Grad student essay contest second place: Where God does not belong – By Charlotte Ljustina

FFRF awarded Charlotte $2,000.

By Charlotte Ljustina

What do the political stage and a schoolyard have in common? Other than bullying and people stealing your lunch money, both of these have a long-standing friction with one subject in particular: religion.

And, if ever there was a time when, as Roger Williams wrote, “the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world” shouldn’t merge, it is during election season — a time where emphasis is intended upon issues and policy platforms rather than beliefs and theories. Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state” as a protective measure of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

However, when we widen the aperture of historical religious-political relations, we see that many forefathers never sought to expel the church from society. In fact, religion was fully integrated in the life of the nation. But today, American citizens recognize religion as a private matter to be kept out of the political sphere. Media coverage has reflected this by condemning the combination of religion and politics. Cultural development and generational change, pop culture and echoes of historical disaster make it clear that politics and religion should remain unmarried.

Perhaps the best place to begin in the analysis of this non-marriage is at the core of either partner. Religion is the belief in a God or gods; politics is the work of the people who represent the government. By definition, the two worlds are polarized. The former, which founds itself in faith and belief, is like oil, while the latter, founded in logic and reason, is vinegar.

Why then did George Washington and Alexander Hamilton promote religion as a pillar of civil society without which there would be anarchy? According to them, religion and politics should not only mix, but they should practically be symbiotic.

Well, both the cultural and generational landscapes have developed, particularly with regard to religion. As our forefathers weaved society into a thick tapestry, they issued general fasting times for humility and prayer. This is unsurprising, though, for religious liberty was heavily founded in Anglican principles. In short, our forefathers worshiped the same God. The general fasting was later questioned, since “religion and conscience” are entities with which “the government has nothing to do,” wrote the General Aurora Advertiser in 1798. The Advertiser also acknowledged a “connection between state and church affairs as dangerous to religious and political freedom.”

Today there are more than 4,200 religions. And, with an increasingly liberal population and radical shifts in previously standardized concepts, such as gender and sexuality, religion has developed several different meanings.

This generational change has also led to pop culture and media development. Notably, this medium reaches masses in quick, visual and (often) entertaining ways, which make audiences more susceptible to reception. For example, in the network TV drama, “Scandal,” the prominent political figure Sally Langston battles with her Christianity — especially during her presidential campaign. Leveraging her Christianity, she solicits support on the basis of her religion. A crisis ensues when she commits a murder. The drama highlights the struggle of Langston’s sin throughout the show as a Christian woman at odds with her faith and, therefore, at odds with herself. Through this show, the internal process of spirituality is exposed to show chaos and, often, exactly what Hamilton was trying to avoid: anarchy.

For those less persuaded by television and more by history, there are abundant events dictating danger between politics and religion. One may think of the “ethnoreligious purification” of the Turkish Empire in the early 20th century or Soviet efforts to exterminate avowed religious groups listed in the U.N.Convention during the same epoch.

And while genocide occurred transcontinentally, perhaps the first to be remembered is the Holocaust — a politically charged eradication of an entire people based on several aspects, including religion. This extreme case demonstrates the scenario in which a politician’s religion is not only to be celebrated, but any other religion is to be eliminated.

When religion creeps into politics, it may become less about God or an entity and more about the character of an observer. This creates a scale of humanity: Those worthy as deemed by religious devotion and those not. The polarization of people on any ground is dangerous. This was prevalent in the fight for gay marriage. It is still apparent in the fight for abortion and women’s rights.

The sociopolitical issues that already divide due to morality or environment are pulled further apart because of religion. If there is any hope of acceptance, peace and unity within our democracy, then a divisive piece such as religion must be removed from the game entirely.

Charlotte Ljustina, 22, was born and raised in Florida. She attended Mount Holyoke College, where she graduated with degrees in mathematics and English. She then attended Boston College Law School in 2015, but left after one semester. She is now in the master’s program in negotiation and conflict resolution at Columbia University. Her interests include gymnastics, acroyoga, photography, theater and cuisine.

Freedom From Religion Foundation