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This essay will discuss the many aspects of how religion and money has been used to influence politics and politicians. With more emphasis on American politics and the Christian belief, which has been a great influence on politics using church money for quite some time now. Fundamental Christian Ideology has been sweeping across America at lightning speed lately. Clergymen have become symbols for many Republican politicians. In American politics when we think of money coming into the mix we think of corruption, but this corruption is in the form of elitism.
Shouldn’t we expect nothing but for our religious leaders to help in the spiritual or physical needs of their followers. Not for sponsoring an individual politicians agenda or spreading their religious beliefs, but instead help the human condition. Now it is popular for religious figures to become involved to swaying elections. This is corrupt plain and simple. Its corrupt for them to buy and sell their support using religion as the basis.
The corruptions goes as far as intimidation with even religious leaders threatening congregations to vote one way by using hell and damnation. It has too often been said that money is the root of all evil, that’s true when you combine money, religion and politics.
The majority of the Republican party are Christian. These Christians are controlled by their religious beliefs and with the help of their religious leaders. Compromise is vital to governing and to politics, but the Christians we are seeing today are not about compromise they are about what they believe to be Gods will.
This ideology of doing it in Gods name will not allow these Christians to compromise and with that there is no way of dealing with them. The Republican party has become very polarized and thought of as elitist. Their goals are so unusual that in recent times many conservatives are jumping ship. “When the Republican party effectively merged with the Christian right, all hope of compromise, plurality and negotiation disappeared from American politics. It is no trifle to say that divine mandate is the end of democracy” (Hamby 2011). Republican legislators today believe that their vision of a Christian nation is the best and they will do anything to make it happen. Anything that comes up to vote that deviates from their plans will be voted down, filibustered or made so that no one is allowed to make a vote.
Today’s Christians can be looked at as fundamentalist and believe wholeheartedly in their beliefs. So much that it has made them blind. They have even become blind to the most core of their beliefs that Jesus taught; love tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance. They will not budge, not even when given good evidence or good reasoning. I have always said that an intelligent man can change his mind, an idiot cannot. It is this kind of attitude that Republican Christian legislators have perpetuated in government through issues that deal with economics and society. The healthcare issue is just one example. Christians cling to the belief that is bad and evil and in reality it is for the good of all people rich or poor. Christian Republicans have made it their conviction to destroy the program, but in recent months it has become very apparent that Christian Republicans will not be able to accomplish this and have decided to turn their attention on Gay Rights and abortion. “Even some Republicans who have led the Tea Party Charge are losing steam” (Maass 2013). Jamelle Bouie, a writer at The Daily Beast, points out that the hero of the Tea Party, Sen. Rand Paul a Republican, has said it is a lost cause.
The molding of the Republican party to date has been made from the morals and virtue of these Christian beliefs and they believe they are right. The country began with stern convictions of separation of church and state. Yet the union of the two is quite evident in today’s politics. This is corruption that threatens the very fiber of the United States Constitution as well as democracy. There is a real danger of allowing them to merge. It seems that in the last couple of decades running for any office in the U.S. Government makes religiosity a prerequisite for office. These religious zealots have even tried to turn backwards the wheels of civil rights with some states creating laws to discriminate against individuals because of their sexual preference. They state that it is a right of any business owner to not serve anyone who goes against their religious beliefs. Thankfully they have not been successful so far. The corruption to politics religion has caused is the uprising of the fundamentalist Christian. Their ideology have caused the nation to become polarized with civil unrest just over the hill.
Religion has caused a political divide and is not indicative of the true view of America. America is a diverse country made up of an array of individuals from all walks of life and beliefs. But in politics today and soon in the upcoming elections it will be between who is more religious than others and mainly who is Christian. Many religious leaders have pointed to the Democratic party as having little respect for Christians and their beliefs and not believing in their values. It has become too easy for individuals to think of Christianity as a way to describe politics rather than faith. The majority of Americans believe in God, over 90 percent (Tafarella 2008), but the question today is how much do we really want religion to influence politics? The Church of politics should carefully examine the affect of using religion to gain votes or sway individual voting. Religious beliefs should be kept separate from mainstream politics, such as endorsing politicians. In reality, we do need religions to take chaos away and give meaning to peoples lives. Religion plays an important part of society and without religion civil rights would not have happened. But in today’s time the basic innate knowledge of what is right and what is wrong should be used in politics, not religious rigor.
