Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


April 28, 2015: Why Politics and Religion Don't Mix

By Rob Tenery, MD on April 28, 2015

Agreeing or not with his decisions, it would be hard to deny that George W. Bush was a religious man and that his faith in our Creator helped him through some very difficult times. He didn’t use his religious beliefs to define his Presidency, but to give him support during his Presidency.

A growing number of candidates for public office feel they are being forced to run away from their faith publicly, rather than being marginalized. We seem to confuse one’s faith with one’s religion. A religion is a system of attitudes, beliefs and practices that were created by man. Faith is a personal support system that is shored up by the teachings of a particular religion. Just like political persuasions, there may be teachings by a particular religion with which an individual may not fully support, but still align with that religion. In the end, no matter what religion we align with, we all answer to God. The concerns raised when talking about separation of ‘church from state’, come when religious beliefs, which vary from religion to religion, trump decisions are made through faith.

The distinction should be whether the candidates are defined by their faith, rather than just the teachings of their particular religion. Those who are defined by their faith, often attempt to bring others to their own line of thinking. The difference is choice--- whether that choice is mandatory or free. Extreme examples of mandatory would be Hitler’s eradication of the Jews and the ISIS killings of those who are not followers of their sect of the Muslim religion. The free choice examples are the thousands of missionaries who spread God’s word or the Reverend Billy Graham who has brought countless to God. Then there is Jesus--- no explanation needed!

We debate with fervor the separation of ‘church from state, as if bringing religion into governance is a bad thing. The argument put forward is that calling on religion, in some way, distorts decisions. These concerns are not new, and were confirmed into law by implementing the Treaty of Tripoli on June 10, 1797, which included the clause, ‘the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’ Based on the many examples including the phrase ‘under God’, throughout this country’s history, our forefathers must have felt decisions reached through faith, are more likely to come to ‘greater good’.

Secular progressives have been very successful in bringing religious freedom legislation (choice), contraception, abortion and gay marriage to the forefront of the political debates that have polarized this country. The effected constituencies often feel disenfranchised by the mainstream population, and tend to align themselves more often on the liberal side of the electoral process.

Most of these issues, that have religious undertones, should be taken out of the federal agenda and moved to the States, whenever possible. The gay marriage IRS deductions and Social Security benefits for same sex partners are examples where total federal disassociation is next to impossible. Whereas, Indiana’s religious freedom (choice) law and legalization of marijuana, as in Colorado and Oregon, should be legislated at the State level and not taken over by the feds.

We need to remember what our founders intended when they initially drafted the Bill of Rights that codifies the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--- the right to be allowed to act on one’s own volition as long as it does not bring harm to others. Those freedoms do not imply that everyone has to agree, but they have the freedom to disagree, work for change or move on. With more and more government intrusions into our lives those freedoms are slowly being taken away.

Conservative Republican candidate for President, Ted Cruz, has made it clear that he is a man of faith and believes strongly in the Constitution. Former Arkansas Governor, and probable Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee was a minister before he entered the political arena. Whether their public religious pronouncements work for, or against, them will probably be decided in the primaries, long before the Presidential election.

The religions of Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and most Muslims share two positions in common, they all answer to their creator and they advocate for a greater good. This country is strong because it allows religious diversity. We may not want those who represent us to interject their religious beliefs into their decisions, but trust that they will call on their faith as they carry out their duties.

At the very least, we can pray that they do!




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