Religion as a Foreign Concept

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RIGHT RELIGION OR RELIGIOUS RIGHT? - Using religion as part of the US foreign policy toolkit is a good idea in a world full of religion as long as we guard against attempts to introduce religion into our own government.

RIGHT RELIGION OR RELIGIOUS RIGHT? - Using indigenous religions as part of the US foreign policy toolkit is necessary as long as we resist attempts to introduce religion into our own government.

A new study from the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs says US foreign policy is being weakened by a strong focus on, “uncompromising western secularism”. A religion-neutral foreign policy is a tough sell in a secular America, but it’s essential if we are to deal with countries that are, or near, total theocracies. And even as an atheist, I can see they’re right.

Dealing with countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Israel without accounting for the intertwining of government and religion is a recipe for disaster. The past two administrations have made some headway on beefing up this component of foreign policy and should be commended by the religious and atheists alike. However, foreign policy is supposed to help advance the nation’s goals – goals that according to the US Constitution should be free and open, unlike the goals of a theocracy like Iran.

But as with most things, there’s a slippery slope that must be tread lightly to avoid even worse problems than simply having religion as part of the foreign policy mix. Although the Council is comprised of all major faiths, much of the public, many in Congress, and the administrations themselves focus almost exclusively on Christian religious principles. In essence, they use Christianity as a synonym for religion.

Using religion as a tool to solve global comfilcts involving theocracies doesn't have to be incompatible with our own separation of church and state.

Using religion as a tool to solve global conflicts involving theocracies doesn't have to be incompatible with our own separation of church and state.

For example, Bill Clinton’s nominee for Ambassador to the Netherlands was kiboshed in Congress because he was gay, a frequent Christian strawman and grounds Christians ofttimes use to defeat anything they can reasonably or unreasonably pull into the Christian moral sphere. Even liberals were pleased by the last administration’s efforts to increase AIDS funding to Africa, but not so pleased when the aid went only to countries that promised not to do abortions. That restriction, driven by religious beliefs, deprived many of treatment on a continent rife with the disease and weakened, what was at the core, a good policy?

It’s not as though religions don’t already have some experience with mixing different religions, particularly in dictatorships. Christians work hard to convert the masses, whether they be Islamic, Buddhist, or simply another variation of Christianity than their own. Some of the target flock may go along; others may just rise up and create a Christian martyr. This is the slippery slope in action.

For our foreign policy to best succeed, we all need to understand the role religion plays in many cultures. We need to make sure religion, to the extent it makes sense, is not just a way to transmit Christian ideals to non-Christian nations. We need to understand that not all Muslims are crazies dressed in Brooks Brothers’ suicide suits any more than not all Christians are like the screed screaming Westboro Baptist Church crowd. The issue here is not which religion to use in our policy; it is the freedom for diplomats and the countries they serve in to use the religion at hand to accomplish America’s goals.

Goals like the freedom to practice or not practice religion as you please.

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