Is there a political cost to the use of religious rhetoric in politics? This study coming from
Afghanistan Alabama suggests there may be, even in the land where the Taliban Republicans try to raise taxes in the name of Jesus or worship graven images for political gain.
Politicians engaging in religious rhetoric risk being called hypocrites, according to a new study by University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers. The phenomenon is called the Pharisee Effect and is based on biblical references to Jesus’ rebuke of religious leaders, known as the Pharisees, for using public prayers to enhance their own image. The theoretical study appears in the latest issue of The Journal of Communication and Religion.
The Pharisees’ public piety made them subject to accusations of insincerity and hypocrisy. The same accusations can be leveled against politicians who make religious appeals, say study authors Larry Powell, Ph.D., and Eduardo Neiva, Ph.D. Political leaders like former President Ronald Reagan successfully used religious appeals to win over groups like the Christian Coalition. But such efforts can backfire, say Powell and Neiva. They say claims of religiosity in the political context actually encourage an escalating exchange of messages between competing candidates until eventually one candidate’s rhetoric ““ in the eyes of voters ““ goes too far.
When a religious appeal goes too far, audiences’ negative reactions can fall into five different categories, say Powell and Neiva. The categories are: self-serving motivations or intentionality; deception or hypocrisy; inappropriateness; fanaticism; and the holier-than-thou attitude. Any of the five evaluations can cause the public to reject the candidate, his or her ideas, or both.
Alabama rejected the raise taxes for Jesus approach in 2003; perhaps America will learn to reject it, too.