Politics were created when population grew and more diversity was being acculturated into the groups. It is needed to maintain internal as well as external threats. To have political leaders fund raising is used to elect the best person to do the job. Most people vote for individuals that have similar ideology and to some individuals religious and political ideology is the same and to some extent that is true. Some would like their religious laws to regulate a majority. It started off that the constitution was to protect the people from religious coercion accepting anyone whether they have the same religious ideology or not. No religious test was to be given as a qualification to public office or trust, but that was not to say a politician couldn’t express their religious beliefs or religious affiliations.
Religion has given us ethical and moral convictions and cannot be removed from everyday life. The question that should be asked is would it be for the greater good? Religious diversity, from having no religion to a strict religious orientation, makes up the America’s population. Convictions based on a religious moral or on a social conviction should be able to cover the widest audience in a population. Unless there is injustice or human rights violations then the size of the group should not matter, it should be for the greater good. So policies for society should not be created for the sole purpose of religious beliefs or to any one specific faith. It should be designed to cover the diverse groups of people and have merit to aid and not hinder a persons life. Politics in America have sponsored the fundamental national traditions and values, but as society and values change so must politics. It should change to have appropriate moral, social and political wording and meaning.
Religious movements presence in American politics can be seen everywhere with their concern over human rights, environment, poverty, homosexuality, creation, abortion and even the breakdown of the family to foreign policy and social welfare issues. To understand politics there has to be an understanding of religion. In America the government cannot favor one religion over any other. The First Amendment made that clear. The separation of church and state, as well as religious freedom, is ingrained in the American culture. But many see religion as a form of a feudal government system that uses hate, fear and lies to manipulate people to follow certain individual or groups belief. Religion has been used in very corrupt ways, one example would be David Koresch he used God and religion to spread hate and racism for power.
When thinking of religion and politics it isn’t hard to see how close they really are. Religion is a huge part of many individuals life just like politics. Politics are suppose to be more inclusive than religions. There are no specific laws for religions except for an IRS law that states:
“Pastors can preach on biblical, moral and social issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Pastors can urge the congregation to become involved in the political process, urge them to register and vote. Pastors can acknowledge visiting candidates. Pastors can personally endorse or oppose political candidates, personally work for political candidates, and personally contribute to them. Also, a pastor’s name may appear in a published ad or letter signifying the pastor’s endorsement of the candidate, and the pastor’s title and affiliation with the church can also be listed with the notation, “Title and affiliation for identification purposes.” (Staver 2004).
If they do not follow the law then they will lose their non-profit status and forced to pay taxes. The power of a religious leader is pretty great. Granted most of the issues they preach on is on values and morals but sometimes different views on what is moral is questioned and in some instances civil unrest causes government to intervene. When this happens politicians act and soon its in the political arena. What else would anyone need to persuade someone to vote or believe in a certain way than the vocal power of your religious leader? It seems difficult not to be persuaded when there are congregations that hangs on their religious leaders every word. Churches are allowed to be actively involved with ballot initiatives and referendums. The Freedom From Religion Foundation states, “Under the law, this is permissible activity because ballot initiatives are considered to be “legislation” and thus, are lobbying activities, not “political” activity” (pg1).
When thinking of politics and religious influences one that first comes to mind is the traditional marriage issue. This social issue has been in the news for some time now. Many conservative groups have been opposed to same sex couples becoming legally married. In 2004 there were several attempts at trying to sway members of a church and it pastors to only vote in support of traditional marriages. One church even broadcast live nationally wanting individuals to call their Senators and to urge them to vote for the Federal Marriage Amendment. They even showed pictures of the Senators with phone numbers to call. “This display of Christian solidarity over the issue of marriage irritated the liberal left because it was successful in causing several Senators to change their positions and vote in favor of the FMA” (Staver 2004) Religious beliefs have social as well as moral implications, and should be practiced in the more micro-social political arena.
We all seek truth and religion helps in that quest. It gives a way for building our attitudes and beliefs. The bible makes at least 2,000 references on money. Money has had its use in society for a very long time, but its what we do with money that counts. Wealth in America is given power and prestige and in the United States who owns the money is concentrated into the top 1%. Inequity in wealth has become worse in the U.S ever since the recession and economy collapse of the 2000’s. Wealth has become something that has a life of its own and in today’s economy approximately 20 to 80 percent of wealth is inherited (Keister 2000, pg. 82). Society is just starting to understand how wealth interacts with individuals and families and how religion has become a part of this process. “Religion Embodies a great deal about a person’s general approach to the world—their conception about how the world does and should work—and we are learning that it can shape financial outcomes in surprising ways” (Keister 2011). Religion and wealth are alike in at least two ways. One way is that religion affects wealth when dealing with education, marriage and family and affects these in indirect ways such as income, expenses or even how much to donate to churches. Directly, religion affects wealth by influencing the family and even the next generation because we transfer religious ideas and wealth from parents to child. Decisions families or individuals make have their beginnings in religious beliefs.
