The relationship between religion and politics has long been a thorny one.
These days, we are highly sensitive to religion taking over politics, but also have questions about how and where to draw appropriate lines.
In a recent article titled ‘Hands On or Hands Off’ Exploring the relationship between religion and politics,” Ryan Messmore addressed these questions and their implications.
He cautioned against asking religion to either have a complete ‘hands on’ or a complete ‘hands off’ approach.
He argued that religious institutions and government institutions were different things, with different reasons and goals for existing.
To blur them is to “damage the identity, integrity, and responsibility of both.”
However he also argued that it was a mistake to assume religion had nothing helpful to comment on public life, saying that to ignore the link between political judgement and religious conviction (whether “formalised by ecclesial doctrines or not”) was naive and could risk us leaving society to be monopolised by government.
According to Mr Messmore, all governments have a moral vision.
They promote particular ideas about what is good and right.
He said, “Citizens and their representatives should be able to discuss their understanding of what is right and good without fearing or apologising for their religious views.
Attempting to filter out of political decision-making these underlying ‘religious’ influences weaken not only the social role of faith communities but also the common good.”
He argued that we have made a mistake in pigeonholing religion into the realm of private belief, which has led us to increasingly see the government as the sphere that deals with our social problems.
This is a lot of pressure to put on the government alone.
For Mr Messmore, “calling for the separation of church and state (a separation of institutional authorities) was different from attempting to divorce religion from politics.”
We need to instead recover an understanding of the importance and difference of both religious and political institutions, and allow both to contribute to the common good.