RANGER AGAINST WAR: Democracy Antithetical to Religion <

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Democracy Antithetical to Religion

Give me that old time religion
Give me that old time religion,

Give me that old time religion,

Lord it's good enough for me

--Traditional spiritual

______________

Rabbi Michael Gold wrote in his online newsletter this week about the fundamental incompatibility of religion and democracy.

For everyone's talk of democratizing Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Fundamentalist's belief in the notion of Christian motivation, the Rabbi offers a strong refutation:


"For traditional Judaism, God's authority is the basis of all life including government policy. When God speaks from Mount Sinai in this week's portion, the
Ten Commandments are not put to a vote.

"
It took centuries of Enlightenment thinking for democracy to become the norm in Europe and eventually in America. Sadly, it also took centuries of war over religion to realize that there must be an alternative path other than religion to government leadership. Democracy and classical Christianity is as difficult a match as democracy and classical Judaism."

Gold discusses how democracy has become the handmaiden of various religious groups in modern America who would hijack the process to bully through their agenda. And if democracy is a poor fit with Judaism and Christianity, how much less so is it with Islam, which has not benefited from 300 years of enlightenment thinking.


I believe one of the mistakes of American foreign policy is to use the language of democracy - voting and human rights - in our diplomacy with the Islamic world. Democracy is not part of their language. Perhaps we ought to be speaking the language of religion ("literally what is Allah's will?") in dialogue with the Islamic world.

Food for thought.

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12 Comments:

Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

because of the emphasis, and neccessity of a spiritual journey in recovery, newly recovered alcoholics and addicts are often prey for the unscrupulous clergy.

i tell them:

anytime you hear anyone tell you that they know about god, that god shows them what that will should be you have my permission to run the fuck away screaming.

if you talk to god, that's prayer. if god talks to you that's schizophrenia and you need a goddamned med review.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 2:15:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Ghost Dansing said...

this is an interesting topic.

i think the coupling of secularism with Liberal Democratic ideas that emerged from the European enlightenment was the brilliant contribution of the Founding Fathers..... of course they also designed a government of-and-by the People, intended to serve the People and not make them subservient.... that was quite a novel idea as well, but that idea had been creeping along at least since King John and the Magna Carta..... the Divine Right of Kings was essentially eroded, etc.

but back to secularism..... i think secularism is essential for religiously heterogeneous Democratic society..... it has to be coupled with the ideas of Liberal Democracy.....

interestingly, in a heterogeneous society, secularism applied to governance is nothing more than applying the golden rule.... do unto others..... messages of tolerance and standards of mutual respect, etc. what appears to be a-religious are ironically the most profoundly Christian/Jewish/Muslim thing any sectarian could apply to governance when practicing the core faith.

it is in fact sectarian fundamentalism (of any religion) that has difficulty with the notion of "secular" governance, and that is because regardless of democratic practice, they want to use governance to enforce a particular religion.

so their religious objective is to grasp the reigns of power in order to impose their will.

secularism takes that off the table to a large degree.

for example, if the "Christian Coalition" in America had ultimately succeeded in establishing their brand of Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Dominionist Christianity as the State religion, America as it was founded and as it is broadly understood would cease to exist.

Countries like Iran and Israel will never be able to achieve a truly American (Western) style Liberal Democracy until they give up the notion that there should be a State religion; specifically that they are an "Islamic Republic" or a "Jewish State".

This is a tough issue for them, because the internal politics are geared toward catering to a relatively homogeneous (versus heterogeneous) majority. in other words, it is part of their playing on "identity" politics.

similarly, America has to continue to reject the notion that we are a "Christian Nation". the reason for which, not the least, is the fact that there are over 2000 variations of Christianity, and in order to have a State Christianity, we would have to choose one..... that is what the Founding Fathers truly perceived.

That is why the Iranian hierarchy, and many regimes in the Middle East actually blast "Democracy"..... because the Western (American) brand of Democracy does not easily allow for a State-imposed Religion.....

Certainly England has an artifact, but here too you can see the historical erosion of that influence.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 6:12:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm with you, MB. I know the liturgy, but I am always left saddened at the idea that the faithful are told they must have an intermediary to reach God. "There is no way" but through Me, we are told.

