Type to search

“The religion-politics relationship should be…

Winter 2011 The Definition

“The religion-politics relationship should be…

thedefinitionNoam Chomsky

… based on the following: religion is a personal matter; politics is a public concern. They should be divorced, as firmly as possible.”

» Noam Chomsky is an Institute Professor and Professor Emeritus of  Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Guy Ben-Porat

… one of mutual respect, with a realistic expectation that conflict is likely to disrupt existing agreements and arrangements. Ideally, for a secular Israeli, the separation of ‘church and state’ would underscore the separation of religion and politics, and protect the freedoms of all Israelis. This was the view of Herzl, the early Zionist visionary who, after emphasizing his respect for religion, stated that any effort by religious functionaries to participate in the running of the state must be prevented. “The rabbis should be kept in the synagogues,” he declared, “just as the army should be kept in the barracks.” In practice, as Zionist leaders have quickly learned, this separation was all but impossible. Like elsewhere, religion and politics continuously interacted and produced a series of conflicts and compromises between the religious and the secular that never settled the main arguments in Israel.

Indeed, religion holds a problematic position in political life, as its values and rules claim a superior position over those of democratic procedure and the individual freedom to choose. Religion is essentially non-compromising when religious leaders claim to speak in the name of divinity and their followers – sometimes violating the rules of democratic procedure and the values of democratic tolerance. The threat of religious fundamentalism seems a good reason to reinstate church-state separation, and to relegate religion to the private realm – where it would have authority only over those who choose to follow, but have no stake in the running of political affairs. A non-political religion, however, is an illusion that can hardly be sustained. The decline of religious authority, as leading scholars have noted, is often separated from the role that it continues to play in individual lives (see the Query article by Andrew P.W. Bennett). Individuals, for different reasons, continue to hang on to their religious faith or to religious rituals and practices that they hold meaningful. Sometimes, these beliefs and practices remain a private, non-political and non-conflictual matter. Other times, religious beliefs and identities spill into the public realm and political life as they shape the values, interests and demands of individuals and groups. Consequently, the liberal claim to ‘neutrality’ in the public sphere is rejected when questions of education, medical treatment and family life are politicized again and again.

Secularists and others committed to democracy and liberal freedoms have to, on the one hand, be prepared to defend their values and protect not only their rights, but also those of others – especially minorities – against religious infringement. On the other hand, secularists must be open to critically examining their own biases, as well as to the sensitivities of religious groups and individuals. In this critical examination, some secularists might realize that their liberal openness falls short of what they claim to hold and, possibly, that they share with (some) religious actors certain common democratic goals that are worth fighting for.

Religion concerns and demands are likely to remain a part of politics and political life, and no simple solution is likely to resolve all disagreements between the religious and the secular. The old idea of church-state separation is unlikely to provide the answer for contemporary dilemmas. A generous, open-minded, yet determined effort to protect liberal values and secular politics must rise to the challenge.”

» Guy Ben-Porat is a senior lecturer in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. His forthcoming book is called Between State and Synagogue: The Secularization of Modern Israel (Cambridge University Press).

 

Said T. Jawad

…, in a serene and perfect world, complete severance and separation, as politics often contradicts the core religious values of forgiveness and repentance, while most religions limit individual rights and freedoms.

In the imperfect and volatile real world of today, it is no longer sustainable to maintain the status quo, where, on the one hand, politics without morality has been responsible for genocide, war and the destruction of our living space and environment, and where, on the other hand, man’s dubious interpretation of religious texts has for centuries contributed to fanaticism, hatred, discrimination and much bloodshed in the name of the divine. Politics and religion must complement each other, while respecting each other’s exclusive domains, in order to address the plight of humanity as a whole by providing for justice, equitable or at least improved distribution of scarce and basic resources – and by preaching and practicing equality, civility, unity, social cohesion, mutual respect and compassion.

The realization of this essential, harmonious relationship between religion and politics depends largely on whether the majority of moderate political forces and mainstream genuine religious voices can jointly gain the courage and clout to confront the small, dogmatist minority of religious extremists and political populists for the sake of the salvation of humanity and its religions, or whether they will fail and surrender to the violence of the few vociferous fanatics.”

» Said T. Jawad is the former Chief of Staff to the President of Afghanistan and former Afghan Ambassdor to Washington. He is currently a Diplomat in Residence at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Chief Executive Officer of Capitalize LLC, a strategic consulting firm.

