It’s tempting, in our perpetually overheated political climate, to try to eliminate “outside factors” that seem to complicate the process. Most often, the chief offender is religion.

Religion muddies the waters of politics; people’s personal beliefs often seem like a wild card that, if it could be pulled from the deck, would make things work a lot smoother. In many ways, our political system hinges on this idea. The separation clause, originally intended to ensure there would be no mandated state religion, has been stretched and reshaped to ensure that we don’t consider religion in political discourse at all.

The problem is that this is wholly unnatural. The notion that religion is some additional appendage, a vestige of our evolutionary history, is an Enlightenment idea that shaped the way we’ve viewed religion for centuries. It is finally running its course.

Readers may be surprised to know that something as seemingly simple as a definition of religion has been, for some time, a point of contention among scholars. At the crux of the controversy is what role religion plays in culture.

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