Religion ~Politics (After 2012)

(Andy Warhol, Crosses [c.1981-2])

Maybe after all is said and done, Jesus wasn’t a radical progressive, the rabbis were neither conservative nor liberal, and the prophets weren’t political. Maybe just maybe they had other things on their mind, some other dimension like God, Torah, and/or the Kingdom of God. Since 9/11, politics and “the political,” and “theo-politics” have inundated the study of religion. A lot of it is genuinely interesting. A lot of it is reactive vis-à-vis what were the strong winds pushing very conservative religion into politics since the 1980s, both in the United State, India, and the Middle East. Has that boil now burst, what with the U.S. re-election of Obama and the demographic forecast re: a more liberal American electorate?

I have always followed politics closely, especially the correlation between politics and religion. And I do not believe that separate fields remains separate from others for very long. But I never did care much for attempts to reduce religion to politics, or to identify religion as political. As I see it, as much as they always (already) overlap, politics and religion, as well as political people versus religious people, are different kinds of animal. About this, I think the Enlightenment remains fundamentally right, as much as the Enlightenment liberalism gets kicked around on the left and the right.

It’s in this light that I find this bit of reporting in the NYT very interesting. It speaks to the disillusioned soul-searching now facing members of the Christian right in the United States.

The Rev. Brady Cooper, the pastor of New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., said he had heard acquaintances in the days since the election speculating that social issues cost the Republicans the White House. To a degree, they were probably right, Mr. Cooper said. But he said that he could not abandon his values to win elections, and was increasingly moving away from politics.

“I’m kind of disillusioned more and more with the political process,” Mr. Cooper said. “One of their top priorities is being re-elected, and that kind of drives a lot of decisions that they make. And it means obviously going with the trends of the culture as opposed to the truth.”

What I find interesting here is the use of the word “disillusion,” the sense that maybe, just maybe conservative Christians might abandon politics, at least electoral politics, for religion. Because the values, “pragmatics” on the one hand, and “truth” on the other hand, are just not compatible. This was always the point pressed by Yeshayahu Leibowitz that the combination of religion and politics, truth and power are a disaster to each other.

Now I know one can say that this is not passage of religion out of politics, but rather the passage of a conservative forms of religion and politics. But seeing how I don’t see a lot of effective political energy among liberal and progressive religionists (Christians), I’m going to assume a more generalizable separation of fields, not a complete and total separation, but a deep one nonetheless.

Maybe it’s time for Jacob and Esau to go their own separate ways and try to undo some of the damage each has caused the other. And if it actually happens now that conservative religionists begin to leave politics to the politicians in order to stick more clearly to the Kingdom of God, does that mean maybe just maybe scholars of religion on the right and the left and critical theory on the left might get off their respective theo-political high horses?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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