7th place: Grad student essay contest — Ipsha Banerjee
Politics and religion — the oldest con in the book
FFRF awarded Ipsha $750.
By Ipsha Banerjee
“God bless the United States of America” as the norm to conclude presidential speeches is a practice no one blinks twice at. Though the separation of church and state has been advocated for since the time of the Founding Fathers, politics remains tangled with religion as citizens are constantly reminded of Christian beliefs through nationalist symbols and public officials’ rhetoric. Politicians’ propagation of their supposed religious beliefs spurs danger in the form of controversy surrounding important issues, bias in voters that distracts from platforms, and division of the nation. Continued involvement of religion in politics is not only absurd — as religion is based on dogma and arcane consequences whereas politics depends on current events and present existence — but also harmful as it impedes growth and advancement.
Politics and religion have been intertwined throughout the United States’ history. For example, although it is not required, presidents are conventionally sworn in using the bible. Additionally, the mention of “God” or our “Creator” can be seen across national documents and symbols. The Declaration of Independence states: “they [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The Pledge of Allegiance, which some public schoolchildren are required to recite daily, mentions “one nation, under God.” Even all coins and paper money include the nation’s motto “In God We Trust.” Religion and God are subconsciously reinforced through repeated exposure in the name of nationalism and therefore is implicit in politics.
The primary problem of religion mixed with government comes down to misuse and obscurity. Instead of being a private choice each person has the right to make, religion has become a tool of political influence by deliberately priming public response and adding unnecessary points of contention to current issues. Religion should not be incorporated with politics because it is based on belief not evidence. Why should something that is a figment of humankind’s imagination impact politics, which is tangible and includes our country’s foreign policies, social institutions, economic development and civil rights? Policies should not be based on a future possibility but rather current happenings. If we framed issues and public officials’ platforms in terms of what is beneficial for us right now, in this moment, without fearing the consequences of a supernatural being that there is no evidence for, we would make progress with controversial topics such as abortion, stem cell research, LGBTQ+ rights, and even wearing masks to curb the ongoing pandemic. In the end, religious rhetoric and ideology are only impeding the political system, both for voters and public officials, as well as increasing civil conflict.
The intermixing of religion and politics implements bias, influences voter perception, limits public officials and pardons politicians. Because candidates are molded to fit religious views of political parties with their public image, marital status, church attendance and campaigns, voters often form an opinion based on the beliefs politicians’ claim to espouse rather than their stances and plans. Voters feel an emotional connection to candidates through a supposedly shared identity, creating bias, and thus are more likely to support the candidate without considering ability or platform. Religion provides the opportunity for voters to remain ignorant and make assumptions based on limited knowledge that then determine our country’s leadership. When these candidates are elected as public officials, the religious undertone of their platform and campaign puts them in a box, limiting progress. Now, these leaders must pander to religious beliefs and values to avoid being outcast by voters and ostracized by other policymakers. Public officials must make decisions in accordance with their appeal to religious voters, especially if they hope for reelection and acceptance among others of the same party. Finally, viewing politicians through a religious lens often obscures what they are saying and what they stand for. Even if the politicians speak or act immorally, those who identify with the politicians’ claimed religious values will often “forgive and forget” due to their initial presumption of character based on those values.
Religion is ingrained in politics and used as a means to an end. Based on faith and spirituality, religion has no logic or evidence that guides its followers. This inherent mystery surrounding its existence allows for strategic employment in order to influence, gain power or even conceal corruption. If religion is replaced with ethics and reality, voters and leaders alike would experience unity, change and growth. Politics needs to banish God and faith-based reasoning because in the end, religion is simply powerful marketing that dupes entire masses with the promise of virtue.
Ipsha, 22, attends Arizona State University after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in May 2020 with a degree in integrative biology and psychology. “I volunteer virtually for Red Cross’ Biomedical Services department to support local and national blood drives and delivery and volunteer for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and as a private piano and vocal teacher for underprivileged students. I also advocate and fundraise for organizations I’m passionate about, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona.”