Religion And Politics Essay Sample
The concept of decentralization is complex due to its nature of having multi-facets. It essentially refers to the general transfer of power and authority from the central government to other smaller entities whether public or private. Decentralization occurs on many fronts such as economics, politics, and inevitably religion. In America, the concept of clear distinction between the government, politics, and religion has been around for a while. The relationship between religion and governance is seemingly unavoidable given the role the two play in the society. The two have a common endeavor of placing some sort of control upon the people by keeping their behavior in check. The relationship between the two has undergone changes over time with the influence of religion weaning not only in America but all over the world. This has coincided with the coming of the age of enlightenment where philosophy has seen the erosion of various theological superstitions. The American government like every other democratic setup is more concerned with democratic principles rather than the traditional religious systems.
In order to understand the dynamics behind the decentralization of governance of religion in America, it is worth looking into the past of religion and governance. The history can be traced back to the founding moments of the country. This started with the publication of the Declaration of Independence, whereby America first talked to the universe about its newly found freedom. In the declaration, it was the belief that the rights American people were to enjoy were from God, but had to be protected by a man-made government. This therefore set the limit to where religion was applied in running of things in the country. This is indeed the first instance whereby religion and governance meet with the declaration voicing how America views that relationship. Acknowledgment of the divinity of God and the humanity of the government that upholds the God-given rights is the basis on which the government is built on today. This view evolved from simply popular sovereignty to the governance of the people, by the people and for the people; that makes up the democratic spirit of the country (Kosmin 30).
During this period, the debate that reigned was whether the new government should establish a certain religion that would be followed by every American citizen. Arguments were split between Puritan theology and civic republicanism. According to the Puritans, the church, and the state both originated from God but served very distinct purposes. The two could assist each other but at the same time maintain their distance (Fraser 45). Religious leaders could not perform political functions while politicians were barred from religion. In the civil Republicans’ point of view, the newly formed human governments’ supported by the people were vulnerable to corruption and other evil acts. It was, therefore, essential for the religion to come into play in order to provide virtue in the situation. To them, religious participation in politics was key for the country.
The problem however was coming up with a single religion with the ability to unite all the American people. Therefore, though religion was important, coming up with a single one for the people would be troublesome (Kosmin 34).
This is what led to calls for Religious Disestablishment. The drive to do away with established religion and separation of religion and state was driven by two philosophies; evangelical theology and liberal enlightenment.
According the evangelical view, establishment of a religion by the state would be coercion which is unacceptable to the people. The state and religion therefore needed to be separated since God accepts only voluntary submission to him. They had the view that religious disestablishment would strengthen the faith and the church at large.
The literal enlightenment on the other hand sought to provide some philosophical explanation to religious disestablishment. Intellectuals in this period were concerned with the use of reason rather than observing religion as the explanation for everything. To them, therefore, religious disestablishment was important for a free and rational society.
In the modern day America, Separation of church and state is founded in the constitution, whereby, it is noted in the first amendment that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (Fraser 55). This is essentially the root for the understanding of what extent religion and the state coexists. The clause first keeps the government in check by preventing it from discrimination on the basis of religion. The clause also gives freedom to individuals or organizations to pursue a religious affiliation of their choice without the fear of discrimination (Witte 14).
It is, however, important to note that the separation of the church and state in America does not completely do away with the religious dimension in governance. It still plays a role of keeping the society together through various national symbols and institutions.
Religion, in this case, is not completely uninterested in matters of the state since issues such as marriage are seen to have both the civil and religious dimensions (Fraser 57). Emerging issues such as the death penalty and research on human creations also have the input of religion despite being in the realm of the civil society (Kosmin 101).
Religion, therefore, continuous to be highly involved in many political and social issues (Giddens 39). The public on its part is seemingly confused about the role the church is supposed to be playing. People agree that religion should have a say in state issues but refrain from taking political stands. In matters to do with political leaders, it is the common agreement that their religious affiliations are kept a secret. They also go on to support national features such as saying, "under God" when pledging allegiance. It has also been noted that is schools; most people support the idea of morning prayers, something the constitution is against.
Religious groups in the country have also been involved with the government in the front of charity and provision of social services. Here, the government has been extending support and financial help to church driven projects such as schools and social welfare programs (Kosmin 129). This goes on to show that though the two entities are separated, they have to work collaboratively in some aspects. The church remains with a big role to play in the American society.
