Image source.

5 Comments

  1. I actually live in the state where the whole establishment clause got it’s start. Roger Williams founded the state, he was a misfit in the Massachusetts colony – the motto is inscribed on the RI State House –

    to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.

    That’s the original – it’s been modified somewhat.

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