Religion: Wrestling with its Role in a Democracy

Over the centuries, nations and empires that tolerated different religions generally have fared better than ones who didn’t. The Roman and Mongol empires, two of the most powerful empires in history, were generally tolerant.

Some Roman governments persecuted Christians, but only when they were convinced the Christians were a danger to Roman authority. So long as a religion didn’t threaten the government, both Roman and Mongol rulers generally exercised benign neglect. They avoided expending effort on costly maneuvers to force alien beliefs on their subjects.

Adherents of a particular religion, often dealing with matters of eternity and salvation, may believe they must gain control of their government for the good of all.

Such a view ignores the more powerful option: living lives of such compassion and kindness that fellow citizens are voluntarily drawn to their faith. Christians in the Roman empire followed this model, with much success.

Christianity fared less well when Christians formed alliances with political rulers, leading to brutal crusades and inquisitions.

European nations, emerging from such sullied religious histories, shook their heads in disbelief at the upstart new United States, allowing freedom for all religions. Surely, having no alliance with a particular religion, the country would fall prey to godlessness.

The opposite happened. Religion flourished. The Christian religion especially grew and influenced the culture of the country.

American Christians, now challenged by other emerging faiths, including atheism and secularism, wrestle with the temptation to use political power to advance their beliefs. Or will they follow the more successful option of living out their faith?

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