For me, it is more private than that, and as you say, prayer/devotional is a very private matter, a way to commune with one's core. There, may be God, but it's not like you're going to Twitter with Him, or something. Silence, and a peace beyond understanding, is the hope.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 9:55:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Juan Moment said...

I believe one of the mistakes of American foreign policy is to use the language of democracy - voting and human rights - in our diplomacy with the Islamic world.

Lisa, nice choice of topic, food for thought indeed. I reckon it would make sense to also include China and to a lesser degree Russia here, as well as their client states such as Belarus and Burma. Their regimes are not interested in western style democracy and naturally arc up every time they are confronted with our ‘Wilsonian’ foreign policies. Lasting reforms can’t be bought of the shelf; they must be grown from the seed, meaning that the drive for change has to come from within those nations, a desire that can’t be bombed or sanctioned into people.

Also, whenever it suits US and European interests, democracy and human rights are non-talking points, see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE or, the ol classic Kuwait, a country we “liberated” by conjuring up a desert storm. How much democracy is there today? How much pressure did the US put on Kuwaiti royals to make sure that in return for having their kingdom back they’d have to become more democratic?

Egyptians, residents of a country to whose shady security services we deliver suspect insurgents for investigation by torture, if allowed to vote, would not produce pro-western leaders such as their current despot Mubarak. The maxim of western democracies has always been that a pro-western dictator violating human rights is better than a democratic reform in a nation which possibly could be opposing western interests. Pinochet in Chile is an example for the fact that this policy applies not just to the ME. The US and UK had their ploty fingers in plenty of coups over the last 50 years, coups d'état against democratically elected governments. He might be a dictator, but he is our dictator.

If the US and Europe were serious about all their talk of democratic reform and human rights, they’d have to abandon half their allies across the world. Since this is unthinkable in our reverse psychologized societies, this will not happen - lip service only. And for that reason, all our diplomats will ever receive from their opposites whenever they start their lectures to non-democratic nations that are not our partners, are courteous smiles and nods, the polite reaction most people display when thinking to themselves “yeah yeah yeah, you hypocrite”.

messages of tolerance and standards of mutual respect, etc. what appears to be a-religious are ironically the most profoundly Christian/Jewish/Muslim thing any sectarian could apply to governance when practicing the core faith.

True words ghost, true words. It has always escaped me how nations such as Australia, where every sitting day parliament starts with the Lord ’s Prayer, everybody saying amen, could have parliamentary sessions as the ones we get to see. Some of their decisions are so diametrically opposite to anything the New Testament tries to convey, to the point that one could be inclined to wonder whether these guys are deep down actually worshiping the devil. Having the bible in one hand and the gun in the other just doesn’t look right. Pushing through legislation which will cut social services to fund the bankers is about as unchristian as it gets, and yet every one of them on the Hill would make you believe they are here on god’s mission. They understand the constitution as little as they grasp the biblical message - but carrying on about how their paramount interest is to defend both. Boggles one’s mind.

That is why the Iranian hierarchy, and many regimes in the Middle East actually blast "Democracy"..... because the Western (American) brand of Democracy does not easily allow for a State-imposed Religion.....

Lets not forget that the latest experiment in Middle Eastern democracy wasn’t a confidence booster for the Western brand of Democracy. Should that term stand for fair elections and majority rules, then the collective punishment dished out to Palestinians for electing Hamas to run their government causes a bitter taste, a lesson in democracy I’d rather have seen not learned by the people of the Middle East. You are only allowed to vote for parties the West approves of. Dare to defy our rules and we’ll starve yas to death.

Also, Iran is officially a democracy, with elections coming up in June. Its people haven’t forgotten the dictator known as Shah Reza Palavi and his brutal Stasi like SAVAK. He was installed by the CIA and British SIS during “Operation Ajax”, removing the democratically elected Mossadegh who was in the process of nationalising the oil industry, something the British powers couldn’t accept. So in some ways I can understand their cyni- and scepticism when it comes to western governments and their statements on how they are only here to offer a helping hand.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:09:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

at the first synagogue in the country, in newport, rhode island, they have a wonderful letter on display. it was written by george washington.

the rabbi had written the new president congratulating him on his electoral victory and asking if jews, under the new system, could expect tolerance.

in his beautiful reply, washington said that tolerance was not what they should expect. tolerance implies a minority living at the whim of a majority. no, tolerance was not enough for our founders.

