November 3, 2008

Liberating the Founders

Ben and I listened to this very interesting episode of Krista Tippet's "Speaking of Faith" last night on WEKU. The description of the episode is:

"Americans remain divided about how much religion they want in their political life. As we elect a new president, we return to an evocative, relevant conversation from earlier this year with journalist Steven Waldman. From his unusual study of the American founders, he understands why 21st-century struggles over religion in the public square spur passionate disagreement and entanglement with politics at its most impure."

The most interesting point made, that I was unaware of, is that the reason for the founding fathers' declaration of 'separation of church and state' was in order to increase religiosity. They felt that being a good person was paramount, and that often religion helped people to be a better person, and that by keeping them separate, religion would flourish. True, as people in politics invoke religion in their candidacies or campaigns, it has had the effect of turning a generation of people off to religion (Christianity in particular, in this country) rather than against government/politics. Many of the founding fathers belonged to religious groups that were persecuted in their day (Baptists, Quakers, Evangelists), and by separating their beliefs from their work, they felt (and their churches felt) that politicians would be able to make their points as people, not as believers of a specific ideology--and this would allow more room for the ideology/religions to grow in a private sphere rather than being condemned in the public sphere.

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