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

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security