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The Relationship between Religion and Politics

Abstract

Religion and politics are regarded as very unlikely bedfellows in the contemporary world. This is contrary to previous civilizations where religion took a center stage in the day-to-day running of politics. This paper will look at the various stages of the relationship between religion and politics through various ages of civilization with emphasis on the factors that led religion and politics to take different roads, fight against each other and eventually learn to co-exist. The paper will look at how various civilizations have regarded religion and the extent to which religion has been allowed to influence the direction of politics. An observation is made that religion and politics have each found their own niche and decided to co-exist. From an individual’s perspective to a national perspective it is observable that when religion and politics became a basis of consideration at any one time, there emerges conflicts, discrepancies and disagreements. Therefore, in nations where politics is still strongly influenced by religion, there is a subtle understanding that there is a deliberate effort to overlook the conflicts.

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Introduction

Politics relates to governance and refers to the processes by which governance is achieved, how leaders are chosen and how policies are postulated. Politics touches on the realization by a man that living within a society was better than living with each person for themselves. However, doing things together meant that there had to be some guiding protocol and that there had to be some figure and or institution to ensure constant maintenance of order. Religion on the other hand refers to the spiritual beliefs of individuals (Bruce, 2003). One observable similarity between the two is that they constitute important aspects of persons’ or societies’ existent. Politics was borne out of the need to establish a system of governance that would address all the plights and welfare of individuals within the society. Through the realization that not everybody could be a leader at any one time and that resources were limited, it became imperative to come up with a system to at least ensure those leadership procedures and division of resources were done in roughly a fair manner. Religion on the other hand was borne out of the need by man to understand and explain his surroundings. In a bid to understand the world man assumed that the unknown and unexplained phenomena around him must have been due to some supreme force. The man came to revere these forces and even assumed that the forces controlled his life and therefore it was man’s responsibility to recognize these forces in everything he did. All the aspects concerning these forces were summed up in a religion which was made up of the name given to the forces and the followers, the ways in which the forces were worshipped and the will of the forces towards man’s existence. Since there were so many things that man was unable to explain perhaps due to lack of understanding, the forces were believed to control all happenings in the world. As the man began to appreciate science and accept the findings and reproducibility of scientific facts, religion also began to lose ground. Politics had found a new friend in the form of science as leaders began to appreciate the political philosophies postulated by scholars because they were empirical in nature and therefore easy to understand.

Background to the Study

This study is supported by the realization that religion used to have a very strong influence on political issues and then suddenly at the advent of science and democracy, religion began to lose its basis in politics. However, science and democracy could not completely replace religion because religion constitutes an important aspect of a persons’ life. Science overtook religion in the circles of politics due to the realization that nations could not be governed just following doctrines blindly. Furthermore, religion could not promise the kind of assurance and democracy that science provided. In the contemporary world, most western nations recognize religion only by ensuring that there is freedom of religion. From this background, an analysis of religion and politics can be conducted to establish the specific factors that led to the current situation.

Significance of the Study

Religion and politics have and will continue to constitute important aspects in persons’ lives. There is a spiritual aspect to every individual and it is for this reason that each and every society conforms to some form of belief. Throughout the ages, there has been a general realization that every community has a spiritual perspective to it. Apart from the major religions; Christianity, Islam, Hindu and Jewish, there are still some forms of smaller religions. Therefore it is important to establish the kind of relationship that politics and religion have and the subsequent impact at the community and the national level.

Literature Review

As outlined by Roskin (2010), the important aspects that define nations include geography, politics and culture. Geography is just a physical aspect that defines aspects such as borders. Therefore, the two most important aspects of nations are politics and culture. Religion is embedded within the culture and therefore has direct contact with politics. According to Arronoff (1984), the relationship between politics and religion in contemporary society can be analyzed by looking at the concept of dualism. Apparently, this is the concept that finally ensured that politics and religion could co-exist peacefully with each of them running parallel to one another. The concept of dualism outlines that politics and religion should be viewed as independent entities. Furthermore, politics and religion should not have mutual influence. A brief flashback at history reveals that the Roman Catholic Church was once very influential in the running of politics in the Roman Empire. During this period the head of the Roman Church, the Pope served both as a spiritual and political leader. However, with civilization and the fall of the Roman Empire, the Pope lost most if not all of the political influence. The Anglican Church which is still considered the official church of England had the role of fulfilling spiritual needs but again stayed away from active politics. Almost all religions discussed by Arronoff show that some form of duality exists between politics and religion. Perhaps, the reason for such duality could be due to the realization that politics and religion were needs of all human beings and that one could not be used to run or determine the other. These realizations point to the fact that at some point it became important that religion and politics to establish a relationship that would ensure that both co-existed with one another. One important aspect of politics is the formulation of laws to govern the existence of individuals within a society and to outline penalties for individuals who violate the laws. Most laws are surprisingly made of doctrines that are obtained from religion. However, with democracy, most of these laws are being continuously reviewed in a bid to make them more fitting within the societal context. For instance, an aspect such as abortion which is strongly opposed by the major religions is acceptable by most western nations under various circumstances. The absoluteness of religion makes it rather impractical in the contemporary world where democracy is synonymous with civilization.

