“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.”
When people think of the dangers of mixing politics and religion the first thought is usually about Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia trying to “inoculate” against atheism and secularism [link1], also 1 of the 7 nations where an atheist can be executed under state law [link2].
As much as the majority Christians can rant against countries they say oppress their religion or actively prosecute their religion they rarely acknowledge that in most cases having no religion is even more taboo. Even in the “enlightened West”, across the Pacific.
From all the controversy surrounding the Democrats’ candidate election campaign from last year, one of the most telling emails refer to their secondary candidate Bernie Sanders’ religious views:
“It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God,” wrote Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the committee. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheists. This could make several points difference with my peeps.”
Mr. Marshall added in a second email: “It’s these Jesus thing.” Ms. Dacey wrote back, in capital letters: “AMES.”
And while the effect of these emails and the real impact it had on Sanders; campaign and chance of success is highly debatable, it did expose one of the big truths about the so called “Leaders of the Free World”: The religious view of their presidential candidate is a major factor for if they would vote for a candidate, with between 43% [link3] and more than 50% [link4] saying they would simply not consider voting for a candidate purely because of his atheist religious views.
In a way I cannot blame the above-mentioned Mr Marshall, his job is to ensure the maximum chance of success for a Democrat to be elected president, and in this he was just crunching the numbers. But a lot of young, religiously non-affiliated voters that could have voted for Hilary was simply too incensed by this attack on Sanders’ religious views to consider going to vote against Trump. We’ll never know to what extend the leaked emails affected the outcome of the election, but the surrounding controversy was definitively a major setback for the Democrat’s campaign [link5].
And it’s not only in the big old US of A: In 2008, Canada appointed a minister of science who cannot give a clear answer on his beliefs about evolution [link6]. If he is a minister of science, his opinion on a proven and well respected field should not be a difficult answer. Instead he takes the question about evolution as an attack on his religious views, then gives a half-hearted “I may believe in some evolution” answer.
In South Africa, the issue comes to light most clearly when it comes to teaching evolution, that relatively young but painful thorn in Genesis’ side. In 1994, Sibusiso Bengu (then the new minister of Education) was asked why he was not insisting that the theory of evolution be taught in all South African schools at all levels and he reportedly replied: “I don’t want a revolution about evolution.” [link7].
This has persisted, and one of many South African’s school-year memories include a history or science teacher trying to explain why they discuss evolution in history or biology but that it is only “evolution within the species” or “just a theory”; thereby displaying their complete lack of understanding what we mean with the “theory” of evolution [link8]. They were and still are trying to sweep one of humanity’s greatest discoveries under the rug just because it sits uncomfortably with their own personal belief.
And in this we can see the need for a secular government. We see the need to qualify candidates by their knowledge and understanding of the field they will be master over, and we simply cannot afford to ignore the impact a person’s personal beliefs may have on the direction of a whole nation.
This is not a plea for more atheists or non-believers in the government; it is a wake-up call that religion should not be a factor at all in the choosing of civil servants. We shouldn’t be asking the minister of education what he believes, we should be asking what he believes should be taught. There is a big difference between believing something and being a proponent of it.
The problem is not that the president goes to church, it is that almost the first thing they do when elected is go to church [link10] just to reassure their voters that they are Christian enough [link8] to lead the country. Would it not be refreshing to hear that instead of making sure the president gets photographed going to church on Easter we get a report of what he has been doing to lead his country in that time? Is that not more relevant to his actual job?
“In God we trust” the Americans proudly proclaim, but with this narrow-mined, fear-mongering misogynist of a president representing their Christian ideals, they might have to re-evaluate where they put their trust, as many [link11] already have [link12].