The short answer is, “yes.” Religion matters. However, it matters for all the wrong reasons. While the professed religion of a political candidate should tell us something about the candidate’s deep commitment to the real lives and destinies of the people (i.e. their sense of compassion for and obligation to the poor), the religious leanings of political candidates, particularly the overzealous religious candidates, often conveys the opposite.
Meaning, what one’s religion tells us is actually how “gangster” and intolerant a political candidate will become once in office, not how theologically courageous and politically compassionate towards the less fortunate they will be. Thus, instead of showing empathy for the disenfranchised—those less privileged due to cultural and societal views of sex, class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, education, poverty, age, etc.—through the implementation and support of policies that will better the over all quality of life and allow for human flourishing, recent history tells us that the “religious,” in many cases, will do the opposite.
In fact, if we are not careful, those of us who happen to be marked by the aforementioned categories (or: those of us who are not white, male, heterosexual, Christian and wealthy) could very well find ourselves not only further disenfranchised, but also socially and even physically isolated! Now that quarantining has been reintroduced as a possible civilized and acceptable means for curing HIV/AIDS and thus aiding the sick, hell, with the “religious” it seems anything is possible (I mean, we are at war for no apparent political reason).
For instance, overzealous religious political candidates such as Mike Huckabee not only claim to speak for God, but at some point start believing they are God. And, interestingly, their representations are most often incredibly “gangster”—undiplomatic and undemocratic and thus, willing to “take out” anyone who either gets in their way or diverges from their norm. They become omnipotent. This is alone is more than troubling. However, what is most frightening is where an omnipotent president could lead us. With Bush it was war without grounds. With Huckabee it could be the isolation of those outside of his white, right wing, sexist, heterosexist, fundamentalist, norm.
Huckabee may be honing in on HIV/AIDS survivors (actually gays and lesbians who it seems republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee thinks are inextricably linked to the disease) today, but who will be demonized tomorrow? As we have seen, cultural and social demonization eventually leads to desensitization. To be sure, this leads to a host of other problems, mainly the production of terror without justice or remorse. So, in this vein, yes, religion matters. One’s religious leanings should tell us to be very, very skeptical.