How much money religious groups spend on politics is not something easy to find. But an article by Jessica Garrison (2009) reported that the Church of the Latter Day Saints donated more than $180,000 in contributions to promote Proposition 8 (Banning same sex marriages in California). The money was spent on top church officials for expenses they incurred during their travels. Some church employees were paid for their time working on this also. This was spent in a 6 month period. Another article written by Leo Kucek (2012) in the Yakima Herald out of Washington discussed how during a Catholic Mass that Reverend Tyson, the bishop wanted all parishes in that district to pass around a second collection plate so they can give money to a political campaign that was working on banning marriage equality. Many of the parishioners were upset with this saying they were there to listen to God’s voice and share communion. They didn’t want to be dragged into such a divisive battle in politics.
Money is a huge factor in running a political campaign and these campaigns need a lot of it. More and more politicians in certain areas will use endorsements from clergymen to get votes and in return certain laws or ideologies will be passed to the masses. This is called “grass roots” politicking. What is the ethics or morals of doing this? Should they be used in today’s new society? Certainly there are laws that are innate in humans, the basic morals. These are true and the same with every religion, but should one religious ideology be forced upon the population. All religions have the same core ideology, but have branched out changing beliefs and changing how they apply religion. Belief is who you are, its your spiritual side. Our laws used to be based on religious thoughts, but society has changed. Abortion, gay rights and marijuana laws are no longer based on Christian beliefs. Something changed in society and religion does not have so much influence anymore as they have in the past. President Obama said it best June 28th, 2006, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers”(Tafarella 2008).
In America there has been much conflict between traditional separation of church from state, but in recent times it has shifted to mixing the two. Much of political and social issues have used religious institutions for moral authority, but in the same sense it has caused much conflict. Different faiths are growing on the religious landscape or old religious thoughts are being re-created. Tea Party supporters rose from the religious right and do not want a separation of church and state. They believe it will be the downfall of America if Christianity isn’t placed in politics. The Tea Party makes up most of the zeal of the Republican Party along with about two thirds of the primary electorate. But even though Republicans have pushed to mix politics and religion, the majority of the United States have been moving to the other polar end. Many individuals that have been Republicans have been jumping the wagon because of all the rigorous beliefs many politicians are claiming to be Christian and the claims of how these fundamentalist beliefs are the right way of life (Campbell and Putnam 2012).
In the article God and Caesar in America the author discusses this mixing of politics and religion that paints a pretty good picture of this phenomenon:
“From the day the Pilgrims stepped off the mayflower, religion has played a prominent role in American public life. The faithful have been vital participants in nearly every major social movement in U.S. history, progressive as well as conservative. Still, the close intertwining of religion and politics in the last 40 years is unusual, especially in the degree of the politicization of religion itself. Indeed, religion’s influence on U.S. politics has hit a high-water mark, especially on the right. yet at the same time, its role in American’s personal lives is ebbing. As religion and politics have become entangled, many Americans, especially younger ones, have pulled away from religion. And that correlation turns out to be causal, not coincidental.”
Now it is who goes to church that has divided voters. In the 1960’s it was more likely a democratic voter attended church more than a republican, now it has become opposite. “Yet in 2008, the God gap remained as wide as ever: according to data we collected, among whites, 67 percent of weekly churchgoers voted for Senator John McCain, as compared with 26 percent of those who never attended church” (Campbell and Putnam 2012).
In recent times and in light of recent republican politicians putting their foot in their mouths there has been a widening negative view of the Tea Party. Many cannot believe what some of these party members are saying and how they are pushing in the name of Christianity. Many of the politicians that represent the party believe in some pretty far reaching ideology. Stuart Whatley writes, “At its core, the Tea Party movement is rife with contradiction, incoherence and a willful contempt for facts or reason. It is but a parody of the legitimate movements for which American democracy has historically been held in such high regard. It is, in fact, the latest installment in quite another American tradition: the exploitation of frustrated, desperate, and susceptible people by monied interests and profiteers”. They cry for tax cuts from President Obama, yet to date he has given the nation one of the largest cuts in taxes ever and it is this kind of rhetoric that is making them look like incompetent fools. They use the term “grassroots” in order to try and sway enough Americans to vote their way, but the tactic is losing ground. This is because most of the members of the Tea Party are in fact the rich elitist that have racist attitudes with very distorted Christian beliefs. Whatley also points out the party has no real leaders except for “public figures and entities” that act as party leaders.
