Monday, October 17, 2016

Faith and politics

In Brad Gregory's book, The Unintended Reformation, he argues that the Reformation laid the groundwork for the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion which has led to the increasing secularization of modern society. In our Western societies we are free to believe in whatever we want even no religious belief at all. Or we can choose to believe in yoga, as Susanna Schrobsdorff says she does in a recent Time magazine essay. She is one of the "nones" who comprise 25% of the population according to a Duke study. These are people who don't fit in a religious box or are agnostic or atheists. She says there is a smallish space in her life called faith. Which would support Gregory's thesis. Freedom of religion has come to mean freedom for no religion. Today religion is private and we argue about politics publicly.

A lot has been written about Trump's support among evangelicals in this presidential campaign. It is ironic that a person who has not lived a life based on Christian principles is so popular among conservative evangelical Christians for whom "how one lives his or her life" is so important. Even after recent disclosures of Trump's treatment of women his support remains unchanged among evangelicals and several key evangelical leaders (although some key evangelical women leaders have recently spoken out against him). Still his support among conservative evangelical Christians is several times greater than those who support Hillary. It's been a given for years now that conservative evangelicals will support the Republican party. Their faith lines up closely with the Republican party platform. There is a fear that the Democrats under Hillary Clinton will doom the America as we know it. Trump's vow to make America great again resonates.

Using Gregory's grid it may not be so hard to understand what is going on. Prior to the Reformation there was one church and it's teachings were re-enforced by the state. Essentially, the church had one voice and one way of life it taught. There were limits to what even the Pope could say and do. He was limited by church tradition and what the councils had said. Since the Reformation we have had a plethora of religions and religious teachings. Anything goes as far as what someone can say he or she believes and as long as it doesn't injure some one else it is ok. Whatever you believe it's ok to go and start a church. Even if it's a church of one. And there seem to be lots of them.

Susanna Schrobsdorff's mother was raised Catholic but after she got married she never went to church again until she was dying in her 70s. She stopped by an empty church one day and Schrobsdorff writes, "I don't know if she prayed but I do know that my mother had the certainty that she would go "home" where her parents and my sister were."

There aren't many certainties today. For many people faith is no longer certain even among evangelicals. Trump is certain and offers certainty in every speech he gives. He says he can make everything all right again. Is that faith or politics?

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