Recently, over at the CNN Belief Blog, a piece from Sara Grossman was posted regarding a small shift in public opinion regarding the role of religious institutions in politics. It seems that the minority of people who want religion to play a stronger role in politics is now a slightly larger minority, for whatever that’s worth. Interestingly, even though the significant majority of folks agree that religion is declining in public life, only a minority are in favor of a more outspoken religious community in public life.
Perhaps the more important story here is that a lot of people are either content with the decline of religion’s influence on politics or actively in favor of it. Over the course of the next few decades, a further decrease in public religion is more likely than an increase given the demographic trends toward irreligious practice and anti-religion sentiment. And while a few people may think that the problem we face is a lack of religion in politics, I definitely do NOT want more religion in politics. What I would rather see is significantly less politics in my religion.
I very much enjoy living in a country in which the state is functionally agnostic with regard to metaphysical claims because it is the best protection for those of us who at one time or another will be religious minorities. A state which is too cozy with the church tends to corrupt the church, while a church which is too cozy with the state tends not to have any sanctifying effects on the state. The practical disadvantages of putting more religion into politics are far greater than the advantages of doing so.
For those who are concerned about the decline of religion in public life, the solution is more or less as follows: focus on living out the values of your religion rather than imposing those values on others by the force of law. People tend to respond more positively to a joyfully lived example and invitations to join that lived example than they do to legal corrals funneling them to living out values they don’t yet understand as valuable.
Stop presenting a religion as a matter of policies and procedures, a mere backdrop for an ideology, or feel-good communal rituals where everyone makes friends. Take the politics out of religion, and you may find that your religion makes its way effortlessly into the public eye through virtuous people in political life. If you want to get more religion in politics, then try getting your politics out of your religion.