13

As European citizen (French), I have never been used to seeing biblical notions in politics, but in the USA it seems quite common. For example, former French president Jacques Chirac revealed that the USA invaded Iraq in part for Biblical reasons.

President Jacques Chirac wanted to know what the hell President Bush had been on about in their last conversation. Bush had then said that when he looked at the Middle East, he saw "Gog and Magog at work" and the biblical prophecies unfolding. But who the hell were Gog and Magog? Neither Chirac nor his office had any idea. But they knew Bush was an evangelical Christian, so they asked the French Federation of Protestants, who in turn asked Professor Römer.

There are more examples like that where God, missions from God, and involvement of God are deeply linked to US political messages. Is God really a strong component of US political life?

10
  • 4
    Every time I listened to American political discourse, I was like going back to the middle ages. I speak this as a person who has lived in three continents. Oct 19 '14 at 4:47
  • 3
    Considering the phrase "God Bless America!" is almost mandatory for any aspiring politician, I'd say so. Oct 19 '14 at 5:46
  • The first part of this question is answerable, the second part isn't. This needs to be cleaned up. E.g. the reference to Israel is unhelpful and introduces more controversial elements (e.g. how theocratic is Israel? Would you consider it a theocracy or is it just a point of comparison)? I'll post an answer to the question of "What is the importance of God in American politics", but more than that I cannot do.
    – Publius
    Oct 19 '14 at 19:45
  • FYI, Lord Bertrand Russell totally endorsed Christian love. Oct 20 '14 at 4:56
  • Paradox? Here's another one: Southerner's life style is slow and laid-back, yet the world's fastest shipping giant is governed from the South. Quality cannot be rushed, especially when mishaps are extremely unforgiving. Oct 20 '14 at 5:26
15

Religion and the idea of God play a large role in American politics, but their influence is limited by the First Amendment. The relevant text from the First Amendment is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

There are two clauses here: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing laws that explicitly enforce religious law or favor religious institutions. For example, prayer in public schools was ruled unconstitutional because it was a violation of the establishment clause. The free exercise clause prohibits the government from preventing people from practicing their religion.

However, the First Amendment does not prohibit Congress from passing laws due to religious motivations. So long as the laws do not explicitly enforce a solely religious law or institution, and so long as they do not prevent people from practicing their religion, those laws could be constitutional. Congress does pass laws which derive their support from religion.

For example, laws restricting access to abortion derive much of their support from Christian groups, but such laws are not unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Some politicians will also cite religious motivations for their policies. Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) explained his voting record as being motivated by his religious beliefs, saying "as your Congressman, I hold the holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington D.C."

Religion does not just influence American policy, but also American politics in general. For example, nearly half of Americans would not vote for an Atheist for president, even if the candidate were otherwise well-qualified. Americans would be more comfortable with a well-qualified candidate from any other religious group. Furthermore, a substantial portion of Americans want politicians to express their faith more often, and want religious institutions to be more involved in politics.

It should be noted, however, that the influence of religion in politics is not totally pervasive, but regionally concentrated. In general, voters from the South will tend to be more religious. If you're interested in the influence and policies of specific religious groups, you can read this wikipedia article on religion and politics in the United States.

23
  • 3
    @DVK While I recognize that anti-GMO laws are just as unscientific as some laws Republican politicians endorse, the question was more about organized religion. If somebody asked a question about anti-scientific thought in general, I could definitely include some examples from the political left (though luckily those policies do not appear to have as much a hold on Democratic policy on a national level).
    – Publius
    Oct 20 '14 at 22:08
  • 5
    @DVK Those problems are not substantial or too politically influential in the United States, and the US by and large does not have anti-GMO laws. I agree that in places like southeast Asia, it is an extremely important issue. Anti-vaccination hysteria has, unfortunately, had some political influence (in that it has motivated exemption laws), but I do not think that it is motivated by belief in God.
    – Publius
    Oct 21 '14 at 17:28
  • 4
    @DVK anti-GMO laws typically stem from backlash against big-ag and support for local and family farming--not a due to some 'belief' system (though that exists, it's a fringe influence on the laws). The anti-vaccine people are all crazy, but seem to span a full spectrum of religious beliefs, so not isolated to those that do vs. do not believe in God. And as Avi states, while issues, they tend to be localized and not really party-affiliated issues.
    – user1530
    Oct 21 '14 at 20:14
  • 5
    @DVK - You seem to be taking the viewpoint that the question asks "How important is personal belief in USA politics?" It doesn't. It's asking specifically about capital-G God. As in Christianity. While I'll certainly agree that a fanatic born-again Christian and a fanatic new-age spiritualist may share certain traits, and will certainly let their beliefs color their political decisions, the OP did not ask about the latter.
    – Bobson
    Oct 21 '14 at 21:02
  • 4
    @DVK Then it's another one of those questions that presumes their desired answer. But you know - you can still answer the question by posting an answer along the lines of "No, it isn't any more politically influential or important than other non-Christian emotive stances." Blaming the questioner gets us precisely nowhere when you can still answer. Unless asking was the crime? This isn't a hard science stack. I've come to accept that a while back. Oct 22 '14 at 11:06
2

Unfortunately God is often very "important" in US politics, although it should not be. I don't mean that religion is worse than government, and in fact, in the past, there was often little distinction between the two. However, the political and legal systems within the United States are founded on the constitution. That is what gives validity to those systems.

But it is quite often seen that politicians who are religious will often try to convince people that God trumps the constitution and so the constitution can be ignored in such instances. We see this with same sex marriage, with warfare, etc.

Let's start with the constitution itself. What is it? It is a contract between the people and the government, giving said government certain powers and responsibilities. That is why it determines the validity of the political and legal system.

In regard to same sex marriage. The 14th amendment requires that a law treat all citizens alike, and yet, there are many, who due to religious persuasion, wish to prevent same sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses.

Moving on to warfare, religion has and continues to be a major player in the excuse to wage war. Bush often invoked god when justifying his decision to go to war. We can see an example of this in the quote "God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq" (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/oct/07/iraq.usa)

Adding another example as supporting evidence, we have the push to teach creationism in biology class. While creationism should be welcome in philosophical discussions in school, it is not scientific and therefore should not be in a science class.

Of course, a discussion on how religion influences politics in America would be want without mentioning Islam. It is an unfortunate reality that there is a group of Islamist extremists who mean us harm. Of course, part of that problem arose from secular mistakes, such as funding what would become our main enemies in the middle east during the cold war!.

Lastly there is the counter-religious movement which hopes to remove all religious expression from public spaces. This is often justified by the idea of separation of church and state: a phrase which does not exist in the constitution!. The constitution discusses the free expression of religion. Therefore the argument of whether or not we can express religion in public venues is a large part of political discourse in America today.

2
  • 2
    This post has no fact content. Please seek to answer the question using things other than your opinion Oct 22 '14 at 13:25
  • Is the edit more satisfactory?
    – Politicoid
    Oct 22 '14 at 18:46

You must log in to answer this question.