Religion’s Effect on American Policies

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America is a country that is characterized as being a nation with multiple cultures, multiple ethnicities, and multiple religions. Plurality in all aspects of American society’s classifications is something that is espoused by most Americans. Numerous individuals with different backgrounds come together on American soil to form and make up the nation that is established on equality and democracy. Inclusion of all the diverse backgrounds present within this democratic society is the main goal of most American social institutions.
Religion is one of the main aspects of an individual’s background that influences his or her behavior and analysis about life. Religion in America goes beyond an individual’s everyday life. (Minkenberg, 2) In fact, religion even affects the numerous American policies conceptualized by the government. Religion is such a potent force that its effect on American policies is not even dependent on the rate of citizens that attend churches for the different religions present in the United States. Minkenberg, 2) This means that religion is able to affect change in US government policies despite possible increases or decreases in religious Americans over given periods of time. The effects on American policies are not a result of the country becoming more religious as a whole but rather on the strength of religion itself as an entity enforcing change in political systems. (Minkenber, 5) There are many who emphasize their disagreement with religion’s effect on American policy. These individuals believe that religion should not be allowed to affect government policies so strongly or at all.
However, it is this paper’s argument that religion should is not a necessary aspect of policy-making and that religion affecting American foreign policy should not be acceptable or encouraged. A presentation of the valid arguments with regard to this thesis will be made. Counter arguments will also be presented and refuted in order to provide a clear view into the fact that religion is indeed one of the crucial factors to be considered by America’s policy-making bodies. Before establishing why religion is not an important aspect of American policies, it should first be established that religion is in fact affecting the said policies.



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One clear example is given by the policies made during the administration of President George W. Bush. Despite the fact that America is experiencing a decrease in church-goers, it is measured to be more religious than equivalent Western countries in Europe. This is evidenced by its housing of more than 200 television channels for evangelism. (God and American diplomacy, 33) Religion is seen to take a role in the government’s policy-making decisions through the highly religious character of the President, himself.
The United States’ stand on Israel is a clear case of Christianity becoming the driving force behind foreign policies. Instead of considering the interests of America, as a whole, the drive is largely to expand Christianity and to establish its hold on a nation like Israel. (God and American diplomacy, 33) Sam Harris in his book The End of Faith stresses that religion, specifically Christianity, has affected America in terms of sex and drug policies. Policies such as those against abortion are clear examples of the effects of religion on American policies.
Harris goes on to critique such policies as being the main factors behind America’s moving towards a formation of a theocratic society, a society believing that its course is determined by a divine being. Religions role in America must not be equated to its role in a theocratic society. (God and American diplomacy, 33) This is a clear inability to separate church from state, one of the most essential aspects of American society. This is also a clear argument against religion’s evident role in American policy-making.
Another clear argument against religion affecting American policies is based on the fact that America is a multi-cultural nation. It houses numerous different religions. Not all religions have the same positions and beliefs regarding policies. (God and American diplomacy, 33) As a result, when religion is allowed to affect US national and international policies, only a few of the total number of religions in the country are represented. It is only those religions with the loudest voices in America or those with members in the upper echelons of power that are able to affect changes in policies.
This is no longer democracy or equality at work. However, there are those who posit that religion is in fact necessary in the development and implementation of American policies. One of the arguments for religion to be considered in policy-making lies on the fact that America’s relationship with other nations may be based on such religious foundations. A number of the international conflicts occurring today are largely religious in nature or are motivated by religious traditions. (Minkenberg, 4) One clear example is the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11. Miles, 23) Although there are many reasons behind the said attack, there is no doubt that religion played a role. Miles (35-37), indicates that a strengthening of American foreign policy towards a confirmation of US religious freedom would show countries, such as those the September 11 terrorists were associated to, that America does not pose a religious threat on anyone. Protection of the country through a portrayal of its acceptance of all religions with equal regard via the mechanisms of American policies is said to be very much a necessity in a world that is largely classified by religious traditions and belief system.
However, espousal of religious freedom does not equate to allowing religion to dominate American policies. Also, this logic assumes that if other nations are shown that religion is widely accepted in America, other points of conflict will be foregone. Religion may be one of the motivations behind international conflicts but it is not a primary factor behind the said conflicts. Addressing economic and political factors would be more prudent as opposed to simply allowing religion to take free reign. Also, religion is shown to only be useful to policies when taken at this angle: America has numerous religions.
We accept them all. This is not the true form of religion’s effects on American policy and does not even begin to address the numerous global implications of the weightier religion-based policies of America such as those made regarding Israel. Another argument states that religion is actually a very potent source of adaptive social change. Patrick Fagan states some of the social benefits that are derived from religion in his article Why religion matters even more: the impact of religious practice on social stability.
