The intersection of religion and politics, particularly in the U.S., has presented a series of issues and challenges. Starting with a very brief overview of the origin and history of religion, and how it has impacted human societies, we then dive into how religion and politics interact in the U.S. We explore that interaction in depth by focusing on Roe v. Wade and how Donald Trump was able to forge alliances with many fundamentalist Christian churches despite not living the kind of life those churches encourage their adherents to live. Given the importance and value of religion to so many people, what can we do to both accentuate the benefits and minimize or manage the risks it poses, particularly in the political sphere?
Most scholars focus on how, both historically and currently, religion provides two key categories of benefits to society: explaining the unknown and being a powerful community builder. Specifically, religion can provide hope, a powerful psychological tool, and can lay out a framework for how a community can work together and provide mutual support. Interestingly, as faith calls us to a higher purpose and helps forge a community, religion, organized faith, tends to cement us into those communities and act to resist change. As a result, religious beliefs tend to exhibit both liberal and conservative features when overlaid on top of our social, political, and economic lives.
Many issues arise because the conservative – meaning, slow to change – nature of institutionalized religion makes it less open to new information and new ideas, including new understanding gained by science. Scientists throughout history have not infrequently been treated as heretics, and the need to maintain control has been taken to extremes many times in human history, sometimes resulting in brutal wars over religious differences.
In the U.S., despite the “separation of church and state,” religion is omnipresent in politics and in politicians’ justifications of policy beliefs. And this connection can get quite tight , as demonstrated by the modern GOP’s successful pursuit of religious – particularly fundamentalist – believers. Even though the resulting public policies often conflict with the overall teachings of the religion.
This phenomenon is perhaps best illustrated most recently by the election and continued support of Donald Trump. Trump represents the epitome of how religion – a force one would expect should be a net positive for community – can be corrupted to actually be an agent against the values it otherwise holds. Many religious believers (both other politicians, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens) who claim to hold the moral high ground not only just tolerated him, but actually embraced him and sent him lots of money!
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