Religion and Democracy in America


The appropriate role of religion in the politics of America has been carefully studied in the past twenty years. An activity like the New Christian Right has been a constant reminder that the analysis of the association between what is considered secular and what is sacred is still a contentious matter in the politics of America. Some individuals have argued that religious beliefs are an important foundation of the culture of American politics; others on the other hand have argued that religion is a dangerous stranger to the politics of democracy. However, in as much as these views conflict there is consensus in the fact that political life and religion should occupy autonomous areas in the politics of America. A clear-cut relationship between religion and politics is still elusive.

According to Sartori democracy is symbolically viewed as a positive entity, which is warm and has no enemies. However, this view has been opposed by the fact that the vital features of a democratic government are still controversial and elusive and the role of religion in such governments is still varied and seen as a nuisance.

The doctrine on the separation of the state and church is very important. This doctrine proposes that the legal and political issues of religious institutions and the government should be kept independent and separate from each other. This is normally in relation to the freedom of exercising religion and the secularity of government.

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This paper aims at describing the relationship between religion and democracy, how Christians and religious voices should respond to issues of democracy, how a religious worldview affects how one deals with democracy and how or why Christians may disagree on certain issues concerning democracy.

The relationship between religion and democracy

There have been divergent views of whether religion and democracy are actually compatible. Some people reason that in order for democracy to function properly, religion should be kept separate from democracy and more so from the government. However, others argue that the religion should be actively involved in government so that its actions are considered authentic and morally right since a secular government is always wrong. The government tend to concentrate on materialistic issues as they term themselves to be indifferent morally in its quest to fulfill their promises to deliver equality and security to its citizens. (Novak 2002)

America is considered a democratic republic where people’s promises by the government are not always fulfilled since rights and liberties of the minorities are devalued and therefore outwitting religion.

In the past, America had fully embraced Christianity. However, as it became a self-governing nation, it had great difficulties in fully embracing Christianity especially in as far as slavery was concerned. It is in this context that religion is not considered necessary in governance since it drives its followers into willful blindness.

According to Wald (2003,) religion has effect on almost all the major dimensions of politics and governance as a whole since it plays a major role in the interpretation of public laws. Religion usually identifies itself with a certain political party over the others. Most political parties propose to offer universal healthcare, stern action and free prescriptions for the elderly. Thus in this way, the church considers politics as important in the preservation of human life which is a major duty for the church.

Religion’s response to democratic issues

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As a major segment of a country’s democracy, religious organizations and institutions respond in different and distinct ways to democratic issues when they arise. Political leaders always make use of religious opinions and sentiments since this does not violate the anti-discrimination meaning of the free exercise norm. The beliefs that are instilled by religion to individuals may at times try to affect the political decision-making on those beliefs. The inclusion of religion in the constitution gives the religious leaders the right to make sentiments that are geared towards influencing the political dimension taken by the American political elites.

In their bid to respond to democratic issues, religious leaders to great extent influence the political orientation of their followers. However, this does not at all distort the reason for the existence of religion in the first place since this party affiliation does not lead to the election of religious extremists into government. This is because their support to a certain candidate is not openly portrayed making it difficult to support candidates who are fully religious.

How a religious worldview affects how one deals with democracy

In the traditional America, involvement of religion in political issues was viewed immoral since to most of the followers of a certain religion politics was a “dirty game”. However, it has come to their knowledge that they all have a major role to play in giving them the kind of governance they all desired to have. Trends propose that religion's public impact has augmented worldwide, with major security and policy implications for the U.S. as well as the entire world. Religion exerts extensive influence on democratic transitions, along with religious political parties and movements have gained noteworthy popular support in a range of democracies. At one fell swoop, religious grievances have been essential factors in civil wars, international terrorism and interstate conflicts. Changes in worldwide religious demography, for instance the rapid growth of Christianity within the global South along with augmented Muslim immigration to Western states, also continue to shape government policies and public attitudes.

How or why Christians may disagree on certain issues of democracy.

The question as to whether democracy depends on religious beliefs and particularly Christianity is very crucial. Many Americans tend to believe strongly that this is so, however at best there is no evidence and logic to support this view. What most people argue is that religious doctrines teach that all human beings should consider one another as brothers and that all people are equal in God’s eyes. Such arguments conclude that in the same way, we should also view one another as brothers and equal in the eyes of the government too which in essence is what is considered as a just and democratic state. This line of though is not totally valid because this state of equality can only be achieved when we view ourselves as immaterial beings, when we look at ourselves as material beings then we cannot attain equality. This distinction, though simplistic, has been used many times in the past to justify some of the grossest forms of inequalities in various societies that claim to be religious. The same societies also happen to teach the concept of equality. The obvious examples are the class stratification in Europe and slavery experienced in the United States.

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The  conflict between the state and religion is not only unique in America, other governments experience these disparities between religion and the government, all constitutions that are considered democratic have in place restrictions that govern, regulate, enforce and assimilate what they consider as right, this of course includes religious behaviors and values . The constitution ofAmerica has provisions on the place and role of religion in liberal democracies. Some individuals have argued that religions should act as the foundation of the American political culture and democracy while others are of the idea that religion interferes with the politics ofAmerica. What is important is that both religion and politics should coexist in the interest of the public and therefore a balance should be struck between the two issues.

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