The United States perhaps offers a perfect example considering that it was founded on strong religious principles. The puritan Christians who played a role in shaping the American society during the early years ensured that the nation recognized the role played by religion. Laws were and policies were made with special consideration on whether they were in accordance with Puritan doctrines. The current American society shows a complete contrast where even teaching the Bible in schools is an offense. Considered as the greatest democracy in the world, it is understandable why religion lost its place in American politics. In religion laws and doctrines are passed, and followers are expected to adhere without asking any questions. However, as the American society evolved and responded to civilization and scientific advancements going on around the world, it became important to put various aspects into consideration instead of passing laws on the basis of faith. All religions profess the faith which implies that followers are supposed to believe without asking questions. Even in contentious issues such as the issue of gay marriages, people would rather base their arguments on grounds of being conventional and aspects such as the implications and consequences rather than on religion. (Brown-Calhoun & Wald, 2007).

Lijpart (1999), in analyzing the patterns of democracy around the world and the effects of these patterns, outlines that there is very little consideration of the roles played by religion in democracy. In fact, Lijpart outlines that democracy is the primary reason for the fall put between religion and politics. Just as explained by Brown-Calhoun & Wald in studying the American society, it is the democracy being sought after by the American people that make the American society less and less determined to involve religion in politics. The case study outlined by Lijpart indicates that fewer countries in Europe and America even refer to religion when addressing issues related to the formulation of policies. Lijpart points out that with globalization, communities have been compelled to co-exist with each other regardless of aspects such as cultural disparities. Therefore, the situation becomes more complicated when seeking to choose the religion from which to base politics. Democracy becomes an easier option since it is at least based on the consideration of most perspectives and eventually the majority of the population is contented regardless of whether they have different religious beliefs. In nations especially in the Middle East where religion still plays an important role in politics, there is the realization that the kind of leadership presented is somewhat dictatorial; dictatorial by the virtue that religion offers no room for negotiations. Since religion still forms an important aspect of human lives there had to be some form of relationship between religion and politics. According to Moyser (1991), dualism offers the best options as religion was relegated to just the personal level and politics in terms of democracy took control. Looking at the situation around the world currently, there is the realization that very few would even consider considering religion in politics. During the times when religion was strongly involved in politics, it was majorly at the level of ensuring that moral standards were upheld. Nations that still base their politics according to religion still use the same concept. A policy will be passed on the basis of whether it agrees with the moral guidelines of a particular religion. However, politics has become much more complex than just morals as evidenced by various case studies outlined by Lijpart (1999).

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Discussion

The general realization is that the current political environment has very little room any for religion. Politics is currently being guided by democracy and religion is rigid and water-tight. Instead of religion having a strong influence on politics, it is surprising that it is politics that is influencing the direction of religion. The current call from various quarters within the Anglican Church for the Church to allow gay marriages is just but one example. Traditional religious doctrines are based on clearly outlined laws either passed down from one generation to another or in religious books. However, as the world is changing and unique challenges are presenting themselves there is a general realization that sooner or later religion will also begin to embrace democracy. One concept that has stood out in analyzing the relationship between religion and democracy is the concept of dualism. Dualism allows for religion and politics to co-exist without interfering with each other. Dualism existed even in ancient civilizations, but the only difference was the side that it leaned on most. Initially, dualism leaned on religion and it was therefore upon religion to determine the kind of relationship it would have with politics. However, in the contemporary world dualism leans mostly on politics and therefore it is upon politics to determine the nature of the relationship. It is for this reason that politicians will determine whether a nation should allow for freedom of worship or not. There is even a distant feeling that religion might embrace politics when the decision by some religious groups is a consideration.

Conclusion

As outlined in the abstract in contemporary society religion and politics have not been very good bedfellows. Politics is a game of numbers and the decisions made when democracy is at play should be the will of the majority. However, religion does not consider numbers but rather concentrates on doctrines written in religious books or passed down from one generation to another. As the world faces newer challenges and scientific discoveries and theories disapprove of religious beliefs, religion is not just losing favor with politics but also with the masses. The man believed in religion as a way of explaining the things happening around him. Since there were so many things that man was unable to explain perhaps due to lack of understanding, the Supreme Being was believed to control all happenings in the world. As the man began to appreciate science and accept the findings and reproducibility of scientific facts, religion began to lose favor. Politics had found new friends in the form of science and politics as leaders began to appreciate the political philosophies postulated by scholars because they were empirical in nature and therefore easy to understand. Therefore, the major cause of the reduced participation of religion in political affairs is the lack of democratic opportunities within various religions.

Reference List

  1. Arronoff, J. M. (1984). Religion and Politics. New Jersey: Rutgers.
  2. Brown- Calhoun, A. & Wald, D. K. (2007). Religion and Politics in the United States. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.
  3. Bruce, S. (2003). Politics and Religion. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  4. Lijpart, A. (1999). Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty Six Countries. London: Yale University Press.
  5. Moyser, G. (1991). Politics and Religion in the Modern World. London: Routledge.
  6. Roskin, M.G. (2011). Countries and Concepts: Politics, geography, culture (11th ed.). New York: Longman ISBN-10: 0205778720; ISBN-13: 978-0205778720

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