Max Reichardt is a communications studies senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed here in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Imagine a fair, compassionate, shrewd and benevolent government. Such values embodied in the highest office would be exemplary and would provide guiding principles in our lives. However, real government isn’t the best source of values. Instead, an endless loop of teaching and learning values comes from stories, our parents, media and religion.
Many values are consistent across religious faiths, including the famous “Golden Rule”of reciprocity and empathy. This rule is found in Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and even Satanic stories. While specific origin stories, deities and rules vary, it’s fair to say the world’s religions are more similar than they are different.
So, what’s wrong with injecting religion into politics? If these ideologies are predicated on values like empathy, love and self-efficacy, it sounds like they would be excellent guiding principles for a benevolent government.
Statistically speaking, it doesn’t look bad. The 90-percent Christian-affiliated United States Congress crafts legislation to be signed by the Christian President, to then be followed by the 70 percent of the U.S identifying as Christian. These laws, should they be challenged, will be met by a Supreme Court with five Catholics, three Jews and the religiously-ambiguous Neil Gorsuch on the bench — another Christian plurality. We are a representative democracy, making decisions for the greater good based on majority rule, are we not?
Frank Shirley, Clark Griswold’s scrooge-like boss in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” put it best: “Sometimes things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks.”
A Christian majority in our country and all three branches of our government is no guarantee of the fairness, compassion, empathy or benevolence that a religiously-motivated government should ideally provide, even though many constituents are supposedly like-minded.
We are no theocracy and were not intended to be so. The founding fathers enshrined clauses for “establishment” and “free exercise” regarding religion in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This two-sided, almost laissez-faire approach allows the U.S. to regard religion both directly and indirectly. We respect and acknowledge its existence and promise not to restrict it or establish a national religion, on paper.
Unofficially, we understand that a religious majority exists and is highly influential in our politics, regardless of what the Constitution posits.
This majority wouldn’t be an issue if religiously-motivated politicians could stick to universal values, i.e. ‘What would Jesus do?’ and inform their policy decisions with true religious morality.
Unfortunately, what we see much of the time from these individuals instead is hypocrisy and all but a bastardization of objectively positive religious values that should be exhibited by an overwhelmingly Christian government.
Take, for example, the scandal over Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore last year, who was accused of numerous relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Meanwhile, Moore’s spokesman is on record saying homosexuality should probably be illegal because “It’s a sin, okay?” This sort of hypocrisy exemplifies the blurring lines between values-informed legislation and unjust religious interference in government. Scores of women, white Evangelicals and other Republican voters disregarded the allegations against Moore and vowed to vote for him anyway.
Consider abortion rights, arguably the most contentious and religiously-motivated policy facing the U.S. today. Even a perfectly just and moral government would face a conundrum regarding abortion legislation.
However, I believe even they would think that allowing people the freedom to make their own decision on the matter is right. Tyrannical, falsely-religious legislation is what is immoral. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump became the first sitting president to address the “March for Life” this year, and stated his commitment to battling Roe v. Wade.
Next, consider the federal legalization of same-sex marriage. Despite the Supreme Court ruling in favor back in 2015, Evangelical conservatives condemned the ruling as “judicial tyranny” and called on constituents and colleagues to defend “religious freedom.” The ruling doesn’t prohibit the free exercise of any religion, though — it only prohibits zealots from depriving citizens of their rights.
Religion and its expression are flawed. Statistical arguments are flawed. Governments are flawed and people are flawed as well. We cannot vilify all religious politicians, nor can we stand idly by while misguided policy is pushed and immoral individuals are defended in the name of religion. We must hold our officials accountable for pushing a false religious agenda. We must reign in religious extremists who give all religious politicians a bad name, or we must fall on our own holy sword.