Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion and politics

The old adage to never talk about religion or politics will be broken here, as I'll be talking about both. Time to offend, I suppose. The spark: an interesting crossover between "politics in the pulpit" as the PEW Research Center calls it.

According to a recent study, 15% of churchgoers said that political information was made available to them during religious services at the time of the 2010 midterm. Even more alarming, 5% said their respective clergymen urged them to vote a particular way.

Regular readers should know that my personal faith is waning, but regardless, I believe a separation of church and state is good not only for government, but for religion too. If religion begins sticking its nose is politics, the reverse is bound to happen -- and arguably already is.

And of course there are individuals ignorant of constitutionally-based separation, perhaps the most famous being former Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell. Granted, she is probably the most moronic of the latest crop of political sideshows, but her notoriety provides a platform for disseminating stupidity.

A point of clarification: the phrase "separation of church and state" does not explicitly appear in the constitution, but the First Amendment has been interpreted such a manner almost from its inception. Consider the following from a letter to the Danbury Baptists by Thomas Jefferson in 1802:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Most attribute the notion of separation to this letter, and the reader will notice that Jefferson justifies this notion of separation by quoting the First Amendment, so clearly there is a constitutional precedent.

Religion and politics should be separate in this country, but that wall may be eroding. I'm optimistic to see that 85% of churchgoers aren't getting political messages during services, but are they getting such messages from churches outside the walls of worship? Probably. And is the number of clergymen urging a particular vote on the rise or the decline? I would bet the former, but I hope the latter is true. Maybe a future longitudinal study will provide some answers.

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