Can You Really Keep Your Religion Out of Your Politics?

religion_politics

Doing any sort of activism work will inevitably lead to some criticism by members of your community, at least it will if you are doing it right.  Demanding relevant change in the world makes people who are complacently comfortable in their lives, positions, and viewpoints profoundly uncomfortable.  This comfortable complacency is often one of the most persistent barriers to making lasting changes to equity and justice within our society.  One quickly finds that being perceived as a threat to that comfort will incur criticism, attacks, and vitriol from the most invested.  This can be tiring, but it’s to be expected.  It’s part of the process, and while responses of personal attacks and malevolence tend to harm everyone involved, respectful and civil disagreements and debate furthers the dialogue and can lead to solutions to problems.  So a big part of remaining effective in your activism is to learn when to ignore criticism and when to engage in dialogue with your critic.

One of the most common criticisms that an activist that comes from a spiritual background will receive is to tell us that we shouldn’t mix our religion or spirituality with our politics.  The people who level this complaint at activists and take a stance on not mixing their religion and politics tend to be people who can afford to separate these two aspects of their lives, people whose human rights aren’t being threatened and whose lives and finances are well protected by a system that tends to favor white male rights over all others.  But what does this look like, this separation of spirituality and politics?  How does one untangle these ideas in our minds and make choices without one influencing the other?

The root of the separation of church and state in the United States comes from a combination of sources.  The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion and impeding the free exercise of religion.  On a side note, it also prohibits abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. These are all aspects of the protest movement that the same people who advocate keeping spirituality out of  politics often have issues with as well.  This leads people to cherry pick the constitution for statements that support their agenda the same way  that an evangelist will cherry pick the bible to support their agenda.  Further, Article Six of the Constitution establishes that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, ensuring that the US Government remains secular and not directly influenced by the Church.  Later, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut written in 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote on the subject that the United States should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

So what we have in regards to the separation of Church and State is a strict commitment, written into the Constitution and echoed by Jefferson and the Supreme Court, to not allow the government to be controlled in any way by the Church,  to not allow the state to establish a state religion, and to not require membership in a particular church in order to qualify for public office.  There are many reasons why this is a good policy.  There’s the fact that most Abrahamic faiths strongly encourage people to unquestionably follow an autocratic elite, an idea that clearly stands in opposition to the spirit of a truly democratic society, there’s the idea that we do not want another person’s religious beliefs impinging on our rights and freedoms, and there’s the fact that religion and government have different roles in society and should remain separate because mixing those role have historically been disastrous.  But while I strongly believe that the strict separation of the Church and State is necessary to maintain a just society, this is not the same issue as keeping one’s spirituality or religion out of their personal politics.

But how does one keep their personal politics and their spirituality separate?  For me, I can’t do it.  As a matter of fact I can’t even imagine how someone who critically thinks about the issues can keep spirituality and politics compartmentalized in their minds.  Because in my experience, most people’s spirituality and politics are influenced by their morals and ethics, not the other way around.  For example, I believe that everyone should have basic human rights.  I would not practice a religion that advocated denying others their human rights, and when I vote for a candidate their moral character and stance on human rights is a major factor on whether or not they will get my vote.  To separate your spirituality from your politics is to separate your morals from your politics and that is a dangerous thing.  For without consideration of morals, what are we using to make our political choices?  Our wallets?  Our party affiliation?  Our self-interest?  These motivations do not lead to a just and equitable society, they lead to inequality, power imbalance, and ultimately the decline of that society.

As a society, we must learn to be guided by our own morality and our own codes of ethics and not have them dictated to us by churches and politicians.  We need to have an active ongoing relationship with our moral codes and sets of values, a dialogue with ourselves and others to continually refine and update our opinions as we learn new information and hear other people’s viewpoints.  Morality cannot be written in stone, it should always be a work in progress.  There is danger in the inverse of this approach.  To allow your government or your church to define your moral and ethical code without critical reflection can be one of the most destructive impulses that a society can have,  Governments can tell you that they have to militarize and restrict your freedoms in order to keep you free, they can try to convince you that poisoning your water and land is necessary in order to maintain prosperity.  Churches can tell you who is righteous and who is pure and try to justify dehumanizing others for having differing faiths and they can try to convince you that your natural healthy impulses are impure and sinful and pit you against your self in a never-ending cycle of shame.  Spirituality and politics should never be top down institutions, they should be guided and led by the people in a continual process of refinement and education, striving for better understanding and a more equable and just society.

So to the demand that I keep my religion out of my politics, I will have to politely decline.  For both my religion and my politics come from the same place, my heart, guided by a moral code that I am in constant refinement of.  My religion and my politics can’t be separate because at the root of both of them is an uncontrollable impulse to stand for every person’s basic human rights, to help my community to grow and be prosperous and fair for everyone, to defend the most vulnerable and abused in our society, to create a culture of equity and a clean and healthy planet for the coming generations.   Our morality is not handed down to us from our churches and it’s not prescribed to us by our governments, it is ours,  a precious part of our humanity that must continually be nurtured and grown, educated and socialized, and refined and enlightened if we are to create a lasting society worthy of our vast potential.

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12 thoughts on “Can You Really Keep Your Religion Out of Your Politics?

  1. Generally, I agree with you Brennos, but there are three points I think form the basis of why I don’t think religion and politics are a good mix.

    1. The association between a given political stand and relationship with the Gods. For example, you believe the Work She asks of you, being a goddess of sovereignty, involves standing up for the mistreated through social justice, and I can see how that follows. I am called to Work for personal and individual sovereignty, and thus I’m a libertarian because it represents the freest form of society, where an individual may be most sovereign over him or herself.

    Anyone who looks at is would think us political enemies, and we might well be on certain issues. Because She calls is to do different things.

