Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pres. Obama and Religious Tolerance in America

It will come as no surprise that I really liked Pres. Obama's speech in Cairo. I think it is absolutely necessary for America to overcome its fundamental distrust of Islam in general, as opposed to extremists in particular, in order to better secure ourselves and promote democracy abroad. Pres. Obama is doing well walking the sometimes fine line between finding common ground where it exists and condoning anti-democratic practices and customs.

But there was one section of his speech that I wanted to highlight that I thought was pretty relevant to this blog. In the section where Pres. Obama addressed religious tolerance, he said:
Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt.


Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism. In fact, faith should bring us together.
We live in an America where we are lining up religion and politics, and I think that is extremely harmful to both. Politicizing religion and religious-izing politics sullies and impedes them both.

Look, I love seafood, and I love Nutella. But I do not think that they go well together. I try to keep them separate and enjoy them each on their own. I don't dip my shrimp in Nutella or smother my salmon in melted Nutella. It ruins them both when you eat them in the same bite. Likewise, religion and politics are two things that I love to talk about and debate and learn more about. But combining them almost always has very negative side effects. Of course, it is easier to separate Nutella from seafood than it is to separate your politics from your religion, but no one ever said this life was easy and it is something for which we should strive.

In America, the current trend is that the majority of those who attend church more frequently vote for Repbulicans and the majority of those that attend less frequently or not all vote for Democrats. This is becoming so pronounced that we are getting the two mushed up in our minds. Liberal activists see conservatives as a bunch of irrational, kooky born-agains and conservative activists see liberals as a bunch of godless hedonists. This then becomes a positive feedback machine where the deeply religious dig in against the liberals and the non-religious dig in against the conservatives and all of the sudden we aren't even talking about politics anymore and what is the best way to run the country, we are talking about whether a Mormon should even be allowed to run the country or if atheists can be trusted in federal office or if religion itself should be done away with because it is irrational and only leads to wars and bigotry.

On the one side, then, as Pres. Obama pointed out, we have hostility towards religion under the pretense of liberalism, and on the other side the championing of overt religion as the only way to effectively run the country. What's more, conservatives demand ideologically pure religion (with suspicious glances at conservative Catholics and Mormons). In the end it looks like we certainly deal with religious tolerance and freedom better than most Muslim countries, but we aren't really doing that great in our own right.

It does religion no good to get intertwined with politics. Whether it is fair or not, many liberals have simply discounted Mormonism completely because they see it as too politically conservative for them. Otherwise good people who love their families and believe in God have shut their ears to our message because of politics. Politics. Are we really willing to shackle our religion with politics and miss out on the chance to touch the lives of millions of Americans? I want to emphasize again that the purpose of this blog is not to justify liberal politics through Mormonism, but to show that they are at least compatible and that a diversity of political thought in the Church is good for its long-term well being.

And it does politics no good to get intertwined with religion. Religion is based on faith and personal conversion, whereas politics must be based on facts and societal good. Often what is good for one is good for the other, but using religion as the reasoning to justify politics never works. It only leads to arbitrary decisions, distrust, and disenfranchisment.

So as Pres. Obama urged Muslims to practice religious tolerance and freedom, I could not help but think of our own issues. Liberals are becoming hostile towards religion, conservatives are becoming hostile towards the non-religious, and religion in America is becoming too indistinguishable from politics. This can only turn out badly for both.


Iliana said...

I agree for the most part. I've always been slightly thrown off by the title of your blog because you do seem to want to separate religion and politics to an extreme. Maybe it should just be "Jake's Crazy Political Ideas":)

Doug said...

On any given Sunday in the Church we generally try to remove ourselves from political conversation (not always successfully in our High Priest Group!). We are encouraged to do so. Whenever someone crosses the line it can become very uncomfortable. But as my Grandmother always said: "avoid discussions of politics and religion in polite society." For many years I have avoided expressing my opinion even when absolutely incorrect and mostly uninformed political opinions are voiced. More recently, however, it has become an imperative for me to speak up when I must. The prevailing attitude is that we must be unified in our approach to all doctrine, thought, and opinion. In reality this is no more possible in the Church than out.

It is incumbent upon each of us to try to walk in each other's shoes. When we do so, we are more empathetic and more willing to listen to one another. With this attitude, when we actually discuss issues of importance in our society with members, we more often find consensus as opposed to conflict.

I liked this thought from candidate Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech: "....we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren." I think this is true of true discipleship in the Lord's Church. Unfortunately, in both liberal and conservative political circles we have great difficulty actually practicing this advise.

Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...


Well i think we have to pray and fast, ask Heavenly Father to help us, and show us what we are going to do. Prayer and Fasting is the only answer for everythings

Gwendolyn Oliphant said...

I stumbled across your blog. All of the reasons you present are reasons why I am a Libertarian. I do believe that generally, free market policies produce better solutions, but I simply do not think that overt religious attitudes, specifically on one religion, is the best way to run a country.