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Column: Problematic Misapplication Of Religion In Political Rhetoric

This story was written by Olivia Goldhill , Harvard Crimson

Politics and religion is an unholy duo indeed; the pairing, which seems to form naturally, ends up hurting both its constituent parts. Religions positive attributes are overshadowed by its particular use as a political tool, and it seems unfair and unhelpful to enforce religious values on a diverse population in a participatory democracy.

Today, discussions in support of the separation of church and state tend to turn around this second concern. But an examination of the way in which this same marriage negatively affects religious communities might be similarly valuable.

Consider the debate over abortion. The majority of those who are pro-life come from a religious background, and often simply cite God and the sacred nature of all creatures in their arguments against abortion. For the secular contingent, these arguments are meaningless, and thus unpersuasive. Instead of just opposing the pro-life rhetoric, those who are pro-choice often displace their frustration and resentment onto religion itself, and its interference in political matters. In this way, animosity towards opposing views in the political realm is transferred onto God and religion.

To apply blame so generally distorts the nature of religion in every case. After all, a large percentage of religious Americans are not pro-life, do not oppose same-sex marriage, and do not believe that the messiah will only come when the children of Israel inhabit their whole homeland. Despite their near-constant presence in newsprint and political media, evangelical Christians constitute only 26.3 percent of religious adults in America. Yet, if Bill Mahers recent film Religulous and a wave of secularist polemics are any indication, extreme religious views are being used to justify the wholesale abandonment of all religion.

Given this environment, it seems unsurprising that, more and more, those polemics are succeeding. To a limited but significant extent, religion is becoming obsolete. Months ago, President-elect Obama was criticized for claiming that people from small towns, get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who arent like them. Many understood Obamas suggestion as embracing the secularist proposition that religion is a trend of past centuries, comparable to racism in that it is something to be outgrown. This beliefs increasing prevalence is reflected in the 28 percent of American adults today who have left the faith in which they were raised. And when Sarah Palin says, I think Gods will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that, an age of disenchantment with religion seems understandable.

The misapplication of religious rhetoric and doctrine to political affairs creates this hostile, polar environment and even gradually alienates the religious. Religions are based on complex ideologies, far more intricate than simplistic moral absolutes that tend to rear their heads in the political sphere. Ironically, this means that, even in a climate of opposition, the secular and religious camps really ought to be able to agree on one thing: to preserve their separation.

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