Three Simple Reasons Why Religion is Incompatible with Democratic Governance

© Josh Sager – March 2014


Over the past decades, the right wing in the United States has been extremely organized and active in attempting to codify their religion into law. These attempts have largely focused on rejecting the teaching/funding of science, propping up racial segregation, imposing gender stereotypes, oppressing gays, and attacking birth control/abortion.

Unfortunately, while the religious right is a shrinking minority, they are still powerful in American politics and their attempts to legislate religion have remained strong in recent years. During just this last month, Arizona almost implemented an anti-gay Jim Crow law (only stopped by a governor’s veto), while religious fundamentalists made arguments in our highest court that could lead to them gaining the power to impose their religion on their employees.

In the face of these attacks on the separation of church and state, it becomes more important than ever to remind Americans why religion and politics make such a toxic mix—in order to do this, I have condensed the issue into three basic statements:

1) Religious dogma is, by definition, authoritarian.

Most religions are based around a rigid upon set of myths and social rules that are common to a majority of believers—oftentimes, these myths and practices are codified by a founding document for the religion and enforced by the hierarchy of the faith.

For example: Christianity is based around the core belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah who died for all of humanity’s sins. This belief is codified by the bible and interpreted by the clergies of the different denominations.

There is simply no way to debate dogma, as the religious see it as the foundation of their entire worldview that is, by definition, correct; arguing with them on these points is about as successful as arguing with a rational person over the existence of gravity.


When a population is led by the religious, democracy takes a backseat to the religious dogma of the leadership. In effect, democracy is only allowed to exist within these societies in areas of policy that dogma (or the elite who claim to interpret the dogma) doesn’t dictate a clear policy on.

Even if the public begins to rebel against the dogma of the elite, those in power are so attached to their dogma that they will simply disregard the opinions of their population in order to ensure that the government stays in conformity with the religion. Because of this, religion in politics breeds authoritarianism and creates systems of government where the public is forced to follow the dictates of the religious leadership under threat by those in the government.

We have seen numerous examples of this type of religious authoritarianism in real life, primarily in hyper-religious nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.

2) Religion is based around faith, while public policy must be based around facts.

One of the most important reasons why faith and public policy are incompatible is that they are based around two polar-opposite concepts: Religion is based on faith while public policy is based on logic. This fundamental difference between religion and public policy makes it impossible for either to successfully integrate with the other.


Religion seeks to explain the unknown and impose social order using the idea that one must have faith and accept the religion’s answers without proof. Regardless of what some zealots may say, there is no proof of god’s existence and it is this lack of proof that makes a religion a religion rather than a science—this is true whether you believe in the Judeo-Christian God/Allah/Yahweh or in the flying spaghetti monster.

Wheel of Circular Logic

In direct opposition with religion, public policy is based around isolating human problems and finding the most effective manner of solving them through the use of evidence-based logic. To craft effective policies, we must look at past policy results, studies, and academic research in order to determine what policies produce good and repeatable results (ex. there is a massive body of evidence which proves that universal education produces positive effects on society).

When rational public policy begins to include the irrational wild-card of faith, we lose all ability to predict the results of laws. As there is no proof of god or that any supernatural entity will step in and make an otherwise non-functioning policy work, crafting public policy that requires the intervention of a god is simply a recipe for dysfunctional policies.

For example: If a disease outbreak occurs, you can either implement evidence-based policies that involve quarantines, research, and medication, or you can implement the faith-based policy of praying to god for help.

In parallel with inserting faith into public policy, inserting human logic and rational policies into religion is toxic to faith. Faith only exists when there are unexplained phenomena, thus the more predictable and quantifiable the world becomes, the smaller the realm of faith in society.

For example, before the understanding of volcanology and plate tectonics, religious people had faith that prayer and sacrifices would appease the gods and stop earthquakes/volcanic eruptions. Obviously, when science explained the actual mechanics of such disasters, faith shrunk away from this area of life for all but the most extreme zealots.

3) Regardless of which religion is allowed to become the dominant force in politics, there will always be those who are oppressed for not believing.

