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Debate continues everywhere about relationship of religion and politics


In his autobiography, Mohandas Gandhi spoke of the relationship between religion and politics. For Gandhi, “those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”

Those familiar with the history of India in the 20th century witnessed how religion was used as a powerful tool for every political movement. Not only in India but also in many places around the world, religion is a powerful force in every political realm.

The debate over whether religion and politics go hand in hand continues everywhere.

The idea of the separation between church and state is a product of the Enlightenment and modern Western nations.  It occurred mainly as a reaction against the hegemonic rule of the Medieval Catholic Church.

Those who claim that religion has nothing to do with politics may think politics is only about social and political values that have nothing to do with religion. Those who make decisions have religious beliefs and values that affect those decisions.

Their moral and ethical values are influenced by their religious beliefs. The separation of religion and politics is hard to define because of their intertwining nature.  In some places, they are indistinguishable.

One might ask how far Gandhi’s observation goes: What is the role of religion in politics?

Religion has its own political issues.  We often hear how devoted religious people press their own understandings and interpretations of religion in the political arena, without considering the religious perspectives of others. 

Use of religious language in political debates often proves to be effective for self-advancement. 

When politicians use religious language to appeal to the beliefs of some in a negative way, it is often done to dominate them.

Politicians can easily manipulate people. The essence of politics is about using power to control others.

When religious language and ideas are used in political conversations, they can create confusion and more conflict, especially if politicians do not consider the multiplicity and complexity of religious beliefs in this country.

For politicians, religion can become both a dangerous tool and an effective tool, depending on how it is used.

The influence of religion in politics is unavoidable. As the use of religious language and imagery increases across the political spectrum, politicians and religious leaders should use religion in a way that does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights or religious values.

It’s up to politicians whether they use religion for the common good and with respect for each religious faith.

We know that the line between an appropriate accommodation of religion and an inappropriate establishment of a state religion can be unclear.

Today, we can see the damage through history of how religion was used inappropriately to exert political power over others. Some policy makers, however, are able to consider the complexity of religion and put forth concerted efforts to balance the competing interests of politics and religion.

The United States is now a religiously pluralistic country with an increasing population of religious minorities, whose perspectives we rarely hear in the political arena.

In addition, the population of people with no religious affiliation is increasing. That being the case, we should seek to be more open to everyone’s perspectives rather than using religion to rally people of a particular political persuasion. At the same time, we need to create more space for conversation to lift up values that lead government and faith communities to work to benefit the good of the whole population.

Ikani Fakasiieiki
Contributing editor

Copyright © February 2016 - The Fig Tree