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Religion in politics: a delicate balance of values and governance

Merwil Urena

Anchor Contributor

Photo from https://www.e-ir.info/

The intersectionality of religion and the affairs of the state are as old as human civilization itself. Throughout the course of human history, kings and tribal leaders often invoked the divine to legitimize their rule, while prophets and clerics sought to influence the polity by communicating what they believed to be the will of a higher power. By confirming their divine mandates, men became more than flesh. They became ideas that have continued longer after they are gone. In today's diverse and global world, the discussion around religion's role in politics is more complex and multifaceted than ever.

For many, religion provides a moral compass, a source of purpose that supplants and creates a framework for understanding the world and our place in it. These deeply held beliefs have inevitably influenced our political views and, in many cases, our preferences. It would be naive and disingenuous to expect individuals to compartmentalize their religious convictions from their political ones completely. To do so would be to ask people to be less than themselves, to segment parts of their identity in ways that are neither practical, or genuine.

The infusion of religious dogma into policymaking has become increasingly problematic and dangerous. Here's why:

The Erosion of Secular Governance: The principle of secularism ensures that the state remains neutral in matters of religion, treating all its citizens equally regardless of their beliefs. When religious dogmas drive policy, this neutrality is jeopardized, which can marginalize and disenfranchise minority groups. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum, secularism in government helps create safeguards against the disenfranchisement of cultures, minorities, and religious groups.

The Potential for Theocratic Rule: Extreme entanglement of religion and politics can lead to theocracy, where religious leaders control the political system with an iron grip. History has shown that such systems are repressively brutal, often suppressing dissent in the name of religious orthodoxy.

Complication of Diplomatic Relations: In a globalized world, countries must cooperate on various fronts to ensure peace and prosperity of the world’s sovereign nations. Diplomatic relations can become strained if a nation's policies are heavily influenced by religious beliefs that are not universally shared. It is essential to respect and understand the religious motivations of sovereign nations and it is equally crucial to recognize the potential pitfalls when these beliefs dominate policy decisions, foreign or domestic. Diplomacy can only thrive when there is mutual respect, understanding, and, at times, the willingness to prioritize shared global goals over individual ideologies.

The complete exclusion of religious values from the public square is neither possible nor desirable. There is a distinction to be made between policies inspired by broad religious values, like compassion for others, justice, or the sanctity of a human life, and policies that are dictated by specific religious doctrines. The real challenge is striking the right balance.

Fostering Inclusivity: Political leaders can draw from the shared values found in many religious traditions without necessarily endorsing or enforcing specific dogmas. Religion, in its many forms, has been a driving force behind a myriad of cultural and moral values that many societies hold dear. Every religion, at its heart, preaches certain universal principles. A policy that emphasizes caring for the less fortunate, for example, can draw from these shared tenets without being specifically religious. Inclusivity in governance is not about sidelining religion or making it irrelevant; instead, it is about recognizing the vast reservoir of shared values and principles that can be found across religious traditions and using them as a unifying force. When politicians focus on these shared principles, they can craft policies that resonate with a broader audience, ensuring that governance becomes a uniting, rather than divisive, force in society.

Promoting Dialogue: Encouraging open conversations between secular and religious communities can lead to a richer understanding of pressing social issues and pave the way for collaborative solutions. Engaging both secular and religious communities in conversations around policymaking can lead to laws and guidelines that are both robust and compassionate. Promoting such dialogues can create a landscape where misconceptions can be dismantled, and collective solutions emerge.

Upholding Democratic Values: Democracy, as a governing principle, thrives on the inclusion of diverse voices and ensuring that power isn't disproportionately concentrated in one place. Religious communities undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping societal values, it is essential that their influence on policies and laws remains balanced within the broader democratic framework. Democracies thrive when there is a coexistence of diverse voices. It's not about silencing religious perspectives but ensuring they exist within a tapestry of multiple, equally valued viewpoints, keeping the spirit of democracy alive and well.

The intertwining of religion and politics can be fraught with what seems to be endless challenges, it's essential to recognize that both spheres, at their best, aspire to create a just, compassionate, and thriving society. We just need to ensure that with balance, the collective wisdom of both secular and religious communities can be harnessed to craft effective solutions and a prosperous civilization.


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