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Americans Remember That Church & State Are Separate

Evangelical influence in the Unites states is not a secret. Intellectuals like Naipaul identified its ascent in the mid 80's. Of the four living presidents, two are avowedly evangelical. The public sphere is full of leading evangelical personalities, both on … Read More

By / August 22, 2008

Evangelical influence in the Unites states is not a secret. Intellectuals like Naipaul identified its ascent in the mid 80's. Of the four living presidents, two are avowedly evangelical. The public sphere is full of leading evangelical personalities, both on the left and right. Evangelical books are some of the biggest sellers in American publishing. Evangelicals have so thoroughly dominated the US that they have now set themselves up for a worldwide expansion and are exporting churches and the myth of intelligent design with considerable gusto (even to Muslims).

Just last week, pastor Rick Warren of California, author of the Purpose Driven Life, and head of the 22,000 strong Saddlebrook Church, held a conversation about religion and values with the two presidential candidates. The event was covered by every major news station. Among pundits and bloggers it was critiqued and evaluated as if it was a proper presidential debate. Barack Obama and John McCain talked about Jesus Christ and abortion and homosexuality; partly in neutral terms, and partly within the context of Christian theology.

We are religiously permissive in the United States and over the last decade the general view has been to let religious people bring religion into the public sphere. For example, Bush introduced the Faith Based Initiative in 2000 without much opposition and Obama recently suggested that he'd be willing to continue it albeit with a overhaul (probably since most of the money in the Bush initiative behaved very racially), and was again met with little opposition.

Having said that, it seems that the days of such permissiveness towards bringing religion into the public sphere might be coming to an end. The Rick Warren debate, in other words, might be a farewell party for American Christianity in the political sphere. To substantiate this assertion I direct your attention to the Pew Forum which recently concluded a survey about Americans' views about religion in politics.

It shows that in 1996, 43% of Americans felt that Churches should stay out of politics; today, that number is at 52% and its trending upward. In other words, the more religion gets introduced into the public sphere, the more Americans want it out (the survey notes that conservatives are the ones most changing their views about this, now at levels similar to moderates and liberals).

It seems that religious Americans are remembering again Jefferson's idea that the wall of separation between religion and state exists in order to protect religion. What happens when religion stuffs itself into the political sphere too long? You may want to ask a theocratic state like Iran. Only 1.4% of the population attends the Friday prayer in the Islamic Oligarchy. (This number is actually lower than the Church attendance number in those purportedly hedonistic European nations).

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