Religion in Politics

The story so far…

I responded to a friend’s post on Facebook. It stirred a great conversation. Here is the last reply I received and my response.

From Shane Ashcraft:

I just don’t understand how religion matters because it somehow tells us how someone would make decisions. Is the process through which one makes a decision important? Or is it really the decision itself? You said yourself that if someone who exercises what you know is right through conscience, conviction, and character, you will vote for him/her regardless of religion. In that case, religion doesn’t matter.

My Response: How a decision is made is as important as the decision itself otherwise we risk the ends justifying the means. I would also argue that we can’t know how or what a candidate would decide on any issue without some kind of label. Incumbents are different, but for candidates it’s a place to start. A candidate’s religion tells us as much about that candidate as the political party with which they are affiliated. Party platform tells us where they stand on some issues. Religious affiliation speaks to other issues. A candidate who claims a particular religious belief, but who doesn’t practice those beliefs has shown how well they can be trusted to keep their word.

From Shane:

History has produced several modern nations founded on the principles of freedom. I’m sure that France and England would not like to be told that their nations, as they know them now, were not founded on the principles of of freedom. Granted, these nations were well established before the revolutionized their political schemes, but historically speaking, those are different governments, thus they can be considered different countries.

My Response: Freedom in France and England isn’t the same as freedom in America. Neither have produced a document in defense of individual freedom quite like the Bill of Rights. Freedom of Speech in England and France are vastly different than in the U.S. Recently in the U.K. a student was sentenced to 56 days in jail for racist remarks he made on Twitter about a footballer. His remarks were stupid, insensitive, vulgar and rude – and in the U.K. his words alone were a jail-able offense. In America he may be publicly shamed by the media. He might be ostracized by his friends, or black-balled in his career, but because of the Bill of Rights he would never go to jail for the words he wrote or spoke. Freedom here isn’t he same as freedom around the world.

From Shane:

Also, much of the Christian diction found in our history is either not actually Christian, or it was simply put there for propagana. Example for the former could be “endowed by their Creator.” That is a reference to a Deist clockmaker. Also, it’s worth noting that statement has a parenthetical asterisk by it that meant “all white people.” An example of the latter is the mention of God on our money and in our pledge. Both were placed strategically during times of struggle to raise morale. “In God We Trust” was placed on the Union money during the Civil War to keep support for the war going. “Under God” was placed in the pledge in an attempt to unite Americans under some sort of belief, which was the antithesis to the atheism of the Communists. Notice that there is no mention of Jesus in the religious writing found in actual practice. It is simply a reference to some form of higher being. It’s just easy to think that it’s a Christian god because that’s what the majority of the country wants to believe.

My Response: Your understanding of history, Deism and the founding fathers is inaccurate.

How would anyone prove they chose propagandist language for the purpose of manipulating the masses? That sounds less like historic fact and more like opinion.

As far as the language used in our founding documents – I’ve not argued that it was exclusively Christian, however the principles of Scripture and Christian thought permeate the documents they wrote.

The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men. 28 were Episcopal (originally Church of England, Episcopal after the Revolution), 8 were Presbyterian, 7 Congregationalists; others included Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker and Unitarian, in all, approximately 49 Protestants and 2 Roman Catholics. 2 were ministers.

A few would claim Christianity as their faith, but would reject orthodox (read ‘organized’) religion. They would describe themselves as theistic rationalists or deists. These included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. But don’t mistake Deism and a rejection of orthodox religion for a rejection of the basic principles of Christianity.

Saying Deist isn’t based in Christianity is like saying Alabama isn’t part of America.

A Deist views God as the great ‘clock-maker’. It’s the idea that God set natural laws in motion and now allows those laws to guide and govern the existence of the universe. Another basic tenant of Deism is that one can prove the existence of God without the need for inspired revelation. In other words, God’s work in creation is ‘self evident’. Does that phrase sound familiar? For a Deist the Bible is useful for the natural law it reveals, however a Deist would find the miracles and special revelation of God described in the Bible unnecessary. Thomas Jefferson spent time creating the “Jefferson Bible”, a work designed to emphasize those practical teachings of Scripture and minimize or remove the miraculous. You can’t argue that because Jefferson was a Deist he wasn’t Christian or heavily influenced by Christian thought. On the contrary, Jefferson would argue that he was Christian and that Deism is how he viewed his faith.

You’ll find within Christianity that there are lots of classifications like this. I am a Christian. I’m also Southern Baptist. I lean toward Calvinism more than Armenianism (BTW, parts of Calvinism share common ground with Deism). My view of end time Biblical prophecy is most closely related to dispensational pre-millennialism. I can argue the pro’s and con’s of each of these positions yet none of these 50 cent words disqualify my first position. I am a Christian.

In all likelihood the founding fathers had a greater understanding of Scripture than many faithful church attendees today. Beyond that, because of the time in which they lived, compared to the founding fathers, modern denominations within Christianity would likely be considered extremely liberal in their view and application of Scripture.

Continuing to explain the watch-maker view of God, Deists were also determinists, the idea that God, through the system he designed, has pre-determined the outcome of events. It’s actually an argument against the concept of freewill. Like modern hyper-Calvinists a Deist would likely be more concerned about following the practical principles of Scripture than people who subscribed to other schools of thought within Christianity because they would view their adherence to these principles as evidence they are following the watch-maker’s design.

All that to say – the Deist argument doesn’t remove ‘Christian’ as a significant influence in some of our founding fathers. On the contrary, it proves it.

Finally – it was the great irony and hypocrisy of our founding fathers that the parenthetical asterisk next to ‘all men are created equal’ really meant WASP – White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant (btw…Protestant is a Christian designation) – some also would have added, ‘land owner’. It was this hypocrisy that led to the Civil War and ultimately the Civil Rights movement. Yet we see significant leaders in both of those movements continuing to call on Christian thought and Scriptural language to move the nation toward what is right. Like some of our founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln didn’t adhere to organized religion, yet his speeches and writings are filled with Scripture and references to God. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian preacher. His famous, “I Have a Dream Speech” quotes Scripture directly. This wasn’t propaganda. It was the passionate plea of a man who, by his training and chosen profession, committed his life to the promotion of the gospel and the civil rights of all people.

Christians are far from perfect. The religious wars fought because Christians argued with each other or dogmatically demanded some kind of allegiance to their faith are well document. The fact remains, the history of western culture is both the history of the rise of Christianity and the rise of equality and individual personal freedom. These things didn’t rise together in spite of one another, but because of one another.

It can be argued that Christianity is on the decline in America. At the same time so are our personal, individual freedoms. Is it possible that these things are somehow related?

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