Politics & religion discussion addresses negative campaign atmosphere

Maddie Liotta, Staff Writer

Through the Office of the Chaplains & Religious Life, the Interfaith Council sponsored an open discourse in Bertrand Library’s Traditional Reading Room on Feb. 16 about the nature of politics and religion. Individuals of differing religions, backgrounds, and opinions came out to address the negative atmosphere created by the presidential debates and campaign thus far.

The primary consensus seemed to be that some politicians have recently been making hateful comments about particular religious groups, and nothing they say—no matter how outlandish it may seem—can altogether detract from their support.

The idea was raised that candidates who are able to turn their campaigns into “us vs. them” arguments are the ones that garner the most support, explaining why Donald Trump is currently leading the polls among Republican presidential nominees.

The group also observed that politicians, upon seeing uncertainty in another candidate, will attack them verbally with the intent to embarrass and demean them.

“The Other” of this era refers to marginalized groups, who generally appear to be individuals from the Middle East, most commonly those of the Islamic faith. University Chaplain John Colatch said that those taking part in the discussion largely felt that Muslims, among others, are being marginalized by some of the rhetoric heard on the campaign trail and in the debates.

“[F]olks within the Christian tradition are lining up behind certain candidates and speaking against other Christians who do not agree with those candidates,” Colatch said.

Marginalizing behavior doesn’t need to be an inevitability, but “it’s so standard that people are becoming desensitized to it,” Gillian Cohen ’18 said. “It’s crazy to think that this still happens because we generally like to think that we’re so progressive compared to the past. In reality, nothing’s changed.”

“What also emerged during the discussion was the concern from international students who feel very visible when the debates focus so much on immigration,” Colatch said. “The toxic atmosphere created by this campaign so far transcends religious concerns and permeates all segments of society.”

What can religious individuals do to attempt to catalyze change?

One prevalent idea, reaffirmed by most in the room, involved speaking with each individual faith communities and encouraging them to vote. Because there’s a large number of Americans who can vote, but choose not to, with most of them being millennials, voting is especially important. Those who attended the event agreed that change can come about by focusing on what each politician actually represents, rather than focusing on their most outrageous moments.

Colatch stated that the group discussed the necessity of individuals speaking up when friends—by implication—are being singled out by candidates who attack Islam or perpetuate ethnic and racial stereotypes.

“The common thread running through all of the world’s major traditions is the plea that we love one another. People of faith, in particular, and all people, in general, need to challenge hatred, racism, and stereotypes whenever and wherever they arise, and we as citizens need to hold our candidates for public office to a higher standard than that which seems to pass as acceptable now,” Colatch said.

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