Acton Institute Powerblog

The political manipulation of religion

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The fact that something is political does not mean that it is not religious, says Paul Marshall. Instead of describing something as political, not religious, we might should describe it as the political manipulation of religion, or the insincere use of religion:

This stress that events are not religion but politics can lead to misunderstanding the nature of both religion and politics. It can be akin to saying that a table is not round but red. But tables can be both round and red, and policies and persecutions can be both religious and political. The Christian Democratic parties of Europe and Latin American claim both religious inspiration and political aspiration. American and Canadian founding documents, and those of many other countries, reference God. Religion and politics are intertwined in many of the countries of Southeast Asia.

Religion nearly always affects politics. Usually not by efforts to create an imagined “theocracy” but by shaping hearts and minds, hopes and dreams. Our ultimate faiths and beliefs influence our views of history, justice, law, mercy, power, human nature, and evil. And, of course, it is impossible to approach politics in a way totally divorced from our views of history, justice, law, mercy, power, human nature, and evil. Many of the people at this conference defend freedom of religion and belief not in spite of their religion, nor divorced from their religion, but precisely because of their religion. Religion can lead to a commitment to human rights.

The key questions are not whether religion and politics will be intertwined, or whether politics will affect religion, or religion affect politics: inevitably they will. The issue is whether these will be done in a good or bad way.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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