POLITICS AND RELIGION IN US PRESIDENTIAL CEREMONIES

by Promod Puri

The Bible featured prominently in the Biden-Harris inauguration presidential ceremonies on January 20. Three different Bibles featured in the swearing-in ceremonies – Kamala Harris used both Thurgood Marshall’s and one belonging to a friend; Joseph Biden used a 128-year-old family Bible.

Is the Bible or other religious volumes have ritualistic values only on such occasions. Or they offer spiritual inspirations as well. Whatever the reason is, politics has a dependency on religion both for ritualistic functioning and spiritual guidance.

Theological-infused events do suggest that religion and politics are inseparable. Ceremonial rituals make the events lively and bright. But the involvement of religion administers moral and spiritual values in them also.    

“Politics and religion must be kept separate” is an acknowledged doctrine in secular and democratic-socialist systems.

In general, politics is not, and should not be, confined to skills and strategies to seek or manage power. Besides governance, guidance is also its objective, which comes from religion’s conscientious and sociological logic over the centuries.

From Mohammad to Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela and Dr. Ambedkar all had religious commitments grounded in humanism, love, compassion, and kindness to wage their political and social campaigns against slavery, apartheid, discrimination, inequality, and untouchability based on colour, class, and caste.

Gandhi’s crusade against evils in the society and his political discourse got inspired by the Upanishads’ Hindu scriptures advocating the concepts of non-violence, truthfulness, self-discipline, compassion, and virtuousness.

Obama, who believes in the power of faith, has sought a “serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.”

He argues, “more fundamentally the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms.” He said in a public address: “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.” (“Obama’s 2006 Speech on Faith and Politics”, The New York Times, June 28, 2006 edition).

“Before entering the public square,” what Obama is demanding instead is the infusion of true religion, without its symbolism, in the political environment to establish moral guidelines in its ideologies.

In a world that is politically divided into Leftists and Rightists with sub-castes of Extreme Left and Extreme Right, ideological fanaticism runs high along with elements of power, ego, and greed, which are opportunistically embraced by all political establishments. In this “dirty game,” socialist idealism becomes just sloganeering.

The oddity of the present socio-political left and the right mental constitution is that the leftists dislike religion. And the rightists are religious fanatics. The former ridicules and rejects religion, and the latter is narcissistically illiterate about it.

Deepak Chopra says: “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love, and compassion, also intuition, creativity, insight, and focused attention.”

Paved with these divine and acknowledged values, religion offers an ever-guiding relationship with politics in the service of humanity and its environment.

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