Philosophical Fragments: Why We Need More Religion in Politics, Not Less - Timothy Dalrymple
Dalrymple highlights the popular perception that the mixing of politics and religion is something unique to the Republican Party. He makes the case that Obama has actually been quite willing to mix the two over the course of his presidency, and actually it is Romney who is more reticent to bring up religion, due largely to the challenge his Mormon faith presents. Read the first several paragraphs for yourself and see what you think but I thought his analysis of how we got to where we are was especially good.
So where do people get this notion that the Right has claimed ownership over Christianity? It’s best understood historically. And while there are certainly points in this story on which to criticize the Right, the story has just as much to do with poor decisions on the Left. If it came to seem as though the Right owned the Christian camp in the ongoing political warfare between the parties, it was largely because the Left completely abandoned the religious field.
Jeffrey’s Bell’s The Case for a Polarized Politics tells the story in far greater detail than I can hope to do here. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Democratic party came to represent the rejection — in fact, it was quite explicit — of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Democratic National Conventions were awash in anti-Christian sentiment, as that tradition came to represent all that was oppressive and backwards, the decrepit authority of a prior generation that was best case aside in the mark toward the new utopia. Religion was essentially privatized. Believe whatever (nonsense) you want in the privacy of your own home, but religious convictions, passions and persuasion do not belong in the public, political sphere.
Also, since this was (not coincidentally) the same group that was promoting the sexual revolution and its transformation of personal mores, cultural forms and social policy, the Religious Right arose and, increasingly in the late 1970s made common cause with the GOP. On one issue after another — prayer in schools, artifacts and invocations of faith in the political sphere, the enforced teaching of evolution and sex education, abortion, pornography, marriage and eventually gay rights — the Left lined up on the side opposite the Christian consensus. Evangelicals briefly believed they might have a Democrat they could support in the born-again Jimmy Carter, but they quickly grew disenchanted with Carter and fully cast their lot with the GOP in 1980.
However, what was initially a temporary alliance forged to address specific issues that concerned Christians as Christians, became a more complex and thoroughgoing union. …
He goes on to point out that a pragmatic alliance with Republicans morphed into a thorough fusion. This alienated many people and robbed the church of its prophetic voice. But he writes:
As a historical matter, the extreme alignment of Christians and the Right might never have happened if the Left had not abandoned the field. As it was, the Right was the only side making a religious pitch. Both sides should have been making a religious pitch. The Left has been reemphasizing the use of values and religious language, and when it’s not artificial and manipulative I actually appreciate that. We need Christians arguing both sides.
And then he writes this, which I could easily have written myself:
While I tend to vote conservative, it’s my responsibility as a Christian to examine each issue on its own merits according to my principles and my beliefs. I feel no loyalty to the Republican Party. In fact, I fear that feeling of loyalty because I fear it would cloud my judgment. My loyalty is to something much greater, and that greater loyalty will sometimes call me to criticize the Republican Party. I need to be able to deliver that criticism.
Then he concludes:
What we require is not less religion in politics, but better religion in politics. We require a religion in politics that is not reflexively partisan (and now that problem is just as acute amongst progressive Christians on the Left as it ever was amongst conservative Christians on the Right). We require more thoughtful ways of bringing the fullness of who we are, religious vision included, into the political arena. We require the kind of faith in politics that will hold us accountable to be humble and honest and searching and serving, that will hold the state accountable to use the power of the sword and the power of the public purse wisely and justly, and that will hold the church accountable to speak with a greater regard for the truth than for political power.
“Reflexive partisanship.” To me, that is the virus that has diminished the church’s voice in culture. It is epidemic. And it continues to spread through the body ... right, left, and in between.