Religion and Political Rhetoric

Political leaders in the United States in both major political parties are once again using "Judeo-Christian values" or "Abrahamic values" to argue about social welfare programs and budget priorities. Sadly, there is also a tendency within the Republican party to use faith as the basis for foreign policy.

Donald Trump using "faith" to make any argument strikes me as absurd. At the same time, I am troubled by the rise of theocratic Islam internationally. Israel, possibly the most "secular" of Middle East nations, also allows its religious fundamentalists too much influence over public policy.

It is valuable to know religious texts. Many people believe them and the stories shaped centuries of Western culture. It might also help to know when to ignore politicians.

The trio of major monotheistic religions — Judiasm, Christianity, and Islam — really do not belong in contemporary politics if we want to move beyond myths, legends, and ancient cultural biases. The historical texts associated with these faiths can be easily cherry-picked to make arguments from almost any perspective, something I've attempted to illustrate in the past.

Texts from the ancient past are violent, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist, tribal, and probably a dozen other undesirable things. Do we really want to look to books that endorse polygamy, rape, murder, capital punishment for social offenses, and other ancient cultural norms for contemporary guidance?

Consider the Christian Bible, with its Judaic origins. You can easily prove how misunderstood the "Historical Jesus" is based on knowledge of Roman and Middle Eastern norms of the time. You can use the text to argue for "conservative" (Puritanic, Protestant) social ethics using the older chapters, or you could argue for a "progressive" set of ethics associated with social gospel movements.

I've posted examples of these maneuvers in the past. It's unpopular to demonstrate that religion isn't the best resource for political clarity and consistency.

I wish we could simply hit a "mute button" when any politician uses religious rhetoric to make an argument. Yes, I understand faith has helped many people and guided good changes in this nation and elsewhere, but generally faith today is not the driving force behind social progress.


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