Glawe: Keep religion and politics separate so both can survive

Michael Glawe

I find myself becoming increasingly aggravated by the use of religious doctrine in politics, especially from the likes of presidential candidate Rick Santorum and former candidate Rick Perry (and other such “evangelical politicians”). Modern politicians consistently attempt to compare a political issue with a religious exercise. This is a flippant disregard of the very essence of politics.

Religion and politics are inherently different and they should always be separate from each other. The merging of the two arises quite frequently throughout history, dating back to antiquity. It is by no surprise that the combining of religion and politics should come up and taint us once again. Yet, there exists very little vocal advocacy for another healthy division of these two entities.

In the past, there has always been a great “thinker” to condemn such an atrocity. For example, in St. Augustine’s “City of God,” Augustine argues that politics is solely a fabrication by humans and religion is an inheritance of the divine. Yet, a clear definition that would help in the dissolution of the tie between politics and religion can be found in the writings of one of my favorite thinkers, Hannah Arendt.

To understand Arendt, we must imagine two spheres of influence. The first sphere would be labeled the “private realm.” The second would be labeled the “public realm.” From here we can fill the spheres with activities that are either personal or non-personal. For instance, our homes, religious practices and family life would undoubtedly fall within the private realm. Debates, opposition and compromise require us to act as citizens, and thus would fall within the public realm.

According to Arendt, in order for us to be “citizens” we must depart the private realm and interact with the diverse set of opinions in our communities. It is through this interaction that we, not only citizens of this great nation but of humanity itself, come to our own conclusions and acceptances. This interaction, in the classical sense, can be translated as “politics” or even more specifically “action.” This is not to be confused with the great blunder that is our modern conception of politics. Politicking concerns governance, civility (in the archaic sense) and other such functions of the citizenry. We may practice politics and action only in the public realm, where our propositions can be thoroughly tested against opposition and adversity. For action to exist, there must be a reaction.

Religion and contrasting politics would undoubtedly fall within the private realm. It is through religious practices that we draw our personal values, spiritual guidance and family nurturing. These imperatives are much different from politics and action, and it would be frivolous to integrate them into the process of governance, which by definition is fabricated by humans. As Augustine states, if we are to believe in the divine, as religion construes, then we must keep it separate from politics. By Augustine’s standards, this would constitute a “City of God” (being religion) and a “City of Man” (being politics). This holds true for Arendt’s conception of the public and private realms.

Plato, a colossal figure in Greek philosophy and politics, went as far as to say that there are two types of divinities. In nature, we are given the God(s), divine entities of their own right. In politics, however, humans have a chance to become divine. This isn’t to imply that humans may achieve godlike powers, and in turn blaspheme. Rather, those humans could achieve “immortality” if their actions are remembered forever. For instance, Achilles believed, as all Greeks did, that action was the only way to achieve glory.

I acknowledge the great division between politics and religion, and it is because of this that there are two worlds of my own life. In the public realm, I am a politician first and a believer second. In the private realm, I am a believer first and a politician second. These two characters never enforce their notions upon the other. They remain separate and arise when the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, modern politicians and religious sects do not see a “separation of characters” as necessary to the survival of politics as I and many others do.

The dissolution of political and religious division is a result of an overall lack of action. If we acted, and therefore go through a process of learning, we would no doubt find the horrible consequence of combining two of our most cherished entities. If politics were allowed to completely dominate religion, then we would see a communist-like state. If religion were allowed to completely dominate politics, we would fall into theocratic fascism. The Founding Fathers, like Arendt, Plato and St. Augustine, wanted to preserve politics and religion. Thus, a division between the two was the only way to achieve preservation.

Religion is an exceptional force for good. Politics is an exceptional instrument of citizenship. They are both pivotal to the lifestyle of Americans. Both are imperative to the survival of our Nation. To combine the two would be to eliminate the two, and in so doing, eliminate ourselves.