The founding fathers of the United States recognized that no matter which religion could be chosen as the state religion, many Americans would be left out in the cold—because of this, they decided to let no religion have power over the state and to separate religion from politics with the 1st Amendment.


The United States is filled with people of different religions–including followers of every faith from Christianity to Vodun—and there is simply no set of religious laws that could be signed into law that would satisfy everybody. The single largest religious group in the USA is Protestantism, which only captures 51% of the population (and even within this number, there are many smaller sects and sub-denominations), thus a minimum of 49% of Americans is oppressed when even the most populous religion is codified into law.


Unfortunately, modern zealots don’t understand or care about other religions, thus they have attempted to dominate American politics with their view of “god’s law.” According to their thinking, these religious zealots see themselves as correct by default and that everybody who disagrees with them can literally go to hell.

Even in highly homogenized cultures like those in the Middle East, religious minorities (ex. Jews and Christians in Arab states) and minorities within majority religions (ex. Baha’i Muslims; a minority sect within Islam that is seen as apostate by most others, thus subject to execution or imprisonment–ironically, they are now based in Israel, which is the only Middle Eastern state where they don’t suffer persecution).

Put simply, unless you can perform the impossible task of making millions of people within a country voluntarily agree on every aspect of a faith, you cannot insert religion into law without oppressing the minority.

9 thoughts on “Three Simple Reasons Why Religion is Incompatible with Democratic Governance

  1. A typical leftist blend of ad prop ergo propter hoc and unrepresentative sample. In broad strokes, the right believes in morality as ultimately referencing some higher state, while the left believes in morality as a result of the collective benefit. I haven’t read all of world history, but has there been even one collectivist moral ideology that has succeeded on the state level? Can any state survive without morality as the root of it? Is collectivist thought ultimately moral? Can politics ever be moral? Marx thought so, but he was nothing but a psuedointellectual mommy’s boy who couldn’t mentally grow up. Has his work ever been validated by reality? It’s easy to claim that religions oppress people, but who has a better idea? I have yet to hear a workable alternative.


    • Secularism addresses the idea of state guided religious oppression. It’s pretty well represented around the world. Other issues will still exist, but “how do we handle religion” is about as easy as replacing medicine with prayer. Replace the superstitions with realistic solutions where they exist, and if they don’t, find or create them. But unless gods are going to drop by and draft some laws for our perusal, take office or assign their magic servants to handling government affairs, religion’s off the list. At most, you just have people struggle to make up for the absence of religious phenomena: they have to create the morals, they have to take office, they have to carry out government duties. Nothing religious is going on, and the sooner that’s realized, the sooner they can genuinely focus on what actually is.


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  3. Do you not see that you are preaching your own dogma? How are you really different than the Christians you talk about? Are you open to listening to their views? You have your own beliefs that is really a secular religion. There really isn’t much difference when it comes to believing that your view is right while the others are wrong. Just an opinion.


  4. I may have missed something, but wasn’t the title of this piece “Three Simple Reasons Why Religion is Incompatible with Democratic Governance”?
    When any one religion is used as “law of the land”, it is called a Theocracy. It doesn’t matter if that “religion” is Christian, Talmudic, Muslim, Atheist, or any of the other myriad of choices.
    Democracy, being a form of government, has intrinsically nothing to do with religion.

    You can have a religion without a government, but most people seem to prefer to have rules. You can have a government without religion, but most people will create their own religion in that case. You can also have a government which is based on a religion, and that becomes an interesting concept – because the believers of one religion would find it horrible to be forced to live under the conditions of someone else’s. People who consider themselves Christian for example might love believing their country was totally Christian, and strive to force their religion on all in that country – never minding that that is exactly what they say they abhor happening in a country of an Islamic faith.

    Presently, amid cries of “War on Christmas”, and tongue clicking about the US ” losing it’s Christian roots”, I am – very grateful to those who wrote the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, which was supported by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, suggesting the need to establish “a wall of separation” between church and state.