they wanted liberty. the freedom of choice in this most personal of issues.

john adams had been born and raised in a theocracy, as had franklin, rutledge, and a great many other founders. one thing they were in agreement about, was that a theocracy, a state sanctioned religion, was by its very nature corrupting.

franklin had to negotiate many quaker impositions of trade by non-quakers, on his path to riches. adams was denied his due as valedictorian at harvard because his father had given water to a quaker who was being flogged out of the colony on charges of heresy.

oddly enough, in the light of today's church, one of the strongest supporters of the separation clause was the then new, and already cultish, baptist sect. they knew that if a religion was chosen for the state, it would not be theirs.

the only fair choice for government, is no choice.

not tolerance. but liberty.

sometimes when i explain my atheism in AA meetings i cite that the jesus i studied, along with the bhudda, the prophet mohommed (blessings on him), bahaula, nearly every religious figure in history was that they were very little concerned with what folks believed, and very concerned with what they did.

i figure that if i, in my place of unbelief and scepticism, do the actions which proclaim a good and just life, taking care of my family, giving back wealth to my people, conducting myself with honor and poise, and trying to rectify the things created by my wrong actions then i have very little to fear from anybody's god.

although, another thing i've noticed in my study of history is that in a secular nation, folks are pretty much free to choose the way they live their lives. the good folks to be good, the bad folks to be bad. it's when guys that dress funny and shout a lot tell people that they, and usually they alone, understand what the will of god is that good people can be coerced into truly despicable behavior.

one of the reasons the apache perform a good number of our ancient ceremonies in absolute secrecy and without any outsiders being present is that we know, and have known since the spanish arrival is that the stakes and fires follow closely behind the priests.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:34:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Juan Moment said...

i figure that if i, in my place of unbelief and scepticism, do the actions which proclaim a good and just life, taking care of my family, giving back wealth to my people, conducting myself with honor and poise, and trying to rectify the things created by my wrong actions then i have very little to fear from anybody's god.

May I add to this a fellow atheist's "Amen".

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:45:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous sheerahkahn said...

As some of you have probably figured out, I'm a christian, and more over, I'm all for a solid separation between church and state, and state and church.
Perhaps, it's time to broaden the language of the consitution to say "religion" rather than church, and solidify the notion that the basic laws of humanity may exists in the religious texts but considering the nature of man it's a good idea to limit the potentials for political abuse.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 11:35:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I add to this a fellow atheist's "Amen".

Yes, and thanks for some of the great conversations here Lisa.
jo6pac

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 8:38:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm with jo -- excellent conversation.

Ghost dansing,

Agreed about the Golden Rule basis of jurisprudence, but just because these dictums appear in theological texts doesn't mean they are originary, right? This could be evolutionary survival hard-wiring.

It is always the intolerant fundamentalists on the wings who shuttle ideas for peaceful coexistence, so sure are they of their superiority. That is the most loathsome aspect of religion, IMHO: its divisive nature, by definition.

Juan: we have always said that the impulse to democracy must arrive in the form of an upwelling from within the population.

To, Also, Iran is officially a democracy...

Yes, as is we are told, Iraq and Afghanistan. If they are free, then they may choose things things antithetical to our pleasure. However, the U.S. is not the sole arbiter of correct behavior (God save us all if it is!) I may explore this idea in a later piece.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 9:02:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

MB,

Thank you -- as always, you cut to the core: liberty, not tolerance, is freedom.

A theocracy cannot get one there. Even in our democracy, the demos must be reined in at every opportunity lest their lust to subjugate and marginalize intervene with their better selves, ahem.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 9:10:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Long-time RN said...

Thanks to all of you for the thoughtful 'conversation'. It's a comfort knowing intelligent life still exists. Observing our elected officials, I was losing all hope...

Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 9:54:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Serving Patriot said...

MB,

Just got caught up tonight and saw you most eloquent of statements:

i figure that if i, in my place of unbelief and scepticism, do the actions which proclaim a good and just life, taking care of my family, giving back wealth to my people, conducting myself with honor and poise, and trying to rectify the things created by my wrong actions then i have very little to fear from anybody's god.

What a wonderful articulation! Speaks to exactly how I have long felt about life -- and religion.

Liberty. No question I chose it over tolerance.

SP

Friday, February 13, 2009 at 7:36:00 PM GMT-5  

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