Term Paper: Catholic Church and Public Policy

Pages: 40 (19318 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] In relation to other countries in the European Union, Spain boasts one of the most "religious" populations. As data from a study of religiosity in the European shows, as late as 1982, only Ireland surpasses Spain in religious practice. Further, by the end of the decade, the percentage of individuals identifying themselves as "religious persons" ranged from a low of 48% in Denmark to 72% in the Irish Republic. The Spanish percentage of 68% exceeded all other countries except Ireland, Portugal and Greece. In stark contrast to the religious homogeneity seen in Spain, the populace of the United States is composed of several different religions and cultures. Generally, Protestants make up 65% of the population, Catholics 25%, and 2% are Jewish, while the remaining 10% is composed of a variety of denominations including Buddhists and Muslims.

Throughout the course of my work, I will concentrate on re-affirming three general claims. First, on a very general level, I look to provide much needed insight into the impact of religion on politics, proving that religion is of fundamental importance in defining contemporary political life. As I mentioned previously, I hope to dispel the claim that religion is only of political relevance when church and state experience conflict. Moreover, I hope to demonstrate that religion is important in a number of political contexts, including its role in the shaping of public policy and its role in shaping political opinions. Secondly, and more specifically, I look to provide insight into the declining/expanding role of the Catholic Church in the secularizing (Spain) and secular society (the United States). This comparative study of two politically and religiously diverse countries will allow me to highlight differences and maintain similarities between the experiences of the Catholic Church in politics in the two countries. By highlighting differences between the two, I will confirm the work of many, while by maintaining similarities, I hope to direct attention to overlapping areas often overlooked in contemporary political literature.

While examining the three claims mentioned above are all general objectives, my work will also address more specific claims. My work will delve further into the role of the Catholic Church as a reactionary force in shaping public policy on issues abortion, contraception, and Namely, I assert that the Catholic Church in Spain and the United States are representative of the Catholic Church in countries around the world

While many recognize that politics and religion are two very important themes in the history of the world, few can pinpoint their definition, or define their relationship. I will elaborate on these subjects in the following sections.

Working Definition of Religion

There are a number of ways to define religion. Some define religion in terms of power, where religion is concerned with the classification of power, where some forces are classified as helpful, some harmful; some powers are classified as ordinary, others as extraordinary, supernatural, or mysterious; some powers are to be cultivated, others are to be avoided. Others look to define religion in terms of its functionality in society. Namely, religion creates a value system for its believers, defines moral guidelines, and indicates what is appropriate and acceptable for its group. While these definitions account for different aspects of religion, I believe that it would be most appropriate to use a combination of them both in devising a definition of religion for my work. The aspect of power in religion is very important in the discussion of politics and religion. Religion and power are both patterns of power, dynamic processes of action and interaction, and systems of power relations that reinforce the general distribution of power within society. Likewise, the functionality aspect of religion is also important in addressing the practical applications of religious power. The ability of religion to create a value system, define moral guidelines, and indicate what is appropriate to its believers, essentially translates into power.

Working Definition of Politics number of definitions exist in defining the role of politics in society. Similar to religion, some define politics in terms of power. On a very basic level, as Robert Dahl states, politics are human relationships that "involve to a certain extent, control, influence, power, or authority." On a deeper level, politics can be defined as the force that shapes "the lines of authority, the instruments of control, the strategies of domination, and that contributes to a certain pattern in the distribution of power within a set of social relations." While some claim that power is the most important aspect in defining politics, others claim that the close association between the concept of the state, and government and politics is the most vital factor in defining politics. V.O. Key defines politics in terms of the workings of government. According to Key, the impact of governments on people, the method of government operation, and the process by which governmental leaders attain and retain authority define politics.

The functioning of politics in society is another useful factor in defining politics. Primarily, two areas define the functioning of politics within society. First, politics provides a means to achieve collective goals for a society. Those holding public office normally advance the interests of the common citizen in hopes of creating a greater good for all. Secondly, politics plays an important role in "conflict resolution." When an issue arises in the community, politics provides the arena for debate, and eventually confronts and resolves the debate.

Those claiming that politics most closely identifies with power, state and government, or its functionality in society all have valid points. However, the "most widely accepted definition" of politics among political scientists does not identify completely with either of the two aforementioned definitions. Rather, the "most widely accepted definition" of politics among political scientists, according to Corbett and Corbett, focuses on the "authoritative allocation of values," or variations of it as described by David Easton. Easton defines a political system, as "those interactions through which values are authoritatively allocated for a society."

The Overlap of Politics and Religion

The exercise of power is at the center of the polity and in virtually all cultures power is an attribute to divinity.

Donald Eugene Smith

Politics and religion clearly serve different functions in society. However, their realms often overlap. The core element of politics - Easton's authoritative allocation of values - coincides with the central principle in the definition of religion - the ability of religion to create a value system, and moral guidelines for its followers. Both politics and religion are concerned with the pursuit of values - personal, social or transcendent. Another important characteristic of religion and politics is that they both "concern the distribution of power." The political system distributes power by means of creating and enforcing laws, and codes, essentially "allocating values in society." Religion distributes power within its own realm by creating a value system and deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate for its followers, allocating values within its group. Chidester explains, "Religion and politics are dimensions of human experience engaged in the meaningful exercise of power... they are necessarily interrelated in the systematic distribution of power within society.

Perhaps the most important area of overlap between religion and politics in regards to my work comes in the common situation where "the values taught by particular religions might become the authoritatively allocated values within the political system." Under these circumstances, the government becomes, in a sense, a tool of religious groups. Examples of this include "religious groups that use the power of the state to express or reinforce their religious values, religious groups that engage in political conflict to in order to have their own values prevail, or the values generated or supported within the political system might permeate religious views."

While religion and politics both concern the distribution of power, there remains a distinction between the types of power that each commands. One way to distinguish between political and religious power, according to Chidester, is to say that religion is involved with sacred power, while politics is engaged with ordinary, mundane, or profane power. Historian George Kelly Armstrong elaborates, "Politics is the ultimate control system of the profane and religion is the ultimate control system of the scared."

Politics and Religion: An overlooked intersection of power

Politics and religion are of fundamental importance to individuals and societies because "they both are rooted psychologically and doctrinally in fundamental assumptions of power." Politics involves to a significant extent, control, influence, power, or authority, while religion encompasses an integrated system of beliefs, lifestyle, ritual activities, and institutions by which people give meaning to their lives by orienting themselves to what they take to be holy, sacred, or of ultimate value.

However, while students and scholars alike agree that religion and politics have had a large impact on shaping human life and societies, surprisingly little research has been conducted into the dynamic relation that exists between them. One such overlooked aspect of the intersection of religion and politics is the impact of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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