In a wonderful move that bodes well for the future of the country, Libya has banned any political parties that are based on religion, tribe or ethnicity. Bear in the mind, the country is 98 percent Muslim, according to the latest figures.
That doesn’t mean Muslims can’t vote for Muslim candidates or that political leaders cannot express their religious sentiments. It means only that any party must take in the entire population in its decisions, not just those that share its religious, political or ethnic ties.
What a concept: a bipartisan approach to leadership.
I wonder if we could consider that approach in this country?
After all, Rick Santorum (left) is on record as saying the separation of church and state makes him sick. So do people who don’t worship as he does. "I don't believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute," he said.
Too bad he wasn’t around when the Puritans controlled Massachusetts. He might have had a different idea. They didn’t want anyone there who didn’t believe as they did. They booted out one inhabitant after another and burned a few more. One of the men they banned was Roger Williams, who was saved in the middle of a New England winter by savage Indians, who had no such restrictions on faith. They saw him as a human being in need of help.
He learned their language and often negotiated with them to prevent bloodshed and to purchase land.
Williams (right) recognized the irony of supposed heathens who acted more religiously than those who wanted a “pure” society.
As a result, he founded Providence Plantation (plantation in those days means “colony” today) and insisted on freedom of religion. There, he welcomed all the outcasts from the Puritan reign. When the Puritans hung Quakers, Williams encouraged Quaker refugees to join him, even though he did not agree with their philosophy.
He was still a Puritan; he just wasn’t so self-righteous as to believe that there’s only one route to the divine.
In time, his views were combined with those in Virginia, where English traders did not want to import the religious wars that convulsed Europe and early on began to move away from domination of the Anglican Church. Initially, Virginians paid for priests and for churches.
Naturally, had such Anglican religious leaders been in Massachusetts, they would have been condemned.
Appalled by the sight of Baptist ministers forced to preach from their jail cells in Anglican-dominated Virginia, James Madison (left) helped lead the charge in Virginia, insisting the freedom of religion was the necessary step to ensure liberty. Eventually, his ideas were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
As a result, this country has no party that is linked directly to a particular religion. That may change, as the Republican Party continues to yoke itself to conservative Christian views and give credence to such ideologues like Santorum.
The determined effort by the religious right to inject faith into politics is showing up in polls. According to a Gallup survey released this week, “Religion is playing a key role in determining which presidential candidate Americans support, with President Barack Obama (right) enjoying a wide lead over Mitt Romney among moderately and less religious voters and Romney dominating among very religious voters.
The survey noted that “There are stark differences in the preferences of voters based on how religious they are, regardless of their specific faith tradition. Very religious voters, who say religion is a key part of daily life and who attend a house of worship almost every week or more often, account for 41 percent of voters and back Romney over Obama by 54 percent to 37 percent.”
Religion does not belong in the political arena. It is, after all, hardly set in stone. Ask former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (right), who was raised Catholic and did not find out until in her 50s that she was actually born into a Jewish family who wanted to protect her from prejudice.
Religions change, too. What may be dogma today could just as easily be an anathema a few decades later. Remember when eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin?
Politics are designed to provide direction the state; religion is designed to guide the soul. They have nothing in common nor should.
Libya -- who would guess that country would model anything? -- has made that very clear. Americans need to maintain the same distance between religion and politics. If not, we haven’t a prayer of maintaining our freedoms.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com. He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.