Religion In Politics: Why Is This Even A Thing?

“I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me…No one asked me my religion [serving the Navy] in the South Pacific.” President John F. Kennedy addressing fears that his being Catholic would impact his decision-making to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960

More than fifty years ago, during a very memorable presidential election campaign, the American people were concerned about the religion of their possible president. Though many people regarded Catholicism as another sect of Christianity, many people believed that the leadership of the church would take over control and ruin everyone’s lives. The problem with this assumption is that it heavily influenced the opinion by the American people of then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. The belief was that if Kennedy was elected then the Pope, or the Bishop of Rome and the spiritual head of the worldwide Catholic Church, would then become a partial ruler of the United States by influencing Kennedy’s decisions.

Obviously the assumptions were false and when Kennedy was elected president the Pope did not suddenly take leadership of America. However, this religious biasness that excludes non Protestant Christians from easing their way in to higher levels of politics still remains. During President Obama’s campaign many individuals who ignorantly assumed that the then candidate was Muslim believed that Obama would ruin the country and, in some slippery slope of an argument, side with Al Qaeda.

“I was not raised in a religious household. For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness. However, in her mind, a working knowledge of the world’s great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education…In sum, my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well.” Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Crown. New York, NY. (2006).

Even almost after the end of Obama’s Presidential term many U.S. citizens believe Obama is a Muslim Non-U.S. citizen, despite Hawaii actually confirming that his U.S. birth certificate actually exists. Mitt Romney, on the other hand like Obama’s believed religion and Kennedy’s Catholicism, has been dragged down by his religion as well. In the article, “The Politics of Faith and American Exceptionalism” written by Mugambi Jouet of the Huffington Post, a realization that Americans very much hold religion to a higher standard and really care about the faith of their future leader of the nation. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith has come under fire during every political election he has ever participated in, but it hasn’t really blown up in his face until the presidential election that was held when Obama first ran and the current one taking place right now.

Many people are ignoring, or setting to the side, the basis of his political policies and zeroing in on how Romney talks to God. According to the article, Mormons only “represent less than two percent of the U.S. population but form an increasingly established community,” and instead of possibly disliking Romney’s policies for his damaging views on women’s rights (especial women’s reproductive rights), many GOP voters are concerned that he follows the teaching of Joseph Smith, the faith’s founder.

To the majority of a society or any given culture, as pointed out to me in my current Anthropology course, regards religion as a “cultural system” according to anthropologists, Clifford Geertz, but this large culture system seems to influence even the things that we try to separate religion from like history and politics. The French anthropologist, Dubuisson, believes that the idea of religion has changed a lot over time and that one cannot fully understand its development by relying on etymology, which “tends to minimize or cancel out the role of history,” and because of this, religion completely dominates everything that we as nation do despite the U.S. constitution establishing that we have freedom from religion.

Americans are “highly religious but they are more divided by religion than other Westerners,” according to the article, and I would definitely have to agree. The early settlers that came to this land for religious freedom fought hard to establish a government that religion would completely be kept out of, but instead, the country that has grown out of that revolution has done nothing but become saturated by the strong ties they have put in place with faith and religion.

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