Peru: Internet and Religion in the U.S. Election

Ernesto Cardenas, a Peruvian blogger who resides in Spain wrote a post [es] with some reflections on internet and religion and their role in the U.S. elections. He also makes a comparison of how this issue of religion was also present in recent Peruvian elections and concludes by saying that separation between church and state is maybe not as clear as we are used to in the U.S.

Here is a complete translation of the original post, which has not previously been published in English.

U.S. Election: Internet and Religion

I still remember the 2000 election, when a very common joke was that a ruled out Al Gore's campaign slogan was “I invented the Internet and can take it away from you”. Because of the fact, which was very timely, the then Vice President of the Clinton administration made popular the phrase “information highway”.

Some time has passed since then, and although the Internet has become part of the U.S. electoral campaigns, what is not so clear is if there will come a time in which each contender will know what “that Internet stuff” is, due to the fact that McCain recognized himself as being ignorant of these issues [es]. Faced with the oddity of all this, we should take a look at the reasons put forward, according to what Tecnologia del IE (IE Technology) blog quotes [es]:

* The Senator has access to information and assistance sources from his staff, which most people don't.
* There are lots of people surrounding McCain eager to print an e-mail for him or to do a search for him on the Internet.
* If it is about news, he prefers old fashioned newspapers, on paper.
* He has the PC on his desk, but he prefers to speak directly with people, so he doesn't use it too often. Besides, if your assistants reply to your messages, the incentive for you to get connected is really limited.

At first sight, these answers may appear valid ones (actually, lots of people who hold a certain position of responsibility may answer something like that). But actually that's fooling oneself, because for the sake of convenience you are accepting the dependence on others in order to get information. Whether you like it or not, that creates a filter based on those people's criteria, more so when they don't take on as a leader (which they supposedly are) who must, at least, take a look to what is around (and that doesn't make it to print press), which indicates that his sources may underestimate things, and I repeat: the people around him are the ones who mold his information sources, and thus the opinion that is being formed. Had he been in a position of power, this reveals how sensitive his entourage's criteria may be and if his decisions will really come from him or from how his team has “formed” them…. or the lobbies, which is mostly usual.

Precisely, what the Internet has provided us is the access to bigger information sources, and patiently, you can be provided with multiple opinions and point of views in order to compare them and get to conclusions, and I sincerely believe that that is a feature that, nowadays, a leader must show.

But now that we are talking about politicians’ influence, there is a factor that becomes transcendental in the U.S. election: religion. And a very important token is the fact that both candidates “got confessed” in a religious forum organized by Minister Rick Warren, who due to this forum said”I'm going to ask them about personal life matters, because I think that this is important, especially if you aspire to be a leader; God says so”.

And of course… candidates must attend, for the Evangelist community is a very strong one and they can't afford to ignore that group, which leads them to try to adapt no matter how the language so it won't sound funny before that electorate, and clear… it is much better when you invoke God in your speeches. The extreme case is Bush Jr. who mentioned some divine inspiration in connection with his decisions, such as invading Iraq.

Peru is not free from these political-religious aspects. Let's remember that originally Cambio 90 was supported by three forces: millers, small and medium companies (Maximo San Roman) and the Evangelists (Carlos Garcia). The latter were an important factor in the proselytism at its early stages for the “Honesty, Technology and Work” candidate, and for that same reason became a target of the attacks from the Catholic rightists supporting Fredemo, ironically lead by an agnostic as Mario Vargas Llosa. We all know how this ended: Fujimori threw the Evangelics out, timely used popular faith as a smokescreen, became allies with Cipriani… And nowadays, although Alan Garcia attends Te Deum, the following day he attends Evangelical celebrations.

Anyway, in Peru, at least for a while, it was possible for an agnostic candidate to contend for the presidency with the option of success, and the religious fight wasn't about MVLL's agnosticism, but about the Evangelical support the emerging Fujimori had. In the U.S. that won't be possible. If there is a suspicion about a candidate not attending church or something like that… he'd be relentlessly targeted and wouldn't surpass the consultation stage prior to the primaries.

Supposedly, one of the principles of a Modern State is the separation between Church and State, but what we are watching is that (referring to the U.S.) although formally that division exists (in fact, in the Foundation it remained clear that there won't be an official religion), there is a great dependence on what the country's religious sectors have to say. If you go a little beyond its borders… you'll be accused of “liberal”. True, that condition varies from one state of the Union to another, but in general its influence can't be denied. One of its struggles is to advocate the teaching of Creationism (or Intelligent Design) as a scientific theory. What can the minister of the church the candidate attends is registered to say, which definitely is an overestimation of its influence, or worse… that every politician must listen their respective religious leader. Whether he has ideas of his own or not… it's no longer relevant.

Apparently, we part from a presumption that Ethics depends on a religious component, or on some fright towards the elector, that they can't go with someone who “does not have God in the heart”. In Spain there is quite the opposite, where many political approaches are made precisely (or with an extra motivation), because they go against what the Church says.

No extreme is good. Decisions must be made based on Ethics and common sense, but of course… asking that from politicians is impossible in any country.

NY Times: Interview with John McCain

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