Saturday, July 25, 2015

Religion and Politics

There doesn't seem to be any way around it — the constitutional separation of church and state notwithstanding — religion and politics are inseparable. 

As institutions of culture, all churches and institutionalized religions reflect dominant political realities. Non-institutionalized religions, personal spiritualities and systems of belief are all formed in relation to the dominant realities . . . and yet, in all of human history, it is the religious experience that can lift us above cultural limitations and provide us with new ways of thinking and seeing. And this, too, impacts political beliefs and activities.

Walter Rauschenbusch, a much beloved teacher of the Christian social gospel in the early years of the 20th century, wrote that, "the religious spirit is a factor of incalculable power in the making of history." One only has to call to mind the religious impulse that fired the civil rights movement of the 60s, or the Catholic Worker movement that arose from the suffering of the first Great Depression. Go further back in history, and you'll find the Diggers and Levellers of 17th century England, Protestant heretics speaking out for social change. The life of Saint Francis (1182-1226 CE) exemplified an alternative political order, and Jesus himself, whose explosive political criticism led him to be executed as a radical, has been our role model of the religious spirit making history in every age since. In every case, these Christian believers tilted the balance of political power toward the common welfare.

But this religious influence is not limited to empowering the common person or calling to task the rulers of the temporal world for their sins of cruelty and greed. For the past 35 years, the collusion of evangelical Christianity with state and plutocratic supremacy has further empowered these mighty sinners and lent the authority of religion to their oppression of the people. To the everlasting shame of a church whose god holds the poor in highest esteem, the religious right acts as a lackey for the powers-that-be instead of a leader in the fight for human dignity, peace and abundance for all. 

This is not new, of course. The Catholic Church was the temporal power of the Middle Ages, crowning kings and controlling cities, and the Reformation was merely a changing of the face of royalty from an aristocracy to a plutocracy. In a wicked slight-of-hand, the Christian churches redefined sin as sexual activity in order to avoid challenging the most egregious abominations of the political orders: cruelty, greed, the use of violence and the lust for power.

And yet, in every age, religious heroes and sages have arisen to speak truth to power and to work for the betterment of all of humankind. Pope Francis, risking the wrath of his own church hierarchy as well as political leaders from around the world, is speaking out against weapons manufacture and human trafficking, and speaking for the poor, for a rational relationship between science and religion, and for an awareness of climate change. I am watching his work with great hope, and pray for his welfare every day. 

We need men and women of alternative faiths, faiths based on kindness and love, to act and speak politically if we are to create the change that will offer true salvation to the human species —salvation in the flesh. “Under the warm breath of religious faith,” writes Rauschenbusch, “all social institutions become plastic. The religious spirit removes mountains and tramples on impossibilities.” This is why Polytheistic Animism engages in political and social concerns and does not isolate itself in a spiritual foxhole.

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