He indicates that through religion, marital happiness and stability are increased, parent-child relationships are strengthened, educational aspirations and achievement are increased, physical health is improved, well-being and happiness are increased, crime rates are lowered, and community-cohesion is strengthened. In Why religion matters even more: the impact of religious practice on social stability, Fagan indicates that the separation of church and state simply meant that a single state-approved church could not be allowed to exist.
He imposes his ideas that the government, especially Congress, should educate themselves with regards to the benefits to be derived from religion and its practice. He also stresses that policies should be made with religion in mind and that data on religion’s potency should be included and considered in debates and discussions regarding American policy. Because religion is effective in creating social change in empirical studies conducted in the community-level, it should thus be considered for policies whose implementation will involve an entire nation’s population.
The main problem with Fagan’s account of religion and then his recommendations for its use in policy-making is that the success of religion’s success on marginal issues will not equate to its success in essential issues. (God and American diplomacy, 33) Just because religion was shown to have a high value in practices and regulations set for smaller populations doesn’t mean that it will be able to give an equal value for policies and rules set for the entire nation of America.
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Also, because it was able to generate positive feedback for areas such as marriage, crime, and community cohesion, it does not mean that religion will be able to generate adaptive ideas for the more complex issues of the same area. These issues may include homosexual marriages, death penalty imposition, and community governance. For more complex matters as the latter, religion is no longer relevant and allowing it to become a factor in such policies would not only be foolhardy but would even be dangerous in the long run.
Also, religion’s application on a small scale with individuals practicing only one type of religion does not indicate that it will have equal applicability in a nation that has numerous different religions. The separation of church and state does include that no specific state-ordained church must exist. However, the reasons and thinking behind such a separation are deeper than simply allowing for religious freedom. Considerations such as oppression of the minority and inability to account for all the beliefs and principles of the collection of religions in America were also made.
It is clear that religion is indeed affecting American policies. This change is not warranted and should not be condoned. Policy-makers should take an active stand for the separation of church and state. Policies with religion as one of its factors will, in the end, prove to be biased and geared towards the betterment of only one part of American society. Government decisions should be based on more economic, political, and democratic norms.
America is a country that is characterized as being a nation with multiple cultures, multiple ethnicities, and multiple religions. Plurality in all aspects of American society’s classifications is something that is espoused by most Americans. Numerous individuals with different backgrounds come together on American soil to form and make up the nation that is established on equality and democracy. Inclusion of all the diverse backgrounds present within this democratic society is the main goal of most American social institutions.
Religion is one of the main aspects of an individual’s background that influences his or her behavior and analysis about life. Religion in America goes beyond an individual’s everyday life. (Minkenberg, 2) In fact, religion even affects the numerous American policies conceptualized by the government. Religion is such a potent force that its effect on American policies is not even dependent on the rate of citizens that attend churches for the different religions present in the United States. (Minkenberg, 2) This means that religion is able to affect change in US government policies despite possible increases or decreases in religious Americans over given periods of time. The effects on American policies are not a result of the country becoming more religious as a whole but rather on the strength of religion itself as an entity enforcing change in political systems. (Minkenber, 5)
There are many who emphasize their disagreement with religion’s effect on American policy. These individuals believe that religion should not be allowed to affect government policies so strongly or at all. However, it is this paper’s argument that religion should is not a necessary aspect of policy-making and that religion affecting American foreign policy should not be acceptable or encouraged. A presentation of the valid arguments with regard to this thesis will be made. Counter arguments will also be presented and refuted in order to provide a clear view into the fact that religion is indeed one of the crucial factors to be considered by America’s policy-making bodies.
Before establishing why religion is not an important aspect of American policies, it should first be established that religion is in fact affecting the said policies. One clear example is given by the policies made during the administration of President George W. Bush. Despite the fact that America is experiencing a decrease in church-goers, it is measured to be more religious than equivalent Western countries in Europe. This is evidenced by its housing of more than 200 television channels for evangelism. (God and American diplomacy, 33) Religion is seen to take a role in the government’s policy-making decisions through the highly religious character of the President, himself. The United States’ stand on Israel is a clear case of Christianity becoming the driving force behind foreign policies. Instead of considering the interests of America, as a whole, the drive is largely to expand Christianity and to establish its hold on a nation like Israel. (God and American diplomacy, 33)
Sam Harris in his book The End of Faith stresses that religion, specifically Christianity, has affected America in terms of sex and drug policies. Policies such as those against abortion are clear examples of the effects of religion on American policies. Harris goes on to critique such policies as being the main factors behind America’s moving towards a formation of a theocratic society, a society believing that its course is determined by a divine being. Religions role in America must not be equated to its role in a theocratic society. (God and American diplomacy, 33) This is a clear inability to separate church from state, one of the most essential aspects of American society. This is also a clear argument against religion’s evident role in American policy-making.
