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April 12, 2004


The confusing mess of politics and religion

Religion has played a central role in the current political landscape, and two Op-Eds published today highlight how the trend will probably continue into the next election. The LA Times has a piece by Susan Jacoby, a historian of American secularism, and she's predictably enraged at the blurring of that old-fashioned church/state division that our country was built on. She recounts a number of examples from history when U.S. Presidents resisted pressure from evangelical religious groups to insert their beliefs into public policy: Jefferson refused to publicly thank God for blessing America; Lincoln ignored ministers' requests to amend the Constitution to "declare Jesus Christ the supreme government authority" (!) But Bush stands alone in his tendency to move in the opposite direction. Jacoby writes, "The Bush administration, by contrast, has consistently taken aggressive measures to favor the most conservative religious elements in American society." What I wonder is why Bush's overt and widely proclaimed religious beliefs are not subject to the same suspicion as were JFK's, our first (and only) Catholic President. I guess Presidential religiosity is OK as long as it is Protestant Christian.

Over at the Washington Post, columnist Jabari Asim questions the assumption that black people are more religious than white people. He makes some interesting points about the assumed connection between race and religion, and quotes a professor from Brown: "What makes me slightly nervous is there's a sort of venerable intellectual tradition that goes back to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and beyond that blacks are more spiritual and emotional while whites are rational, cerebral, restrained and civilized. The notion that somehow blacks are these incredibly spiritual people often alarms me because it smacks of familiar racist drivel dressed up in new ways."

What I wonder is whether the Bush administration shares the assumption that black people are more religious. It would certainly be to his party's advantage to appeal to Christians of all races, rather than solely white Southern Christians, which seems to be their strategy. I think the political division of the South along race lines, courtesy the Republican party, points out the flaw in Bush's use of religion as a political strategy. He talks about bringing Christian values to politics, but he seems to mean only those values that benefit wealthy white people. Eventually, everybody else will start to notice that his "Christian" values have little to do with religion, and will hopefully remember that religious beliefs have no place in politics.

categories: Politics, Race, Religion
posted by amy at 2:32 PM | #