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Separation of Church and God
Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage
Iraqi leaders have agreed on an interim constitution after marathon talks to paper over ethnic and religious disputes that might have obstructed U.S. plans to return power to Iraqis by June 30.
Today in Iraq there was a small but interesting step taken towards the establishment of a democratic society in that country. I notice with a little irony that one of the hangups stems from opposition by the Shia who wish to establish Islamic law as THE law of Iraq.
I call my reaction irony because we have an American Administration at home that openly courts fundamentalist christians who are constantly trying to stamp America with a Christian identity while at the same time Bush is working to establish a secular government in Iraq. This actually works out for Bush and company because their supporters here at home are waiting for a chance to extend their missionary work to Iraq, which would be impossible if Iraqi Muslims get their Islamic state.
What interests me is the relationship between religion and Democracy.
Here in the United States our roots are Christian. It might be assumed that there is something unique about Christianity that leads to a free society like we have here. I have even heard some state that Democracy will never take hold in some parts of the world because of cultural differences. I don't hold that view myself. I think that Democracy can and will work in all cultures. However we have to wonder what conditions have to be present for Democracy to flourish.
I see democratic principles and religion as being in natural opposition. I say this because most religions declare their deity to be the ultimate authority in all matters, and religious texts are the foundations of truth. Religious leaders interpret the will of the deity and followers are expected to obey that will. In a democracy the citizens are expected to obey the rule of law as established by democratic process. This will invariably lead to conflicts as secular laws ask people to act in contrary to their religious beliefs. Its a question of allegiance, and we all know that in this case religion wins every time, at least to the true believer. We have heard language from the religious right that says they would feel obliged to overthrow the government should it be seen as contradictory to God's plan as enshrined in their religious faith.
What we are seeing in Iraq with the Shia is a pattern that has been repeated numerous times before. Democratic ideals are seen as conflicting with religious traditions. We can see that conflict still brewing here in the States as well. There, they are dealing with excepting an authority outside of their religion and allowing women to gain more influence. Here we are struggling to accept homosexuals as full members of society and still questioning the proper role of religion in government.
For me the role of religion in government is easy. None. In order for the government to be impartial and fair to all in a society it cannot express preference for one religion over another. This will naturally infuriate those that cannot accept that their god and their religion is not the most important thing in the universe. For if it is not, then why partake?
I have come to believe that there is a point in time that religion and democracy can intersect and coexist. It was fortunate for us that this point had been reached by the time this nation was founded. What we see is the ascendancy of God as a personal matter and a result of reasoned thought. It is not unreasonable to believe in God. However it is an affront to reasonable people to ask them to give up their critical attitudes in order to conform to a religious ideal. It becomes clear that God and religion are not always synonymous. In many ways they are countervailing forces. This separation is important to understanding the Deism of many founding fathers. They are believers in God but critical, even scornful of religion. To them it was perfectly reasonable to talk about god, your relation to god and even your admiration of god without acknowledging religion. The rise of science and commerce had considerably weakened the power of the clergy and people felt comfortable being privately pius and publicly tolerant. Jefferson said "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God, it neither picks my pocket not breaks my leg."
In order for democracy and religion to coexist together there has to be a reordering of priorities. First: God (or no god) Second: Man and reason and Last: Tribal Religion. If there is no separation then tribal religion will trump any man made institution.
The real question in my mind.... where are the people of Iraq in this process?
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