It is this bloggers firm opinion that one’s religious views cannot and should not be separated from one’s political opinions, but we should not demand religious devotion from our politicians.
Our religious views inform our opinions and affect who we are. We ought to be able to talk about our beliefs publicly and without fear. We ought to be able to discuss how our religious beliefs affect which policies we favor without being dismissed or ridiculed.
We must also recognize that our government does not exist to advance one religious viewpoint over another and that the eternal salvation of mankind is not and has never been our government’s purpose. The salvation of mankind and the moral state of individuals is a matter of personal and ecclesiastical concern, not a matter of public policy. They should be left to individuals and religious organizations.
It is impossible and inadvisable to separate our views on religion from our political views: our religious views will always affect how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what helps and what harms others and what our rights and responsibilities are. As these are some of the most important foundations of any nation’s law, religious views (or the lack thereof) cannot be separated from law and should not be.
We must recognize, however, when our political views are based on our religious views. We cannot expect others to simply adopt our political viewpoint if doing so would mean changing their religion. Politics follow religion, religion does not follow politics. If the laws we seek to establish rest solely on our religious convictions and are therefore meaningless to someone who does not share our beliefs, then we are demanding that they adopt our religious practices and we deny them freedom of conscience. If we seek to change others religious views, we must do so in a religious context, not a political one.
More importantly, if we demand religious fervor from our politicians, we will get it, or rather we will get the appearance of it. The lust for power that our constitution seeks to harness and turn to the public benefit will consistently push political hopefuls into playing whatever role they must to gain public support. Since true religious conviction cannot be measured and we can only base our judgment on appearances, if we demand religious conviction what we are likely to get is hypocrisy and the appearance of conviction. Candidates will compete to appear more religious than their opponents and politics becomes in part a contest to see who is the most convincing actor.
It is true that many people identify religion with character. Character does indeed count, but character is found among the followers of every religion and among those who profess no religion. It is hard enough to judge character when it is simply a set of behaviors. Defining character as devotion to a fixed set of religious principles makes that judgment impossible.
Let us demand accountability and integrity from our politicians. Let us not demand from them either devotion to a particular religion or eternal salvation for our citizens.