Religion and Politics in the US

Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.

America, Land of the Free Bigots?

In a recent episode of The 700 Club, a news broadcasting show on the Christian Broadcasting Network, both run by former Southern Baptist minister Pat Robertson, the former minister made a number of shocking comments about homosexuals and advocates for gay rights, referring to them as “terrorists” and “radicals”.
The evangelical Christian made a number of claims in the show about gay right advocates and gay marriage, claiming homosexuals were forcing Americans “to accept it and solemnify it by marriage” as well as such an action being an “infringement on people’s religious beliefs”. Robertson, together with being a wealthy businessman is also a successful statesman and broadcaster most notably starting the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1961. However, one could strongly suggest that Robertson’s comments on gay marriage are bigotry, along with his idea that equal rights are an infringement of the Christian religion.

However, Robertson is not the first to express bigotry opinions and such comments could lead to the asking of the question of whether it could be argued that American politics today is riddled with bigots, who use their own religious interpretations, most commonly Christian, for their own agenda.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a bigot as “a prejudiced and intolerant person”, and Robertson is a clear example of this, as he himself goes on a crusade against homosexuals and gay rights advocates. He is clearly highly critical of homosexuals and is seen to be forcing his own opinions of them onto others, as he criticizes homosexuals for supposedly doing the same thing. However, Robertson’s strong religious beliefs are nothing new in America as it is something that can be traced back to America’s founders, and its long history of religious rhetoric. Starting way back when only Native Americans lived on the land and themselves believed “the first people are said to have emerged out of the local earth or to have come into the world through the intervention of spiritual beings”. This suggests that indeed, the first people on the earth were spiritual beings and this adds once more, to the strong religious connection Americans have. It is an undeniable fact that religion is rooted throughout all of Americas past and that it can be found in almost every institution throughout the country.

However, how is it so that religion plays such a key part in American politics today when the first amendment itself states “congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The very grounds on which Robertson bases his crusade against homosexuals, the idea that it doesn’t conform to his interpretation of Christian values, is exactly what America’s founding fathers were trying to avoid. This amendment clearly outlines the intention, that no government policy should be made on the grounds that it does not conform to a religious set of beliefs.

Yet, this is not the first time political agendas are backed by religious ideals and Robertson isn’t the first to make such bigoted opinions in America. Prominent figures on the Christian right in America are particularly known for their religious and political agenda, despite what the constitution says. As bio psychologist Nigel Barber suggests political leaders have been fiercely “inject[ing] religion into political debates”, backed by right wing media outlets such as Fox News. The religious right are known throughout America and the world for abusing faith for their own gains and as E. J. Dionne states in his book “Souled Out”, “religious people should be… mindful of how their own traditions have been used for narrow political purposes, and how some religious figures have manipulated faith to aggrandize their own power”.

A further example of bigoted views is that of Terry Jones, a Florida pastor of a small extremist Christian Church, who in 2010 shared his plans to burn a copy of the Islamic book of Holy Scriptures, the Qur’an. Jones’s plans caused outrage throughout America and the world and even caused violence throughout the Middle East. However, this did not stop the evangelical pastor, who burned a copy of the Islamic holy book in March of 2011. Following these actions, Jones was arrested in 2013 whilst driving a truck with an open grill in the trailer with 2,998 copies of the Quran soaked in kerosene ready to burn,1 for each American who lost their life in the 9/11 bombings. This is simply another example, of American’s bringing religious beliefs into a political setting, with Obama himself stating how Terry Jones’s plans were “completely contrary to our values as Americans” and that America as a nations “is built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance”. Terry Jones serves as another example of a bigoted American, using his own interpretation of the Christian faith for his own ends. These events also make clear how important religion is, with the president himself making comments on the events along with other political figures like that of Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

Despite what Americas founding fathers stated in the constitution, religion is as tightly entwined with America’s history as it is with its present and will be in its future. Obviously, the likes of Pat Robertson and Terry Jones are very different. Yet, one thing they both hold in common is their manipulation of the Christian faith to justify their opinions against certain groups of people. In Robertson’s case, he is critical of homosexuals and in Jones’s case he is clearly anti the Islamic religion. However, these faith have been misinterpreted by both these men, and Obama himself states how America is a country of religious freedom.

The use of religion in American politics is not a new phenomenon in the least. However, it is something that people should be more aware of and wary of, as information can often be wrong and can cause a great deal of harm to the way in which the faith itself is received.

 

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2014 by in Uncategorized, Vol 2, 2014/15.
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