Replacing Religion with Politics – Battle of the Social Coordinators
Mihajlo Pupin said: “To guide this complex life from a threatening chaos to a society became the highest point of a man‘s creative soul. The church and the state are most important among social coordinators […] but behind them is divine breath which is the power of creative coordination.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a world where religion and politics don’t exist and aren’t intertwined; they play a central role in our culture and day-to-day lives. As such, it is interesting to explore not only how these social factors shape our culture, but what effect they have on each other, as well.
Religion has been the driving force behind societal and cultural changes since the time of ancient civilisations, and its role has not diminished today. Although the US is a secular state, religion has always played a large part in the shaping of public opinion – for example, the Salem Witch Trials – and political occurrences. Tocqueville (1835) even commented on this tight link between religion and politics, stating that “Puritanism was not only a religious doctrine; it also blended at several points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories”. It is interesting to note, then, that almost all American presidents have been Christian; the importance of religion in shaping the (political) reality of America is, therefore, clear.
However, it is undeniable that the impact of religion is not the same as it once was, and this is largely due to technology. According to a study by Allen Downey (2014), within a span of just twenty years, the percentage of people with no religious preference has jumped from 8% to 18%. It doesn’t sound like a lot; however, it accounts for 25 million people in the US. Downey explains that this is largely a consequence of the Internet; thanks to technology, religion has lost the role of “guiding this complex life”.
What, then, has replaced religion?
Politics, of course.
Shadi Hamid (2021) says that “what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief”, and we see examples of this every day, with rising tension between the left and the right over their political beliefs. “Political debates over what America is supposed to mean have taken on the character of theological disputations,” Hamid continues. Which political faction you belong to has now become more important than which faith you adhere to.
So, religion is being replaced with politics. But, is that truly a good thing? As Peter Feiman (2010) notes, “we need to congregate, to assemble, to share, to be part of something larger than ourselves,” and religion gives this to people. It provides comfort in difficult times, and a sense of belonging. Moreover, religion as a guide for social change isn’t necessarily always bad – did the piety of Quakers and Anglican evangelicals not spark the fire for abolishing slavery? Religion in times of turmoil, in my humble, agnostic opinion, serves well as a moral compass and a driver for positive cultural change – when not taken to extremes.
Ultimately, as the times change, social coordinators change with them, and it is always important to know what our culture is shaped by. But while the impact of politics on culture and communication is becoming larger every day, it is doubtful anything will ever completely replace religion – it is far too important on both individual and collective levels; religion is here to stay.
1. American Abolitionism and Religion, Divining America, TeacherServe©, National Humanities Center. (n.d.). National Humanities Center. Retrieved May 27, 2021, from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/amabrel.htm
2. Barber, N. (2012, July 2). The Security Blanket Concept of Religion. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-human-beast/201207/the-security-blanket-concept-religion
3. Hamid, S. (2021, March 11). How Politics Replaced Religion in America. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/04/america-politics-religion/618072/
4. How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion. (2014, April 4). MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2014/04/04/13684/how-the-internet-is-taking-away-americas-religion/
5. The American Interest LLC. (2015, June 23). Chautauqua America. The American Interest. https://www.the-american-interest.com/2010/05/01/chautauqua-america/
6. Tocqueville, A. (n.d.). Democracy in America, Book 1, Chapter 2. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/1_ch02.htm
7. Mihajlo Pupin quote is from Intercultural Communication – PDF file from the week of 13 April – TAPP/Creativity, Religion, Morals… which can be found at:
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