Sunday, January 02, 2011


Sunday Reflection: Religion and Politics

Should one's faith direct a person's political views?

The obvious answer is yes. If faith is what directs us in making moral choices, that should naturally extend to our actions when acting as part of a community.

In real life, though, things aren't so simple. Too often, there seems to be a current that runs the other way: A person's political views direct their faith. For example, I am always confused when I hear a preacher describe governmental fiscal restraint as some kind of Christian ideal. From my reading, it is simply not something that Jesus addressed. When I see people like Glenn Beck, this cross-current seems especially strong. It's dangerous, because it risks subverting the gospel beneath politics. The opposite needs to be true.

What if Christian faith directed our political choices, not only in the sense of what our positions were, but in terms of what we saw as important? I would hope that faith would begin with what Christ taught directly. For example, he spoke repeatedly about respecting the Sabbath. Yet, not only do we fail to reflect this belief in our political views, but even in our own personal lives as we accede to the demands of a popular consumerist culture.

Atheists often decry the influence of religion on politics. For people of faith, the bigger concern might be the influence of politics on our religion.

The union of government with religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion. Engel v. Vitale.

As institutions, there can be no good that comes of mixing temporal and religious authority. As a matter of faith, there can be no good that comes from tailoring one's theology to fit political exigencies of the day.
Dont' you think people can be conflicted a lot with this? Maybe they don't want to even talk about how their political views and their religion may clash because they are too conflicted. For ex fro years I was a Unitarian Pro-choice Republican. Now that I look back that does not even MAKE SENSE!!??!!
Professor Osler,

An interesting photo-story on your old home of Detroit by London's Guardian newspaper.

Richard Howell
"I would hope that faith would begin with what Christ taught directly."

Garry Wills' book "What Jesus Meant" takes exactly this approach to faith and politics. I am quoting from the book (forgive me for the length! I didn't know where to cut). Wills writes of what Jesus said and did:

"One will not be asked whether one voted, whether one was a good citizen, or even whether one dealt justly. That is not enough. Do what is really asked and all else will follow. The simple test is this. Did you treat everyone, high and low, as if dealing with Jesus himself, with his own inclusive and gratuitous love, the revelation of the Father's love, whose sunshine is shed on all? Love is the test. In the gospel of Jesus, love is everything. But this love is not a dreamy, sentimental, gushy thing. It is radical love, exigent, searing, terrifying..."

Wills then quotes at length from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25 ("For I hungered and you gave me food. I thirsted and you gave me drink...")

"What exactly does that mean? 'Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me.' It means that priests who sexually molest boys are molesting Jesus. Televangelists who cheat old women out of their savings are cheating Jesus. Those killing members of other religions because of their religion are killing Jesus. Those persecuting gays are persecuting Jesus.... That is the awesome test of love that Jesus brings to bear on our lives. Admittedly, Jesus was an extremist, a radical, but can any but radicals justly claim his name?"
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