  5. Ancient religion arose because of man’s need to explain the bewildering forces that governed his existence, forces of nature and the hostility of neighboring tribes. It was a matter of common understanding that gods and spirits controlled things and could provide the things people could not provide for themselves, such as rain, good health etc. Commonly held beliefs are one thing. They make for social cohesion. But they became creeds and dogmas when they were enunciated by some group of leaders acting as custodians of theological opinion. Thus was forged the union of church and state(or at least church and tribe). The advent of writing and the emergence of a literate, priestly class put doctrines on a different level altogether, allowing orthodoxy and hence, heresey to be explicitly defined. Doctrines became dogma because they were then enforceable, and they took on the quality of permanence. In any society with upwards of 90% illiteracy there is likely to exist an inordinate respect for the written word especially if people are told that it is the inerrant word of God, and more importantly, if there are harsh penalties for anyone who challenges the status quo.
    Based on ancient, dubious narratives organized religions are the philosophical equivalent of brain plaque. They are based not on facts but on faith… faith as in credulity. Their theologies are mutually exclusive edifices of erroneous thought. They are obscurantist in the extreme and dishonest in that they claim to be the precursors of morals and civilized behavior when, in fact, the opposite is the case. There is nothing that divides peoples like religion. It is always going to poison political discourse.


  6. How do you know there’s “no evidence of a god”? Christianity is based on the facts that point to the resurrection of Christ.
    Premise # 1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

    Premise # 2. The universe began to exist.

    Therefore the universe has a cause

    If you attack premise # 1 you’re attacking REASON as Law of Causality states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause. It’s a FOUNDING PRINCIPLE of formal logic! Science is cause and effect relationships!

    If you attack premise # 2, which is to attack the fact that the universe began to exist. This would attack the best evidence we have for THERMODYNAMICS, EXPANSION FACTOR, GENERAL RELATIVITY, and COSMIC BACKGROUND RADIATION.

    All things in nature depend on something else for their existence, and the whole cosmos must therefore itself depend on a being that exists independently or necessarily. God is supernatural (not part of nature). God exists outside time, space, and matter. He is the uncaused cause. He is transcendent. If time began at the Big Bang then whatever caused it is not limited by time, and thus that would make Him eternal.


    • I still find it amazing that some people don’t realize just how flawed the Kalam cosmological argument for creation is. It was cutting edge in the 1800s, but it has been so thoroughly debunked since then.

      To begin with, you haven’t proven that causality is applicable before space-time exists or on a quantum level (ex. virtual particles pop in and out of our reality at random). Put simply, there was no time before our universe thus saying that something must have come before our universe to cause it is nonsense. Additionally, you have completely discounted the possibilities that we are just one speck in a multiverse, brought into being through unknown means, or that what we call the universe now is simply the most recent iteration of an eternally expanding and collapsing universe that has always been and always will be.

      Beyond that, you are simply committing two fallacies in order to justify believing in a comforting lie rather than dealing with uncertainty: First, you are committing a special pleading fallacy by excluding god from your premises that you lay out for everything else (essentially, you are invoking magic to explain reality). Second, you are relying on an argument from ignorance fallacy to prop up your flawed case.

      Finally, even if you were correct in your premises, you have no way of knowing whether or not the cause was sentient (ex. it could have been the result of a completely random quantum fluctuation between two parallel universes in a multiverse composed of an infinite series of expanding and collapsing universes that endlessly redistribute energy and matter) or, if it was, the specific bronze-age fable that you believe in. At best, your conclusion would be that something, that may be intelligent or not intelligent, caused the universe to start expanding through unknown means.

      Logic is simply a human concept that is descriptive of what we observe in this reality. It has no bearing on some abnormal portions of our universe (ex. singularities, dark matter, electron clouds, etc.). These things operate using “logic” that defies traditional rules (ex. quantum tunneling allows electrons to move through space-time in a nonlinear way which allows it to essentially teleport from our traditional understanding of space).

      P.S. If you want to reject science to argue for your god, you don’t get to claim science’s backing later in your argument. You clearly don’t understand the concepts that you are discussing and would be better off actually getting educated on them than embarrassing yourself like you have here. You see, I actually know something about this subject and am not the kind of person who you can snow with debunked arguments.


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