Posted on October 23rd, 2012 | Filed under Featured, News, Social Issues, Uncategorized
Tagged with Barack Obama, debates, election 2012, Mitt Romney, non-religious, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, politics, separation of church and state
Yesterday, CNN Belief Blog posted an article begging the question, “Is President Obama the Wrong Kind of Christian?” The article thoughtfully outlined the history of progressive Christianity, the social gospel, and the rise of fundamentalism and conservative politics. Being someone who studies American religiosity, I understand the importance that Christianity plays in American politics, but I am equally exasperated by it.
Perhaps its an enlightenment era fantasy to believe that the threads of religion and politics could ever be detangled. Thomas Jefferson, influenced by such enlightenment thinkers as John Locke, was the one who famously called for a line separating church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Since that time, we have carefully treaded the line. As this 2012 general election has proceeded, each end of the political spectrum has pulled this line tighter and tighter, begging the candidates to balance upon it like an ill-conceived circus act.
We have seen questions of Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan’s Catholic beliefs and their influence on policy, Mitt Romney has sited us as “all children of the same God” twice and referred to his time as bishop of his church, and President Obama has, while more subtle, also referred to his faith on a few occasions. However ,despite these religious references, the main election has focused less on religion than in the past.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a report citing the rise of the religiously unaffiliated or the “nones.” Of those interviewed, 34% of the younger millennials (aged 18-22) and 30% of the older millennials (aged 23-30) do not identify with a religious persuasion.
67% of the “nones” site religion as being too involved in politics are a reason for their disassociation. The Pew Forum has noted the steady rise of the nones since their last survey in 2007, and that it has coincided with the steady decline of Protestant Christianity (an observation reflected in the candidates' religious preferences; Barack Obama is the only Protestant.)
As the religiously affiliated continue to decline and the millennials, myself included, come of age, the question remains: What will happen to religion’s influence on politics?
If in only four years the more overt religious language has disappeared, what will 2016 look like? What will the more religiously contentious social debates such as abortion and LGBTQ marriage look like? In an increasingly diverse multi-religious America that includes those who consider themselves non-religious or religious, but unaffiliated, American politics slowly are changing. Perhaps finally we can stop using our religion (or lack thereof) to fight partisan political battles, and instead work together.
Perhaps the best combination of religion and politics is when both are discarded in favor of working toward the common good. It shouldn’t matter if an Atheist, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim is running for President of the United States. Instead, what can they do to make life better for all of us? This unaffiliated millennial looks forward to what we can build in the next four years, and hopes for a democratic process where religious affiliation ceases to matter.