I’ve heard the following opinion expressed by secularists justifying the need for the separation of religion and politics:
Religion has no place in politics. Politics is a dirty game fueled by personal interests, which will only taint the sanctity of religion.
I’m not entirely sure whether it’s an intentional misrepresentation of both religion and politics, or a genuine misunderstanding of the two, but such an argument doesn’t support secularism. It simply raises the question:
Why would any decent human being be involved in politics if it’s so dirty?
The fact that there is a great deal of corruption and deception in politics doesn’t mean that this must always be the case. In fact, the impression of politics as dirty justifies these tactics to some politicians as a necessary evil and part of the game.
In the same way businessmen can justify unethical practices with the excuse “business is business,” politicians can try to get away with their unethical practices by blaming the rules of the game than taking responsibility for their actions.
Anyone who claims politics is a dirty game narrows the chances of ethical conduct in politics. Removing religion from the game doesn’t make it more or less ethical. But we need to assert that politics – again, just like business – can be practiced ethically, without any deception or compromise of moral values.
It is also false to assume that religion is too clean to be mixed with politics. It is often the case that politics is dirtied by religion, and not the other way around. Politics simply offers religion greater powers, a wider scope of operation, and the legitimacy to enact its teachings as laws. It depends on the religion (often the interpretation of a religion by its adherents in power) that determines how fair or fascist the state becomes.
All vices you can imagine have been justified by different religions throughout history. From censorship, to slavery, to child abuse, to rape, to murder, to torture, to war. Religion introduces an additional way of dividing peoples and, unfortunately, many religious preachers advocate hate and animosity towards the followers of other religions, instead of compassion and good will.
It’s not the sanctity of religion that secularism seeks to protect, but the sanctity of human life, freedom and reason. For all citizens, regardless of race or religion.
Secularism aims to treat all citizens equally, and to offer them the freedom to live by their own convictions (religious or not), without any threat or discrimination from the state on account of personal convictions and religious affiliations.
Secularism encourages freethinking, without basing laws on religious dogma that can’t be questioned or reformed. This helps lawmakers study the laws they propose, to search for supporting/opposing evidence, evaluate the results, and be open to change laws that compromise human life or treat citizens unfairly.
Secularism doesn’t aim to prevent people from living by their convictions, but it does prevent them from enforcing their convictions on others.
This cannot be done in a theocracy, where the status of the law is considered divine and must be imposed on all.
Politics can be a means to protecting people’s rights and coordinating their affairs. It can be dirtied with or without religion. We should encourage ethical conduct in politics, rather than contribute to the dirt and corruption we complain about.