Another clear argument against religion affecting American policies is based on the fact that America is a multi-cultural nation. It houses numerous different religions. Not all religions have the same positions and beliefs regarding policies. (God and American diplomacy, 33) As a result, when religion is allowed to affect US national and international policies, only a few of the total number of religions in the country are represented. It is only those religions with the loudest voices in America or those with members in the upper echelons of power that are able to affect changes in policies. This is no longer democracy or equality at work.
However, there are those who posit that religion is in fact necessary in the development and implementation of American policies. One of the arguments for religion to be considered in policy-making lies on the fact that America’s relationship with other nations may be based on such religious foundations. A number of the international conflicts occurring today are largely religious in nature or are motivated by religious traditions. (Minkenberg, 4) One clear example is the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11. (Miles, 23) Although there are many reasons behind the said attack, there is no doubt that religion played a role. Miles (35-37), indicates that a strengthening of American foreign policy towards a confirmation of US religious freedom would show countries, such as those the September 11 terrorists were associated to, that America does not pose a religious threat on anyone. Protection of the country through a portrayal of its acceptance of all religions with equal regard via the mechanisms of American policies is said to be very much a necessity in a world that is largely classified by religious traditions and belief system.
However, espousal of religious freedom does not equate to allowing religion to dominate American policies. Also, this logic assumes that if other nations are shown that religion is widely accepted in America, other points of conflict will be foregone. Religion may be one of the motivations behind international conflicts but it is not a primary factor behind the said conflicts. Addressing economic and political factors would be more prudent as opposed to simply allowing religion to take free reign. Also, religion is shown to only be useful to policies when taken at this angle: America has numerous religions. We accept them all. This is not the true form of religion’s effects on American policy and does not even begin to address the numerous global implications of the weightier religion-based policies of America such as those made regarding Israel.
Another argument states that religion is actually a very potent source of adaptive social change. Patrick Fagan states some of the social benefits that are derived from religion in his article Why religion matters even more: the impact of religious practice on social stability. He indicates that through religion, marital happiness and stability are increased, parent-child relationships are strengthened, educational aspirations and achievement are increased, physical health is improved, well-being and happiness are increased, crime rates are lowered, and community-cohesion is strengthened.
In Why religion matters even more: the impact of religious practice on social stability, Fagan indicates that the separation of church and state simply meant that a single state-approved church could not be allowed to exist. He imposes his ideas that the government, especially Congress, should educate themselves with regards to the benefits to be derived from religion and its practice. He also stresses that policies should be made with religion in mind and that data on religion’s potency should be included and considered in debates and discussions regarding American policy. Because religion is effective in creating social change in empirical studies conducted in the community-level, it should thus be considered for policies whose implementation will involve an entire nation’s population.
The main problem with Fagan’s account of religion and then his recommendations for its use in policy-making is that the success of religion’s success on marginal issues will not equate to its success in essential issues. (God and American diplomacy, 33) Just because religion was shown to have a high value in practices and regulations set for smaller populations doesn’t mean that it will be able to give an equal value for policies and rules set for the entire nation of America. Also, because it was able to generate positive feedback for areas such as marriage, crime, and community cohesion, it does not mean that religion will be able to generate adaptive ideas for the more complex issues of the same area. These issues may include homosexual marriages, death penalty imposition, and community governance. For more complex matters as the latter, religion is no longer relevant and allowing it to become a factor in such policies would not only be foolhardy but would even be dangerous in the long run.
Also, religion’s application on a small scale with individuals practicing only one type of religion does not indicate that it will have equal applicability in a nation that has numerous different religions. The separation of church and state does include that no specific state-ordained church must exist. However, the reasons and thinking behind such a separation are deeper than simply allowing for religious freedom. Considerations such as oppression of the minority and inability to account for all the beliefs and principles of the collection of religions in America were also made.
It is clear that religion is indeed affecting American policies. This change is not warranted and should not be condoned. Policy-makers should take an active stand for the separation of church and state. Policies with religion as one of its factors will, in the end, prove to be biased and geared towards the betterment of only one part of American society. Government decisions should be based on more economic, political, and democratic norms.
References
Anonymous. “God and American diplomacy.” Economist, 366(2003): 33 Business Source Premier. EBSCO. 18 April 2008
Fagan, Patrick F. “Why religion matters even more: the impact of religious practice on social stability.” 18 December 2006 Heritage Foundation. 18 April 2008
Harris, Sam. The End of Faith. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005.
Miles, Jack. “Religion and American foreign policy.” Survival, 46(2004): 23-37
Minkenberg, Michael. “Religious effects on immigration policies.” Paper presented at the ECPR 32nd Joint Session of Workshops, Uppsala, March 2004.

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