The Soft Power of Religion Can Help Us Out of Our Political Crisis

For America to escape a political climate that seems increasingly dysfunctional and riven by unruly and unwholesome passions, Elayne Allen believes it is necessary to bring faith back into the public square:

Viewed as clashes among various faiths, the intense fervor that characterizes our disagreements begins to make more sense. There’s been a spiritual vacuum left behind by the decline in traditional religion. In its place are politically polarized pseudo-religions—ones that have no God, nor any teachings that transcend the temporal realm, and that rely on temporal power to achieve their aims. For these pseudo-religions, secular, immanent, and political goals take on a theological status, and offer spiritual consolation for modern souls.

The cure, according to Allen, involves using the “soft power” of religion in a way that does not interfere with either religious freedom or with pluralism:

Pluralism is an irreducible, sociological fact of American life. It is not a set of norms that requires perfect neutrality in public spaces; instead, it creates parameters around what’s politically possible amid profoundly diverse views about first principles. In our secular and pluralistic age, a sensible politics recognizes that moral consensus is impossible; . . . pursuing perfect consensus would eventually require politics to become a blunt coercive instrument, no longer an arena of competition and deliberation.

So without seeking a confessional state, what does it look like for religion to wield influence? First, it means rejecting the idea that religion is a purely private matter that has no relevance in the public square. Above all, religious influence focuses less on rigging laws in order to achieve political power and more on the internal revitalization of religion, and on creating conditions that are most conducive to that revitalization.

But prioritizing internal health doesn’t mean retreat from the public square. Wise, mild, and indirect power in some cases might look like creating parallel institutions—for example, creating religious charter schools to exist alongside public schools. In other cases, it will mean trying to stymie extreme political views from reshaping socially important institution such as medicine, law, and higher education. Again, though, pursuing “soft power” for religions doesn’t mean seeking the power of the state, or even the influence of private institutions to drive out dissent or compel agreement. It just means intentionally creating conditions for authentic religions to flourish without seeking to dominate those who differ.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: American politics, American Religion, American society, Religion and politics

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy