Louis Palme / Nov 03, 2012



When young Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around the United States in 1831-2, he noted that while Americans were very religious, they kept their religious views out of politics:


On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. . . I found that that [Americans] differed on matters of detail alone, and that they all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point. . . The church cannot share the temporal power of the state without being the object of a portion of that animosity which the latter excites. . . As long as a religion is sustained by those feelings, propensities, and passions which are found to occur under the same forms at all periods of history, it may defy the efforts of time, or at least it can be destroyed only by another religion. But when religion clings to the interests of the world it becomes almost as fragile a thing as the powers of earth.  . .  If the Americans, who change the head of government once in four years . . . if the Americans, who have given up the political world to the attempts of innovators, had not placed religion beyond their reach, where could it take firm hold in the ebb and flow of human opinions? Where would be that respect which belongs to it, amid the struggles of faction?  And what would become of its immortality, in the midst of universal decay?  The American clergy were the first to perceive this truth and to act in conformity with it.  They saw that they must renounce their religious influence if they were to strive for political power, and they chose to give up support of the state rather than to share its vicissitudes. . .  The two great dangers which threaten the existence of religion are schism and indifference. . . I am convinced that this extraordinary and incidental cause [of the demise of religious faith in Europe] is the close connection of politics and religion. The unbelievers of Europe attack the Christians as their political opponents rather than as their religious adversaries; they hate the Christian religion as the opinion of a party much more than as an error of belief; and they reject the clergy less because they are representatives of the Deity than because they are the allies of government. The living body of religion has been bound down to the dead corpse of superannuated polity; cut but the bonds that restrain it, and it will rise once more.

(Democracy in America, Vol. 1, page 308 ff)   


The US Constitution  specifically made religion off limits when considering candidates for public office:  Article VI, Paragraph 3 states:  “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  


It is difficult to hold fast to a religious ideology, and at the same time compromise some of those values in order to support imperfect political candidates, regardless of the political party. Jesus instructed his followers to be salt and light. “But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.”   (Matthew 5:12)   Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) had the courage to reject ecumenical prayers in 1986:  “Multi-religious prayer almost inevitably leads to false interpretations, to indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed, and thus to the dissolution of real faith.”


The number of Americans who have no religious affiliation has increased from 7% in 1972 to 20% today.  Over a third of Americans under age 30 have abandoned religion.  I believe this is a direct result of religions losing their “saltiness.”   Religious leaders are willing to compromise their religious convictions for political purposes.  Case in point:  The champion of Evangelical Christian faith in the U.S., Billy Graham, has removed the Mormon Church from his association’s list of “cults” in order to encourage Christians to vote for a Mormon candidate.   Their definition of a cult didn’t change, nor did the use of a heretical, extraneous religious text by the Mormon Church change.   Even worse, the association also took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal urging people to vote for “socially conservative politicians,” forgetting that Jesus Christ himself railed against the socially conservative leaders of his own day.  (See Matthew 23:1 – 28 and 25:31-46) Billy Graham’s organization compromised their religious convictions for purely political reasons.  This will drive more and more people from the faith, because the saltiness of Evangelical Christians has been corrupted.  


So what should have the Billy Graham association and other Christian leaders done?  Instead of compromising their position on religious cults, they should have reaffirmed the constitutional exclusion of a religious test for a candidate for public office.   While the values of politicians and the values represented by various propositions are important considerations, we have seen during the 2012 Presidential election season that candidates will say just about anything regarding their own personal values in order to garner more votes.   As de Tocqueville observed, any religious leader staking the integrity of their religious institution on those ephemeral promises will ultimately make that institution the object of a portion of that animosity which government rule inevitably excites.

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