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“The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet.” ~ Andy Warhol
Opposites attract, or so we’re told.
I’ve never reflected personally on the relationship between politics and religion. Other than knowing the cliché of “never discuss politics or religion in a group,” it never occurred to me that the two taboo subjects could be so intertwined.
In American government, the Establishment Clause denotes that government will not establish a religion and will not limit the practice of any religion. Yet, in America, politics and religion often appear to be in bed together.
My younger years were consumed with ambitious efforts of climbing the corporate ladder after college, and I never cared much about politics. That changed significantly when I came out as gay at 44. I was divorced from a 14-year marriage to my daughter’s father, and embarking upon a same-sex committed relationship that could not culminate in marriage legally at the time.
I learned that when I was married in a heterosexual relationship, I enjoyed exactly 1,173 legal rights and benefits to which I was no longer privileged in a same-sex relationship. It quickly became clear that the restrictive laws were originating from a moral perspective.
More than ever before, Americans seem to be aware of politics. Interestingly enough, there are still many people who do not vote. I’ve never given much thought as to why someone else would choose not to vote, as I personally didn’t vote until I was 32. My reasoning was that I didn’t know anything about politics, and I didn’t want to learn. I was unconcerned with how I was actually impacted by politics then.
This year, when I asked a younger colleague if she’d voted yet, I wasn’t surprised when she responded that she hadn’t. I was surprised when she went on to say that she didn’t vote because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.
How exactly is our democracy affected by religion? The Religious Right is a movement born in the 1970s as a response to the sexual revolution from the late 1960s. Its premise is based on a culture war between what was considered traditional, religious, and moral family values and more secular, hedonistic values. The movement has been a prevalent force in creating laws affecting everyone in the United States. Its presence in history is evident with legislation around abortion, school prayer, same-sex marriage, as well as the newer attempts at legislation around religious liberty.
Clearly, I knew that religion affected laws that personally impacted me, but I had never considered that religion could also impact politics by abstinence as well. After an enlightening conversation with my colleague, I wondered how other religions affected our political environment. I uncovered a lot of data related to how various religions interact with politics. Below I’ve listed some data on three of those that I found interesting: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and Muslims.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in politics at all. Catholics lean to “the Church’s wisdom” related to social issues, and become involved in politics to “teach moral truths to the public.” Pew Research’s data supports that Muslims feel that religion should play a prominent role in politics and that religious leaders should be political leaders.
Relative to religion, how much participation in government is too much? It seems logical that a smaller percentage of religions could be underserved in our government due to lack of representation, while other religions could impose a theocratic dominance in our government.
According to Pew Research:
>> Jehovah’s Witnesses account for less than one percent of the American population (consists of approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 Hispanic, and 1/3 black ethnic communities)
>> Muslims constitute approximately 1.1 percent of the American population (made up of roughly 40 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent black members)
>> Roughly 22 percent of Americans identify as Catholic (composed of approximately 60 percent white, and 35 percent hispanic)
Larger percentages of religious members could negatively impact different members and demographics in our country. Religion masquerading as politics carries a risk of impeding upon the Establishment Clause. Proof that smaller populations of people could be negatively impacted by religion is certainly evident among the gay community.
Protestants make up almost 50 percent of the United States population today, and the insertion of religious beliefs of protestants into United States politics has most assuredly impacted other Americans. Women, LGBT, non-Caucasian ethnicities, children, and other religions have all been negatively impacted at one point by governance initiated on the basis of religion.
Our amazing country was founded on independence. Independence could be interpreted as freedom to practice a religion of one’s choice, as well as freedom from practicing any religion at all. The document that is the foundation of our country, The Declaration of Independence, states unequivocally our American purpose:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Greek word for “happiness” is eudaimonia, which can be interpreted with a broader meaning than individual happiness. It’s meant to encompass living one’s best life with virtue, morality, and meaning, and contributing to society with those gifts.
Warhol had the right idea with the concept of opposites exciting attractions. Religion is attracted to the power of politics, as is politics to religion. He was probably also right on track with the idea that these two shouldn’t meet.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemoller
We’re no longer in the throes of the sexual revolution of the 60s, and as a population, it’s possible that our definition of hedonism has evolved somewhat. Sex itself is more of a mainstream topic today. Do we, as a society, really need to legislate virtue and morality? Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict birth control are no longer “protections” for the American people. Those attempts are intrusive by the government today, and they do more harm to our citizens than good.
What if we, as individuals, could live our own moral truths without imposing them onto others? What if we, as a society, could allow each other to live with the fruits of religion—kindness, compassion, and love—without using them as weapons against others?
Imagine what we could do as a society without fear of opposites. Imagine what could happen if we all practiced eudaimonia.
Religion and politics are indeed the strangest of bedfellows, and the intermingling of the two are a dangerous proposition for America. Speak out for those who need your voice by registering to vote.
Speak out by going to the polls and casting your vote.