Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been widely viewed as a viable presidential contender in the Republican Party for years. A moderate who has pushed for the availability of no-prescription birth control, and who has exhorted the GOP to stop being “the stupid party,” Jindal may yet prove to appeal to constituencies far beyond the Republican core of conservative angry white men.
One plus point for the secular-minded is that the governor, though a Catholic, was never much of a Bible thumper — until a few years ago. Over time, Jindal has started to get adamant that it’s time to “turn back to God,” and he has no qualms about seeing Christianity as a policy tool, going so far as to lead a prayer rally in his official capacity as governor, in violation of America’s church-state separation. He’s on record as saying,
Our nation is faced with fatherless homes, an epidemic of drugs and crime in our inner cities, a saturation of pornography, abortion, racism — Jesus Christ, Son of God and the Lord of Life, is America’s only hope. We need Spiritual Transformation.
It’s hard to tell whether he’s just pandering to Huckabee Christians or if this is truly Jindal’s heartfelt belief, but it’s a risky and annoying move either way, says Nick Gillespie, the editor of the digital version of Reason magazine (disclosure: I’m an occasional contributor there).
No, it’s not time to “turn back to God,” especially when it comes to politics and public policy. What ails the government is not a deficit of religiosity but a nearly complete failure to deal with practical issues of spending versus revenue, creating a simple and fair tax system, reforming entitlements, and getting real about the limits of America’s ability to control every corner of the globe. God has nothing to do with any of that. The fault lies not in our stars but in policies.
As the Republican field begins to come into clearer focus regarding 2016, I hope that it will recognize that the United States is an increasingly secular country. That doesn’t mean religion isn’t important in people’s lives, or that it may have an effect on how they live their lives (for better and for worse). But it does mean that mixing religion and politics will alienate many voters (even religious ones) who realize these are two separate spheres.
Gillespie wonders where all the GOP handwringing about a morally deteriorating society even comes from. The country’s social metrics should obviate any propensity toward moral panic, he points out.
Two things are worth noting when it comes millennarian talk of contemporary America as somehow a bastion of sinners in the hands of an angry god. First, over the same time that Christians of all denominations and other religiously minded folks have complained about increases in coarsening materialism, virtually all signs of social pathology have declined. There’s less crime, including less violent crime and sexual assault. Drug abuse is not spiking, divorce rates have declined, abortions and teen sex rates are down, and nobody is starving in America. That’s not to mistake the current world for a shining city on a hill, but we’re certainly not a 21st-century Sodom.
Where there are problems, they stem directly from awful government policies pursued by the two most-recent presidents, both of whom are god-fearing Christians. They spent too much money and regulated the hell out of all aspects of the country’s business. They have a willingness to torture people and surveil regular American citizens while flouting constitutional protections on civil liberties. Police militarization, like bank bailouts and stimulus spending, will not be reformed by appeals to god. Conservatives of all people should recognize that the state should treat citizens as individauls [sic] who are equal before the law, which is a prima facie case for accepting gay marriage.
Religion holds no policy answers for politicians, says Gillespie, and that’s true not just in America:
All over the world, we can find endless of examples of how mixing religion and politics leads not simply to ruination but awful, awful outcomes. We find exceptionally few where infusing politics with religion and appeals to “turn back to God” do anything other than create endless turmoil.
(Image via Reason)