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Throughout history, people have looked to embrace divinity, faith and the notion of a higher power in order to make important decisions with far-reaching consequences. Most of history’s greatest and most powerful empires were started and led by men who believed that it was their destiny to rule, their so-called divine right. Some men have also committed despicable, unspeakable atrocities to consolidate and expand their power and proclaim that their right to do such things came from above.

As such, religion has always had a place in our political and cultural histories—it has always dictated how humans from all walks of life tend to toil through their days, how they treat others, what they expect and aspire to and what they hope the future has in store for them.  The 20th Century saw an expansion of democracy and the unseating of quite a number of the regimes and monarchies that had been in power for centuries. However, by the end of that century and now at the infancy of this new one, the world faces an evolution of the role of religion and faith in the political realm.

The Constitution of the United States requires and demands a complete separation of church and state. However, that does not hinder various religious factions in America, particularly protestant evangelicals, from wielding immense power in our national politics. The soon-to-be-concluded Republican primaries pitted a number of individuals who looked to gain the support and votes of this essential bloc against one another – they consequently embraced social agendas further to the right than those of any candidate in recent history.

The primaries have dragged on for months in part because the presumed nominee and long-term frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon, and as such has garnered little support from the evangelicals of the Grand Old Party. For this reason, Mr. Romney has had to run to the right of his true beliefs, leaving him vulnerable to claims that he is a flip-flopper.

Also, ever since he decided to run for President in 2007, the current incumbent, Barack Obama, has had to endure attacks on his faith, with some believing him to be a closet Muslim.  During his primary run against Hillary Clinton, Obama had to endure controversy concerning his pastor, Reverend Wright.

Just recently, the Obama administration had to curtail yet another controversy concerning a provision of the Affordable Care Act that mandated that religiously-run institutions, including those run by the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, provide healthcare insurance that extends coverage to include contraceptives to those who want it; the mandate goes counter to most of these denominations’ respective doctrines.  The White House had to backtrack from their original stance and appease bishops and priests throughout the country, knowing full-well that no candidate, starting with John Kennedy in 1960, has ever won the presidency without winning the Catholic constituency. By fall, both Romney (if he wins the nomination) and Obama will proclaim their faith and love for Jesus Christ in an effort to woo the believers of this country.

But the ridiculous religious purity test does not end on the domestic stage. In the foreign policy arena, it seems that more and more wars are being waged and more and more policies enacted, that are heavily influenced by religious influence. The crises in the Middle East are clear examples of this. On the one hand, some Islamic countries, particularly Iran, refuse to recognize the validity and existence of Israel as a sovereign nation, and so they go on to sponsor networks and “religiously pure” sects that threaten the lives of many Jewish people living in Israel – think Hamas and Hezbollah.

On the other hand, Israel refuses to withdraw its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in order for a new Palestinian nation to be formed there, thus rendering the proposed two-state solution an impossible task to achieve. What is most interesting is that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians see this as the most logical step to take in the path to peace, yet the political powers that be refuse to will it on the grounds of religious fundamentalism and bias. As a consequence, virtually every American president in the last fifty years has had to publicly support and back Israel, even if there was no true American interest to be gained in doing so.

Then there is Iran, a fundamental Islamist state bent on building a nuclear weapon.  Israel, which is concerned that its existence is at risk, might take it upon itself to at least try and prevent Iran from getting that weapon. Iran, despite international outcry, outrage and crippling economic sanctions, maintains that it has every right to do as it pleases within its own borders (which, since Iran is a sovereign country, is entirely true).  If Israel attacks Iran, and the Islamic nation retaliates, a war will ensue that will no doubt drag the entire region, not to mention America, into the conflict.  Part of the problem here is that the leader of one of the nations (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) was born a fundamentalist Muslim and the other (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) a fundamentalist Jew.  The leaders, for this reason and many others, cannot agree on what is best for their own respective nations and the many people they rule.

Every single day, billions of men and women all around the world wake up, have breakfast if they’re lucky, go to work, earn an honest wage and go back home to their respective families. At some point in their day, they might say a prayer or two to whichever God they believe in. They do not look to instill or force their beliefs on others, nor do they look to strap on explosive jackets and senselessly kill others. If, at the most basic level of society, two people from different backgrounds and faiths can coexist and live together peacefully, why is it our leaders always look to divide us on religious grounds?

Religion is, without a doubt, a beautiful thing. It gives people hope and strength, and it drives many to acts of kindness; but it is not a requirement for a moral life. It is not nor should it be the basis of dignity, social stature or morality. It is meant to be a private relationship between one person and whatever he or she believes in, or at most a communal effort – not a national brainwashing mechanism. The sooner people in the world realize this, the sooner the human race will begin to cut down on the atrocities committed daily by the insanely devout.