    The concern I have is that it’s not right to expect since I serve Her, and I have certain justified politics, that every devotee of the Morrigan should be a libertarian. But if I say She requires it of me, then the expectation is anyone else who is devoted to the same goddess should as well.

    2. It’s a very slippery slope to say “The Morrigan demands I hold x,y, and z political beliefs” and before you know it, it becomes “Any *true* devotee votes for these issues”. I don’t think you’ve gone down that slope but I think your on the edge of it.

    Look up the ” No true Scotsman ” fallacy for more information.

    3. I don’t think the Gods who oversee the land, add fire to the sun and stars, and rule with such power, really give a shit about minimum wage laws, for example. Those are human inventions for petty human concerns, and I think it’s impious and an act of hubris to think that one’s concerns *must necessarily be* the concerns of the Gods.

    Again, I don’t think you’re making such a case, but it does represent another slippery slope that’s tempting to slide down.

    My opinion is that one should not mix the two to avoid the near occasion of temptation to use the one to justify the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ed,
      I hope you are well.
      To answer your points. My ethical process isn’t, The Morrigan wants A, therefore my ethics are A and therefore my political stance is A. It’s my life experience teaches me A, therefore both my spirituality and my politics must reflect A or they are disingenuous. One of the aspects of being a polytheist and devoted to the Morrigan is that with the Morrigan, unlike most monotheism, I am expected to question Her and expected to have the spine to say no to things that go against my morals, as are you. We are not Her “flock”, The “no true scotsman” thing doesn’t apply because I don’t claim to speak for Her nor do I prescribe the “right” way to have a relationship with Her. If I made a habit of telling people that they were worshiping the Morrigan wrong, I would be way too busy 🙂 What my role as a priest is is to maintain a devotional relationship with Her, and to help people maintain their own relationship with Her, not to give people “the holy word of the Morrigan, as defined by me” That’s that pesky monotheism creeping into our thinking again.
      Now there is much to be said on the subject of Sovereignty, but it’s been my experience that the Sovereignty of the Land, and personal sovereignty, are different things. Personal sovereignty is about sovereignty and freedom over yourself, whereas the Sovereignty of the Land is about being in rightful relationship with the Land, your community, the spirits, and the gods. Sovereignty of the Land often severely restricts personal freedom through strict codes of conduct and geasa. To break any of these geasa was to harm the land, the otherworld and your people. It was an act of your actions being tied directly to the health and prosperity of the land, rather than having your actions unfettered in the name of personal freedom.
      And as far as whether or not the gods are concerned with human rights, my experience is that the Morrigan is a tribal goddess, not an abstract goddess of creation that gives fire to the stars. My experience with tribal gods is that they are concerned with human affairs, and human rights issues fall under the category of human affairs. But that is my interpretation of it, everyone has their own.
      I do completely agree with your point that we shouldn’t justify our politics with our religion. They should both come from a different place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really like everything you wrote here about the distinction between deities associated with tribes/peoples and deities associated with more abstract natural forces (though there’s often overlap, of course), about the Sovereignty of the Land, and about our spirituality and politics needing to both reflect our life experience without one serving as a justification for the other. Thank you.

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      • I think it’s also worth pointing out that the purpose of “separation of Church and State” as a policy and as a custom, is so that every individual is free to be guided by their own conscience. The founders were very fond of framing the issue in those terms. Conscience is very much a spiritual principle that flows from and interrelates with one’s religious perspective. A person who managed to separate their conscience from either their religious life or their political choices would not be someone I would want to associate with in either arena.

        In short, the point of that separation at the collective level is to *protect* the role of conscience in political and religious life at the individual level.

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. “whereas the Sovereignty of the Land is about being in rightful relationship with the Land, your community, the spirits, and the gods. Sovereignty of the Land often severely restricts personal freedom through strict codes of conduct and geasa. To break any of these geasa was to harm the land, the otherworld and your people. It was an act of your actions being tied directly to the health and prosperity of the land, rather than having your actions unfettered in the name of personal freedom.”

    This is the bit that REALLY stands out to me, it’s what I have been pondering on and working towards re-establishing in a ritual format. Glad to know other people are thinking that way too.

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  5. For me, it’s not about keeping the ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ separate… I have NO problem keeping politics out of religion because MY politics are not the same as someone else who might share my religion. Building community, education and, what I feel is the MOST important thing I can do, raising our children to be compassionate, thoughtful good people are all ways in which everyone in our community lives as an activist.
    There is a lot more to motivating personal ethics and morals than religious beliefs…I have many atheist friends who are good people not requiring a God to keep them in check.

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    • I agree that one’s religious beliefs should not define their political beliefs or vice versa. I don’t think that anything in our lives can be all conservative or liberal. Anyone who believes that probably has a greater tendency to label and judge people. You cannot define a person by his religious or political beliefs. I believe that a person upbringing is what instills their values. When I was growing up, I had one parent because my father died, and while things were tough, my mother did a great job of instilling positive values and teaching right from wrong, and we didn’t go to church that much, so we weren’t religious.

      I remember when I started going to church with a friend from school, I started seeing things that I did not like. People in the church were always gossiping about people, bragging about they got away with things, and taking advantage of people. Even my friend was exhibiting conduct that I didn’t like, such making racist remarks and talking about people, and even lying about things. Looking back, I am not sure if she was ever truthful to me. And her family always raved about being so religious and living by the Bible. Given the way that my mom raised me to be, I am surprised that kept pressing me to continue going to church with my friend, especially since it did not set well at home (because my family did not go that church). I have noticed that people who insist on mixing politics and religion are more judgmental, and use more of a bandwagon approach to everything. Whatever is said by whatever politician goes.

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