An insightful op-ed piece by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell in yesterday’s paper asked the question “why youths are losing their religion.” The authors, professors at Harvard and Notre Dame, respectively, answer with the suggestion that religion and politics just don’t mix. The truism that religion and politics are taboo subjects of polite conversation was widely accepted in my younger years. During the Reagan campaigning era, however, it became clear that some unprincipled louts were drawing religion into the political mix to garner votes. Those who actually research Reagan’s religious convictions are often surprised to find that they are not as “George W. Bush” as everyone thought. It was a ploy, and a vastly successful one at that. A new avenue had been paved, however, for hotly contested elections: use the Bible. The fawning attitudes of many Americans toward the Bible they seldom read is a powerful political tool.
Putnam and Campbell note that adults coming of age in the 1990s and later have been alienated by this paring of religion and politics. The results have tended to be the rejection of organized religion that is seen as hypocritical and intolerant. The interesting factor is that it is the political agenda that is hypocritical and intolerant, but organized religion is paying the price for going along with the Ralph Reeds, Jerry Falwells, and Pat Robertsons of the early religious right. One guy from an old book once said something like “what you sow you also shall reap.” The political use (abuse) of religion has only and always been about power.
The authors are able to provide statistics to back up their models, but their reasoning is clear enough on its own. Some of us have experienced first hand the ugly, hideous agenda behind the angelically smiling evangelistic face. Those who hold to it may be naïve enough to believe that it is actually religion that they are serving, but the sad truth is their positions are cravings for power. There are those who actually relish the days of imperial Christianity when, despite its Roman Catholicism, the church made Europe tremble. They forget that pilgrims and colonists moved to this land to flee such tyranny. Americans, reluctant to elect Roman Catholics to the presidency because of the latent fear of a hierarchical religion — so close to kingship — now bow down before political rulers in religious garb. Decidedly Protestant. And the Tea Party continues to crank out candidates who do not even realize that the separation of church and state is a founding principle of this nation. If there is a backlash coming, it is a well deserved one indeed.