Can Religion and Politics make Happy Bedfellows?

In every-day life, two of the most controversial topics of discussion are politics and religion. What happens when you bring them together? Napoleon used religion to indoctrinate the French people so that he could increase his power. Consequently, the Catholic Church had great influence over the politics of France; however, 200 years on, religion plays only a minor part in French politics due to the diversity in religious belief which has diluted the power that religion can have.

In modern politics, the popularity of an election candidate can depend on their religious views. In big secular societies such as the UK, if a politician was to declare that they were a Christian, depending on the constituency they were looking to represent, this could have either a positive or a negative impact on the voters. However, the direct opposite can be seen in America where a President has to declare himself a Christian to even stand a chance of running for office. This is due to the prevalence of Christianity in American society and results in religion having a significant impact on American politics. How often has a President’s speech ended with the strap-line of ‘God bless the United States of America.’ The difference between the two countries attitudes towards religion shows the psychological diversity that can exist between different secular states.

Although religion plays an integral part in American politics, it does not necessarily influence their policy. For example, in California, gay marriage has been legalised however the state of California is under a Republican Senator and Republicans are often associated with conservatism whilst Democrats are associated more with liberalism. This shows that although America is secular most Americans conform to the same religious belief. An explanation for this could be that religion is used to garner votes rather than guidance for governing.

A prime example of religion in recent British politics is that of Tony Blair. When he was Prime Minister he made no reference to religion at all but it was only when he stood down as Prime Minister that he made his religious beliefs as a catholic known to the extent that he had an audience with the Pope. It would have been interesting to see the public’s reaction to Tony Blair had he revealed his religious belief whilst he was Prime Minister. Suffice to say, it would have made justifying some of his decisions harder.

Saudi Arabia is a polar opposite to the U.K. as it has an Islamist government. Conservative religious values provide the foundations for its internal politics and this is due to Sharia law. However, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia and although this would seem to not have anything to do with religion, history shows that many religious establishments had the same problem. Religious establishments historically have worked with many previous rulers claiming that they have been appointed by divine command however the direction of travel in modern society indicates that divine command is no longer a legitimate justification to rule by. In Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern countries every aspect of their way of life is governed by religion.

In conclusion, it is evident that there is an unhappy balance between religion and politics although in theory, they should both be able to co-exist. It seems to be nearly impossible for there to be a good and peaceful balance for people living under an establishment with religious political views as can be seen by the uprisings in both Syria and Egypt over the past few years.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo

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