Why is politics more important than religion?
Surely, you may say, religion is more important than politics.
It's about the "big" issues of life and existence and it provides answers to important questions concerning the relationship between individuals in society.
Politics, on the other hand, is all about contradiction and conflict, power and influence, winners and losers and, of course, war and peace. It necessarily involves compromise, and sometimes of important principles.
How can it be, then, that politics is more important?
Politics deals with life as it is rather than as we may wish it to be. It accepts that there are differences between people on almost all questions and involves itself in the creative task of finding solutions that bring peace and stability.
Political solutions are of two sorts – those that establish systems of power and authority (constitutions) and those that come from within those systems to deal with the "issues of the day" (laws and policies).
To determine what is best, politicians often take advice from the various religions but also from those who describe themselves as scientists. Scientific inquiries may deliver a truth previously unknown or clarify and refine that which we already know.
In a world of perfect unity there would be no need for politics and compromise. That is why so many fundamentalists be they religious or ideological are frustrated by politics. "Why can't people recognise THE TRUTH", they plead, "it is there for everyone to see and comprehend if only they would rid themselves of the yoke of material and self interest".
The problem is that the truth is contested and the circumstances in which its variants have to be implemented are forever changing. Indeed when everything seems settled something new pops up to challenge the status quo. It might come from within, for example a new social movement, or it might come from without, for example a new technology.
Human history is always marching on and religion is Ill-suited to managing the contradictions and changes involved. Religious people prefer the "ought" questions to the "is" questions and being spiritually inclined they worry about the strength of material interests in human psychology.
Some give up on this world and create communities of like-minded people dedicated to realizing their religious values and beliefs. Others throw themselves into politics with the aim of ensuring their view of God's Law is the law of the land.
The problem is there will always be others with a different religion – or indeed others without religion at all who will be seeking to make or influence law and policy. That's why our type of society developed the doctrine of the separation of church and state and the idea of human rights (as opposed to socially or religiously defined rights).
None of this of this means, of course, that politics – and politicians – always get it right. Nor are politicians free of the temptations associated with power. Nor is it always religion that is at the heart of authoritarian rule.
However, it's hard to imagine anything approaching a good society without some form of "politics" at the centre and keeping tyranny and anarchy at bay.
The same can't be said of religion. It might help but it might not. It might bring peace but on the other hand it might bring war. It might challenge or defend. It might feed the emotions or it might speak to the heart. In doing all of this it is playing an important role just as ideology does but can't compete with politics on the question of working out how to live and prosper in a world of interests, differences and change.