Religion in Contemporary America: Religion and Politics
Religion plays a huge role in society, politics, and culture throughout American history. About 68% of the U.S. population considers themselves as believers, and 40% attends church at least once a week, which is significantly higher than in many developed countries (Mihta). The religious history of the United States is rich in various religions due to the colonial past, the influx of immigrants, and the lives of indigenous people.
Indians of North America at the time of colonization have reached a sufficiently large level of cultural development. They had extensive religious rituals and tribal cult (worship of elements of nature, particularly the sun). However, there were no permanent temples and festivals in their possession that were used for temporary shelters. With the arrival of the colonizers, who were mostly Protestants, unusual forms of religions began to appear, for example, the reform movement, which sought to revive the existing old Indians' rites. Then, the Puritans, who were more tolerant, and then, in the XVI century, missionaries - Catholics of France, Portugal, and Spain came on the territory of America.
There was a change of consciousness and the majority of the U.S. population actively started to attend church after another wave of immigrants in the XVIII century. Religious set increased, Islam and Hinduism appeared in XIX, XX centuries through regular migrants from Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
The role of religion in politics is the most controversial manifestation of religiosity in the United States today. In recent decades, some Americans have come to the conclusion that the principle of separation of church and state is increasingly used against religion now (Gaustad and Schmidt).
Putnam and Campbell were not limited to religious statistics but also tried to investigate the influence of religion on the political and social life of the United States. So, conservative religious leaders and Republican politicians have made a coalition, called "Religious Right". Both have the same point of view on such issues as opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and the protection of the traditional family. Hence, it is easy to conclude that the religious right is associated with a conservative political and social position but the authors of the study say that this is not the case (Putnam and Campbell).
The majority of young Americans, who consider themselves religious, have a possibility of same-sex marriage in much the same way as their non-religious peers. On the other hand, the ratio of abortions among young Americans reduces. "The Religious Right" in the near future will continue to play a significant role in domestic U.S. politics but in general the relationship between religion and politics are in a dynamic and changing gradually, sometimes - in an unexpected direction.
Religion plays an important in life of Americans and politics of the state because many ancestors of modern Americans fled to the continent to avoid religious persecution at home. They left their homes, throwing long occupied nests because freedom of conscience was dearer to them than worldly goods. And this tradition is still alive. America as a whole is a religious country and the majority of voters are believers. They want to see the policy administration that is similar to them in the White House, which has something to do with religion. Even in 1960, some Americans voted against presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, on the grounds that he is a Catholic and, as president, he will conduct a "popish course". Kennedy directly denied the insinuation, solemnly swore that he would be the American president and his election is largely contributed to the fact that the anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States went into decline.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the most astute of foreign admirers of America, sees the secret of its success in such a formula: the faithful, in the course, secular state (Macfarlane). Otherwise, it might not be that kind of a country, which founded sects and religious dissidents. After all, only then America was the New World, when seduced by an old master of their freedoms, to look for God in the soul. 14 out of 20 Americans consider themselves believers (Mihta). This means that the vast majority of voters are not indifferent to the religious beliefs of the President, especially the lack thereof. The Americans generally have no religious constraints. New World as opposed to the old never knew any religious wars, no state religion. America is a country of thousand faiths that always have been a fruitful square for religious art. Neither the family nor ethnic tradition and a free search defines the spiritual life of Americans. There is no country in the world that has political leaders who have so often changed their religious affiliation. For example, Bush was born in an Episcopal family, was brought up in the Presbyterian Church, but now attends the Methodists. Father General Clark, the Democratic candidate, was a Jew. Boy, the future commander of NATO, was a Methodist. In his youth, he became a Baptist and then converted to Catholicism. Now he goes to the Methodist Church. Another contender, Howard Dean, was baptized in the Catholic rite, grew up in the bosom of the Episcopal Church, which he left for the Congregationalists (Wald and Calhoun-Brown). By the way, the children of Dean call themselves Jews. That is to say, religious diversity explains the simple fact that Americans tend to think of any time-confessional differences. For all people of good will is only one God. Therefore, in America, it is easier to meet dogmatism in religion than in politics.
This intuitive ecumenism leads to the fact that American voters in essence, no matter how they trust the President, need to know that there is a place for God in theirs lives. The balance of power between the secular and deeply religious people requires constant political maneuvering. For the current President, the appeal to God is an indispensable part of the political rhetoric. Obama is deeply and sincerely believes in God. He is sure that God and faith make people stronger, and the world better.
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Such a close relationship of the current U.S. policy with religion inevitably causes severe criticism in liberal circles. Since the boundary between personal faith and its public expression has always vague arguments about where it should go, this is the border, which is conducted impartially and fiercely. For example, one of the influential columnists, who often acted as troublemakers, has published an article on the main dominance of religion in politics. The main idea was that America is in a real spiritual attack of McCarthyism today. In this atmosphere, the current presidential campaign has turned into a witch hunt. From the candidates, if they do not want to pass for atheists and fall elections, expected not limiting the program, and ostentatious piety and religious fervor.
There was something in it. Anyway, after Howard Dean was caught in the fact that he leads his campaign without thinking about God, the Vermont governor began to share with the voters by their religious experiences. However, the subject of this was risky, and Dean made a dangerous mistake. Telling voters about the role of prayer in his daily life, he had the misfortune to add that most of the New Testament like the "Book of Job". The trouble is that hard-savvy Americans know that Job in the Bible is the character not of New but the Old Testament. Maybe this awkward bobble was remembered by voters of Iowa, where the front participant of the Democratic candidates suddenly was found only in the third place.
Today sober voices are heard in press when the controversy about the role of religion in politics reaches hysterical intensity. They call to remember that faith in God has always played a crucial role in American history, which is reflected in the motto “in God we trust”. Indeed, all the critical changes in the country took place under the auspices of religion, from the formation of colonies of the Puritans to the revolution of emancipation to the civil rights struggle led by the priest Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday became a national holiday.
The last few years, religion is at the service of politics and perhaps unprecedented form during the history of the United States. Of course, it would too much to say that the United States is on the way to theocracy, but fundamentalists are fussing that it is about it. As long as they are fundamentalists, call to believe not only the spirit but also the letter of the Bible, they occupy the right flank in a conglomerate of religions that exist in the United States. All this could not attach great importance, if the fundamentalists do not support the current administration. In general, the current political situation in the U.S. is difficult to understand without considering the factor of religion.