Another entity mixing politics and religion is Fox News. They use fear and misinformation to promote the Tea Party’s ideology. Just this past year, 2013, reporter for Fox News Megyn Kelly declared on the air that Jesus and Santa are just plain white. Kelly is a stanch follower of the Tea Party. This was instantly picked up and sent around the globe. It is this kind of thought that follows the Party like a shadow. How could she say this with a straight face? Jesus was a Jew from the Middle East and the origins of Santa come from somewhere around Turkey, but in reality he has been represented as a variety of races. Another Fox News reporter, Bill O’Reilly is a Tea Party supporter that in 2013 blamed the unfavorable views of the Tea Party on mainstream media. He also blamed sympathetic right-wing ideology a problem too. So basically what he is saying is that it is the majority of Americans that are seeing the Tea Party as a huge problem for republican politics. He just doesn’t see the Party itself as a problem.
Authors David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam believe that the mix is bad for both politics and religion. Blaming the mix on the reduction of church goers and has caused harm in many moral dilemmas the nation is facing believing it is the partisan label that is causing this problem. “Martin Luther King, Jr’s prophetic call for racial justice was persuasive in part because his words and deeds drew on powerful religious symbolism that could not be reduced to base partisanship”(Campbell and Putnam 2012). The separation of both is very important for democracy to function. The government does not chose who will be a religious leader for a church, so the church should not chose the leaders for the nation. Favor over one religion over another for taxes would not be reasonable. The government cannot define how someone is to believe in God or even worship. So why should religion play its hand in government? The morality of this should be questioned and examined.
The tradition of separating church and state many religious groups have used politics to spread their own moral beliefs. Examples include the opposition to liberalizing abortion by the Catholic church to southern black churches fight in the civil rights movements. Many of the southern conservatives oppose gambling, drinking and even Sunday business practice, but the main fact is that religious zealous beliefs are trying to enter the political arena and this is a frightening thought. The mix of religion and politics is always dangerous and in some instances deadly. Usually if your parents have a certain party affiliation chances are that you too will have the same. Religious beliefs are usually passed from generation to generation even when faith isn’t practiced the basic ideology is still present when making certain decisions. Religious beliefs are important and necessary because it can give people that feel hopeless or lost the need to live. It gives humans something to grab onto in a cosmic sense. It gives them meaning to life and gives moral values to society.
When used to overcome or belittle a political leader for an individual agenda or a groups ideology it becomes politicized religion. Political candidate’s personal religious beliefs have directly and indirectly been used to gain votes. Misconceptions of different religious beliefs have defused campaigns as well as aided them. One example of damage is in 2008 when in the presidential campaign race for the Republican party, Mitt Romney, was knocked out of the race because of his religious beliefs. His belief in Mormonism hurt his campaign. This is because of misleading impressions opponents gave the public of the religion. The separation of church and state have become very difficult to see in the U.S. and even non existent in some countries. Right winged religious fanatics and the influence of some right-winged fanatical media isn’t healthy for democracy either.
The influence religion has on American politics can be heard in most speeches any politician gives. We ask blessings from God in song, for victims and is even written on our currency. There is a public life of religion in America that is passed on the American people through conservative media, such as Fox News. Much of this right-winged agenda push is in favor of the wealthy and hurts the poor and middle class. It isn’t even just the Republicans who have pushed their religious beliefs, there are Democrats that have made it known that certain beliefs they have influence issues that deal with society. So it is really kind of difficult to not think of one along side the other. There is a very fine line between the two. “Indeed, religion has historically inspired change across the U.S. political spectrum. American public discourse — and the country at large — will be impoverished if religion is reduced to a mere force for partisan mobilization” (Campbell and Putnam 2012). The separation of religion and politics should be replaced with the ideology of what is just or unjust, what is for the greater good, what is moral or immoral and what is right or wrong. Not the fundamental beliefs of any one religion, but the conscious and clear evaluation of each. Making decisions that include all.
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