[Viewpoint] With religion, nothing is perfect

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[Viewpoint] With religion, nothing is perfect

Political science has several subcategories. In addition to international politics and comparative politics, there is a subcategory called political science of religion or religion and politics.

The study first began at the end of 20th century, and it is about researching the influence of religion and politics on each other.

Although they exchange influences with each other, it is the fundamental principle of democratic politics that politics and religion must be separate. Augustine, John Locke, Martin Luther and Thomas Jefferson have argued for the separation of church and state, differentiating between “what is Caesar’s and ... what is God’s.”

Until the principle was firmly established, many ups and downs took place. During the modernization of Europe, church and state clashed with each other endlessly.

Many also protested the principle of separating religion and politics. And yet, it was proven to be a very practical principle once established.

Particularly in the United States, where the principle became settled faster than in other regions, both state and church became strong under this “win-win” principle.

Both state and church have their rise and fall. For religion, it rises when believers increase and falls when they decrease. Believing a religion is “following the tie” and following God’s will.

From the secular perspective, a religion will rise when it has a good relationship with the state.

State is the largest patron of art and science, as well as religion. Of course, religion has the power to survive the collapse of a particular regime, kingdom or dynasty.

And yet, the world’s religious map of today would have been very different from the current one if Christianity was not the predominant religion of the Roman Empire or if the Soviet Union and communist bloc in Eastern Europe won the Cold War.

Within the framework of separation of church and state, states protect religion, and religion performs roles that a state cannot. In this postmodern era, however, many things we were accustomed to are changing or disappearing.

Family values, state authority and ethics standards are all shaky, and the separation of church and state is undergoing an evolution.

The long-cherished principle is being disturbed in the United States in particular, where it first took root deeply.

The Christian right is shaking the separation of church and state. Formed since the 1970s, the Christian right believes the principle can neither stop society’s corruption nor protect their family values.

They also point out that the separation of church and state is not stipulated in the U.S. Constitution. They are a voting bloc comprising 15 percent of American voters. The Republican Party has long enjoyed their votes, and the Democrats have tried hard to win them.

In Europe, the separation of church and state is now being disturbed as governments frequently intervene in the activities of religions. Subtle changes are also seen in Korea. In the past, liberal Protestants and Buddhists who had participated in the democratization movement were criticized for having violated the principle.

Recently, religious communities that had upheld the principle faithfully are now becoming more political, as we can see in the controversies surrounding the revision of private school law and the attempt to introduce Islamic sukuk bonds.

We need to recognize that the separation principle is not a given. Separation of church and state is, of course, a precious value to be protected by a democracy. The principle was never upheld during the Joseon Dynasty and the Japanese colonial period. For Korea’s future, it is necessary for both politics and religion.

The larger framework of the principle may be kept, but we cannot ignore the fact that religious communities have now become political interest groups.

It is time for the government to establish, if necessary, a state body on religions to mediate all the simmering conflicts between politics and religions in an effort to accommodate the new era of changes.

*The writer is social affairs editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

By Kim Whan-yung
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