Sunday, May 26, 2024

#147 / The Difference Between Religion And Politics

In an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal, William Galston warns us not to "ask politics to fill the role vacated by religion." Galston, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, outlines his point this way: 

When we ask politics to fill the role vacated by religion, the consequences are dangerous. The natural longing for perfection shifts from heaven to a realm that resists it. Doctrinal commitment to a set of secular ideas is pitted against the diversity of belief inherent in free societies. A religious-like fervor for a particular set of political values undermines the spirit of conciliation that makes peaceful common life possible (emphasis added).

What Galston is observing in this statement is that "politics" is a place where differences of opinion and belief are typical - and, in fact, that this is a "feature, not a bug." Diversity - or "plurality" as Hannah Arendt calls it - is a fact of our life together, and the practice of politics is how we decide what we want to do, collectively, given the fact that we all do have quite different ideas, and interests, and aspirations. In the "political world," which we inhabit together, it is expected that different people will, and should, have different ideas and priorities. That expectation being registered, and accepted, we then move on from there to figure out what we can agree to do.

Religious believers, quite often, consider that they have accessed "truth," and often a "truth" that one cannot actually "prove," but a truth that has been discovered through "faith" and/or by "revelation." If our "political" beliefs were expected to take on the same qualities as our "religious" beliefs, then those who have different beliefs don't just have different ideas, they have "wrong" ideas - ideas that we can easily come to think should be driven out of existence entirely, along, perhaps, with the people who hold them. 

I don't think that this is an overstatement, and the kind of political conflicts and division in our own country that have been generated by the war in Gaza and Israel is one pertinent example.

The very first words in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, our "Bill of Rights," make clear just how important it is that our government (which belongs to us all, and belongs to us "politically") should never seek to determine, and "establish," what amounts to a "religious" truth:

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

Politics can, in fact, "bring us together," but it can bring us together only in a "process," carried out in that spirit of "adversarial collaboration" that I have written about earlier. The process of deciding what we should do, together, since we disagree, and since we admit that we may always disagree, is "politics." It is, as Galston says, "dangerous" to try to turn "politics" into a process that aims to elucidate, and establish, and then enforce a "truth" that all must endorse, and with which all must comply.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!