Religion will be an important topic for many votes in the 2008 elections. We have some candidates that believe in some of the most outrageous and extremist views (even for religion) that are candidates for the highest position in the nation. We already have a President that believes that God talks to him in dreams. We have Republican candidates that believe in Mormonism and that think that God has chosen them to lead the United States. In some ways, it seems like these people are almost ashamed of their beliefs (as I believe they should be). They try not to talk about their ideology (which is often indefensible anyway) and cast enough doubt so the religious sheep of America overlook the plain contradictions in what they’re saying.
Much of that is expected nowadays from conservative Republican candidates. But what about the Democracts? Several months ago, Barack Obama spoke on the topic. You can read the entire contents in Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address. From the beginning of the article:
But today I’d like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we’ve been seeing over the last several years.
I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.
Later, Obama presents the following, highlighting the standard view of many religious people:
For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest “gap” in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.
Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.
He also recites some statistics that I have also posted on this blog in the past:
And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.
And later he talks about the difficulty and risk of trying to define public policy based on religion:
Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.
Overall, I have mixed feelings on these statements. On one hand, it finally restores a sense of separation between church and State (something that shouldn’t be optional in our current government). However, I wish Obama would have gone further. I wish he would have pointed out that there’s no evidence whatosever for the believe in a magical, supreme being (despite what the majority of under-educated people might claim). I wish he had drawn the parallels between violence and religion. And I wish he had said more about encouraging people to really question their faiths. (On the last point I quoted, I do agree with Obama: If Christians were to read their bibles, I think there would be far fewer religious people.)
Then again, the most important thing for this country is to get religious zealots that manufacture wars out of office. In that respect, Obama is a step in the right direction. I just hope I live long enough to see nations abandon these silly notions of religion and start to thing logically, rationally, and based on study and evidence. It’s a real long-shot based on the recent history of the United States, but I’m holding out hope.