Yassine Al Haj Saleh

La relation entre la religion et la politique devrait être gouvernée par le principe d’indépendance réciproque. La religion est incapable de développer les politiques les plus adaptées à notre époque contemporaine; celles-ci nécessitent une pensée séculaire moderne, répondant aux problèmes des sociétés actuelles. La politique à son tour ne peut répondre aux problèmes existentiels et post-existentiels, ni à l’expérience de la mort et de la finitude, que la religion aide à relativiser.

Ceci dit, les groupes religieux doivent pouvoir agir politiquement comme tout autre groupe. Or, il est nécessaire de séparer la religion de la souveraineté. La religion n’a pas à s’emparer de la définition à donner de la nation, de la gouvernance et du pouvoir coercitif. Les islamistes définissent nos pays comme «islamiques», au sens fixe et substantiel (et non au sens descriptif). Ils voudraient régner sur l’État, imposer la charia à tous, et exercer la violence au nom de la religion. Ceci est inacceptable. En revanche, prêcher pour une séparation catégorique entre la religion et la politique constitue une position idéologique extrémiste et inutile. L’État, siège de la souveraineté, doit pouvoir intervenir dans les domaines organisationnels, institutionnels et juridiques de la religion, mais non en matière de foi.

Dans leurs formations actuelles, les États arabes sont incapables de monopoliser la souveraineté. Leurs élites accordent des concessions de souveraineté à la religion, notamment en matière de statut personnel, afin d’éviter toute concession politique. Ainsi, on se retrouve avec un seul pouvoir et deux «nations»: l’une «moderne», s’identifiant à l’État, et l’autre «islamique», s’identifiant à la religion. Ces deux «nations» ont presque le même poids, contrairement à ce que pensent les islamistes. Elles entretiennent des rapports basés sur l’absence de confiance, ce qui explique le blocage politique et culturel dans nos sociétés. Les islamistes affrontent l’État avec un système d’idées et de valeurs désuet, voulant l’asservir à leur conception de ce qu’est la religion. En l’occurrence, une conception nihiliste du point de vue de l’histoire et de la culture nie une grande partie de l’héritage de l’islam, ce qui contribue à la polarisation sociale.

La situation actuelle du monde islamique reflète le danger de ne pas distinguer culturellement et institutionnellement la religion de la politique. Cette absence de distinction, prenant corps en deux «nations», diminue les chances de formation d’une nation sociale aspirant à la démocratie et à la citoyenneté, contre les dictatures et les réseaux de l’«islam politique». Il est certainement possible de regarder les convulsions violentes dans le monde musulman depuis quelques décennies comme symptomatiques d’une nouvelle société en formation où la religion et la politique auraient chacune une place distincte. En réalité, la vitesse à laquelle se déroulent les événements contemporains, c’est-à-dire les bouleversements démographiques, psychologiques et technologiques, ainsi que l’intensité des pressions internes et externes sur le monde musulman, retardent l’établissement d’une société nouvelle et cohérente.”

» Yassine Al Haj Saleh est un écrivain syrien qui traite des questions culturelles, politiques et sociales. Il publie fréquemment dans plusieurs medias arabes: Al Hayat, Annahar, Almoustaqbal, entre autres.

Dale Turner

… understood in a different way – if we think of the songs, prayers and ceremonies that embrace Indigenous ‘spiritual connections to their homelands’ as constituting a ‘religion.’ For Indigenous peoples, spirituality lies at the foundation of one’s existence, and one’s religion is a way of institutionalizing (politicizing, as it were) one’s spiritual beliefs. Indigenous peoples know only too well the devastation that European religions have wreaked in their societies and communities. For the more than 350 million Indigenous peoples worldwide, politics is not about the relationships between religions; rather, politics lies prior to religion, and begins with the recognition that we – meaning all of us – share a world steeped in awe-inspiring, complex relations. How Indigenous peoples have come to understand and live in accordance with these relations constitutes a legitimate human way of being in the world. In other words, for Indigenous peoples, political relationships are spiritual relationships: we are only a small part of Creation, and our moral and political behaviour ought to be guided by this fundamental fact of our existence.”

» Dale Turner, a citizen of Temagami First Nation in Ontario, teaches Indigenous politics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

bioline

(Illustration: Gary Taxali)
Categories:
Tags:

You Might Also Enjoy This in GB