Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke to a packed crowd at the Yale Divinity School’s chapel Tuesday against using religion to support foreign policy decisions.
Albright’s speech, which lasted about 45 minutes, was entitled “The Mighty and the Almighty: United States Foreign Policy and God.” Albright focused on the dangers of using religious arguments to justify political decisions.
“I must tell you — that when a politician starts preaching, I tend to react the same way as when a preacher starts talking politics,” she said. “I become very, very wary.”
Albright said she questioned politicians’ motives when they draw on religion, most notably when they claim that God has chosen a specific side.
“I am especially wary when God is invoked as a teammate in the clash of one nation against another, particularly when the nations involved have different religious traditions,” she said.
She did not mean to imply that religion does not have its benefits in foreign policy, Albright said. Rather, religion can play an important mediating role between cultures, she said.
“The borderless nature of religious faith often makes it easier for leaders to talk to one another, easier for nations to agree on common values,” she said.
But Albright was adamant that religion should not be used to justify one side’s actions.
“We can’t use God in our fights on the issues,” she said.
Asked how the world could agree on a moral standard without religion, Albright said there would be disputes between cultures. But certain moral norms “should not be in question,” she said.
“I believe we can unite the world in opposition to the murder of innocent people,” she said. “But we will never unite the world in support of the idea that Americans have a unique relationship with God or a better understanding of God’s will than worshippers from other cultures and lands.”
Albright said she implores politicians and citizens alike to appeal simply to the principle that “every human being counts.” She said United States officials need to pay more attention to what foreign nations say their interests are, as opposed to making assumptions about them.
“[Then] we will more fully earn the right to ask — though never to demand or simply assume — that God Bless America,” she said.
Yale University Chaplain Frederick Streets said he appreciated Albright’s candidness and her unique perspective on religion. Albright’s speech has relevance for the Chaplain’s Office, which tries to foster trans-religious understanding, he said.
“In many ways, Yale’s globalization of its undergraduate student body and its attempt to create the new world leaders have to include the religious aspect of the formation,” Streets said.
Elizabeth Lerohl DIV ’06 said Albright helped her realize the importance of religious teachers in everyday government.
“The American people are a religious people, and I think she makes explicit the impact of religion on American foreign policy,” Lerohl said. “As someone preparing for religious ministry, I have a role in shaping the ideas concerning people’s views of sovereignty.”
Albright testified last week as the lead witness before the independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The commission was designed to investigate the intelligence reports leading up to the attacks. Albright said she was happy the commission is seeking answers without “finger pointing.”