30 December 2003

American Kulturkampf?

Read this article from The Public Interest in fall 2002: "Our Secularist Democratic Party," by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio, in which the authors note that the division between traditionally religious Americans and their more secularist compatriots is increasingly following the line between the Republican and Democratic Parties. Then read this brief opinion piece by Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice: "Religion and Politics Beyond the Party Lines." The author agrees with Bolce and De Maio, but argues that there's more to this than meets the eye. Both American parties present dangers for the believing Christian.

If Democrats come to believe that religion is irrelevant or dangerous for public policy, then the party is likely to forget that religion for most other Americans and for our civil society itself is not optional. Yet how will the Democratic politician who is convinced that faith should be private make just decisions about religion in public life -- about the faith-based initiative, faith in public schools, or dealing with international movements that are driven by religion?

The Republican danger is the opposite: mistaking the party line for true religious insight. As committed believers of many faiths line up with the Republican Party, the temptation is great to think that the right religious view is whatever the party thinks is right. Then, instead of religion transcending and correcting the party's flaws, it becomes a mere prop for the party.

These trends put committed religious believers in a bind. Because we take our faith seriously, we insist that it must shape our political views and our political action. But the mechanisms for much political action are dominated by two parties that each, in its own way, seeks to domesticate religion, either by ignoring it or by capturing it. So the challenge is clear to all of us, as voters, officials, or party activists: at the same time that we work to make a real political impact, we must ensure that our politics are shaped by our faith, and not the other way around.

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