Religion and America's Society

How religion has influenced America's society: politics, laws, and moral view


Religion has greatly affected the American society, politics, law and moral values. With all the mysteries that surround human beings, it is hard to trace thier causes or even sources. Though science has really made drastic steps in explaining a number of this mysteries, questions of how, why and what still linger. The fact that existing scientific explanations on mysteries of life like origin of man, space, human body and brain, and nature, have left a lot to be desired have reinstated the complexity of life. And human beings have come to terms with the truth that no matter how long they live they will never understand the key phenomenon of this earth: life. Consequently, they have retorted to the belief that maybe something (or even someone) beyond their imaginations exists, in a metaphorical world, that (who) controls and owns the mysteries of life. This brings the belief in a supernatural being, upon which religion is depended. A belief that is propagated by abstract imaginations of concepts of, ‘faith’, ‘creator’, ‘heaven’, ‘life after death’ and others popular in religion’s diction. This is a characteristic of each society- and America is no exception.

What (Sherrill, 8) says is true of America that religion is a native category that given a paradigm for construing life which carries a claim to concretion, self evidence and inherent significant.


While the practices of religious institutions like churches are distinct from those of governance, religion as a concept has had a great influence on America’s politics.  Citizens who are an integral part of the religious groups are again the members of the political society- a state that has a heap of complications. The fact that ethics are rooted in religion does not mean that believers are disqualified in the realms of politics. No. when former American president, Bush, nominated john Ashcroft for Attorney General, religion revealed its effect on politics. Bush essentially brewed war in house of Christians. Political leaders appoint leaders in religious groups to gain political mileage. At the same time, leaders in different religions have been known to take advantage of their positions to either bring down or promote a politician. In the recent campaigns, a number of Christian extremists capitalized on Obama’s religion’s controversy to ruin his campaigns. They felt his being a ‘Muslim’ (if he is) was reason enough to declare him unfit for the U.S presidency. 

The American social and moral history is defined as a religious struggle with each success being attributed to a supernatural being: God. In almost all political speeches, speakers have fossilized a concluding phrase: God bless America. This has made it obvious that religion is a major factor when it comes to electing leaders in America- and being a Christian is an added advantage. Emil Brunner, a historic Christian ethicist , once said (though in paraphrases) that if we participate in politics we have no choice but to do so in tandem with the expectations of the our current society’s roles. It a Christian’s responsibility to complete the moral circuit of the American society with values of ‘love’, ‘tolerance’, compassion’, ‘respect’ ‘generosity’ and others prescribed by the religion- and so is any sober religion. And while Brunner asserts we should  also strive to reform America’s social structures for the better, the striking fact is that the challenge can only be carried out successful by the use of another tool: politics.

Religious leaders participate in the leadership of the government. In America, there are chaplains who provide spiritual guidance by praying in the congress. While their role may appear rather religious, they are essentially addressing a Mightier political power. While gospel is meant for free to any willing listeners, this ‘politically’ employed congress chaplains are paid. Indeed, any government that fails to bring on board such a gesture may be termed as a failed government-- giving a clear picture of how religion influences the structure and functioning of politics. The American exchequer has to pay for ‘Christian’ military troupes that are meant to serve in the Lord’s capacity, a move that rewards the political class of the time. And the tax deductions religious leaders, so to  speak Christian ministers, get for housing allowance should not go unchecked here, since it is along the grains how politics in America ha s become religion’s marionette. The argument against this ‘religious’ tax deductions may appear to be precipitated by intuition, the outstanding fact is that “the men in power (politicians) who control society and its resources grant all perquisites to themselves…and the modern American professional’s income over the average is ridiculously low in comparison with that of the political overlords, who real power centers”, (Niebuhr & Gilker, 8). And religion must strive to dislodge politics from this position in America.

The only major reason why religion has influence politics in America is due to its ‘tendency, to organize itself in communities or churches which have a large following living under special sanctions and rules’ and politicians have an obsession with large numbers of people, (Underhill, 120).

A society can only exist coherently if there are laid down agreements on how one person will relate to the other, how the leader will rule the people and how the individual has to relate with the society itself. This means that regulations exist and it matters less if people are conscious or unconscious of them. These agreements are laws and as (Ryan, 162) states, ‘each law is founded on a principle religion’. In America, the constitution has bases in the Ten Commandments, ‘that are an integral part of the Christian system’, (Ryan, 163). And these Ten Commandments have had a great impact on the changes that American law makers have intended to make. Of great significance are the cuffing qualities of one of these Commandments: ‘Thou shalt not kill’.  Legalizing abortion and death sentences have remained contentious issues in American due insistence by religious groups that nobody has the right to take away another person’s life- not even the government. Religions like Christianity pre-empt the ‘maker’s’ wrath on those who kill others as catastrophic and no sober human should think of killing let alone doing it. Religion forms the basis for any society, but goes ahead to vehemently resist any slight changes to laws that are perceived to draw contempt from the side of the supernatural.

Moralists, human rights activist and abolitionists in the American society have sought to ensure that society is morally dictated by one: God's law. Moral values are grounded on the virtues that are emphasized in various scriptures. Therefore, any act in the society that is not appealing to religion is considered misguided: prostitution, drug abuse, robbery, rape, selfishness… religion has thus provided a check list on what is moral and what is immoral. As evident in many ‘religious ‘books’, scriptures’ messages are enhance by the use of characters, both moral and immoral and their happy or unfortunate endings, to instill values in the society. A good citizen is one who is, at the least, patriotic, appreciates the leadership, indiscriminate, peaceful, sociable and hand working; qualities that are based on what religion has prescribed of a good believer. Our acts therefore should either appeal to the books of religion or God’s mouthpieces to qualify as good and moral. ‘But religion admittedly appeals, not the conviction as the result of argument, but to belief as demanded by revelation’, (Schopenhauer, 7)


While, as (Macionis, 446) points out, mass society theorists fear that transforming people of various religious backgrounds into a generic mass may end up dehumanizing everybody, a sober approach towards religion and its effect on the American has become inevitable. In America, maybe whatever we believe in, in our own ways and what religions offers should be the foundation of our political discourses, social cohesion. People should not overwork themselves in a bid to appease God. If political and legal resolutions do not threaten our existence and social well being, and enhance liberty, equality, happiness, justice and unity, we should not shy away from the due to some unwritten religious laws.  

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