It remains to be seen the extent to which the relationship between the federal government and religion will go. At both extremes, the relationship will be closer or completely severed. Some people are of the view that the current trend in relationship can ultimately lead to the adoption of an official religion for the country. On the other hand, observers say that trends in the world show an extensive secularization of the society that will ultimately severe the ties the government has with religion. Currently however, the relationship has seen the religious organizations exempted from paying taxes. In other instances, religious leaders are hired by the federal government to run state-affiliated activities such as military and the prisons.
Decentralized religious governance and the absence of state establishment for religion in America has had various effects. For a start, there is the increased disorganization in spirituality. Given the religious freedom in the country, many people have moved from the traditional religious setups that used to run divine matters (Kosmin 53). They opt to utilize the freedom they have to look for other avenues through which they can practice religion. Essentially, they still talk about the belief in God, but in their own, unique and individual way. Spirituality therefore has been spread out way from the conventional churches or mosques; to other platforms that still allow Americans to express spirituality.
The growth in unorganized spirituality changes the usual nature of how religion interacts with the government. Previously, clear lines were set on how the relationship could be handled and the appropriate lines through which communication could take place. It has however become difficult to manage the nature of religions relations to the government and civil society due to the multiple faces religion shows; the unpredictability comes as a destabilizing feature in the perceived relationship (Giddens 60).
Given the freedom people have, many bodies such as humanitarian organizations who do not subscribe to any religion raise issues ranging from human freedoms to environmental awareness (Witte 29). These issues however take the religious approach in order to capture wider attention and possibly get more following.
Another effect felt by religious groupings in the country is the decrease in membership in major religions. Due to the freedoms assured in the country it has become common for people to get out of the usual organized religions. The churches or mosques that were usually full and visited by many people have reported an annual reduction in membership gradually. This can be attached to the restless nature of man, who will always be out to look for sources of individual satisfaction. Americans have been therefore observed to be increasingly leaving the mainstream religions in search of other satisfying sources of spirituality.
Another big feature of religion in America has been influenced partly by the globalization effect. Here, the religions are not restricted in the country only, but have the ability to spread throughout the world. Given the freedom assured in the American setup, there has been an influx of multinational religious organizations. Here, the foreign theologies are encouraged to package their beliefs such that they appeal to the American people who are free to choose which spiritual path to follow. This has seen more world religions become universally available through avenues such as the television and the internet.
Religious organizations have also had to deal with the aspect of secularization of the society (Rajeev 35). This has occurred due to the modernization effect, whereby raising levels of education and wealth coupled with increased industrialization weakens the influence previously held by religion over the people. Given that the people have no obligation under the law to subscribe to given religious organizations; it has been observed that religion has lost its perceived importance to people. The religious leaders in this case have to learn to live with the inability to control what people do on issues such as marriage, divorce and abortion. Religious groups in America however seem to have warmed up to the idea of being flexible to the secularized world, in a bid of keeping in touch with the society it plans to reach and impact (Rajeev 34). This can be clearly seen whereby the Anglican Church consecrated an openly gay bishop. This is the evolving nature of religion in the country.
The way forward when it comes to the aspect of religion and governance is considerably affected by the changing worldview. Here, more Americans open to trying out new forms of spiritual fulfillment will look to change the close relationship the government has with religious bodies. Religion on its part has to deal with the dynamics surrounding the world with issues such as secularization continuing to be on the rise (Rajeev 67). Global consciousness of the changing nature of the two aspects will also be important in the design of future relations between federal government and religion.
In conclusion, the concept of separation of church and state and the freedom accorded to the people has been the basis or a building foundation of the current liberty that American citizen enjoy (Witte 70). The concept has gone through revisions and phases since independence, and is still evolving in today’s world. The constant feature however is the avoidance of discrimination which has ensured that governance and religion do not relate past a certain limit. Given the religious foundations the country has however been built upon, religion remains a key feature as shown by the various national symbols commonly used. The religious landscape in the country has had to deal with changes in individual citizens and even the setup of governments. It remains to be seen what will be the nature of religious liberty in American in the future given the dynamic nature of the society.
Fraser, J. W. Between church and state: Religion and public education in a multicultural America. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.
Giddens, A., Duneier, M., Appelbaum, R. P., & Carr, D. Introduction to sociology. New York: WW Norton, 2000.
Kosmin, B. One nation under God: Religion in contemporary American society. Three Rivers Press, 2011
Rajeev Bhargava . "States, Religious Diversity, and the Crisis of Secularism." OpenDemocracy. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <https://www.opendemocracy.net/rajeev-bhargava/states-religious-diversity-and-crisis-of-secularism-0>.
Witte, J. Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Liberties. Westview Press, 2000.
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