Religion and Politics Mixing Like Oil and Water

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.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. Baptists, don’t sell your birthrightKnight Ridder, May 17, 2005In today’s America, evangelical Christians have a functional majority — their influence, for today at least, exceeds their number. And now they have started thinking like a persecuted majority.– Greg Warner, Executive Editor Associated Baptist PressIt was easy to advocate such freedom when most Americans in most communities showed little religious diversity. Pluralism is a threat to many Christians want the government to give them an edge over other faith traditions.– John D. Pierce, Executive Editor Baptists Today

  2. Never underestimate the sheer stupidity and hipocracy of a fundamentalist Christian. Come to think of it, never underestimate the sheer stupidity and hipocracy of a fundamentalist ANYTHING.

    That study is bunk.

  3. Although I do not share all of George Carlin’s beliefs about religion, some of them I have no problems with at all:

    Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

    But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! More like His supposed servants have a problem in that regard…