Monday, May 25, 2009

Democracy and Its Interplay With Religion

Henrik Ræder Clausen recommended following article from Berlingske Tidende by Kai Sørlander, and our Danish correspondent TB kindly volunteered to translate it for Gates of Vienna.


Democracy and its interplay with religion
By Kai Sørlander, philosopher

In a comment on 2 May Asger Aamund states that if Islam and democracy are incompatible, then this must also hold for Christianity. He argues for this notion in purely historical terms and begins by pointing out that Christianity, at its inception, did not lead to democracy in any country. It was only when the Christian message met “the progressive political ideas of the Enlightenment“ that the modern democratic state was founded. Until this meeting, Christianity, on a daily basis, was a law-religion, but was thereafter “split in two whereby the law became part of the secular state and religion was left as a personal matter of faith“. It was because Christianity met a decisive opponent — the ideas of the Enlightenment — that it was forced to accept the secularization of its political aspects. And when Islam has not yet gone through the same process, it is because Islam has not yet been lucky enough to meet the ideas of the Enlightenment. So, in principle, there is no difference in the two religions’ inner potential to be united with a secular democratic order of society.

This is Asger Aamund’s account of the history upon whose shoulders we live our lives today. As stated, it builds on the notion that there is no reason to believe that the difference in content between Christianity and Islam has played any significant role in the different political developments in the Christian and in the Islamic world. To determine whether this assumption is correct we have to emphasize the difference between Christianity and Islam.

Basically it can be expressed like this: While Christianity builds on the life of Jesus and his proclamations, as rendered in the New Testament, Islam builds on the life of Mohammed and his proclamations as rendered in the Quran and the hadith. If anything is different, these two are. The life of Jesus as well as his proclamations diverge radically from the life of Mohammed and his proclamations. In his life, Jesus completely renounced any political power and in the end, without any resistance, he let himself be led to the cross. For Mohammed, on the contrary, there was no difference between religion and politics, and he was himself a religious, political, military, and juridical leader. There is no separation of power in his example. And regarding the proclamations, Jesus preached commandments like “love thine enemy”, “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge”. These commandments cannot be made into political laws because they, as such, will undermine any state power. What can be expected from an army which turns on the other cheek? Mohammed, on the contrary, was a pragmatic politician who gave commandments which can be implemented politically. He prescribed a concrete penal code, and he established some simple differences between men and women, and between Muslims and non-Muslims.

These differences between Christianity and Islam occupy a central place in the two religions. And if we take them seriously, we can tell a story that leads us to conclude in a completely different way from Asger Aamund why we, in our part of the world, have developed a relatively well-performing secular democratic order.
- - - - - - - - -
In this new story, the Reformation plays a central role. The decisive factor is that Luther used the New Testament to remove the foundation for the Pope’s power. It is from Christianity’s own core, founded in the teachings and life of Jesus, that Luther got his arguments against the ruling church hierarchy. At first, the Reformation resulted in the transfer of power from the church to the king; but the same logic that leads to rejection of the Pope as a top religious figure must also lead to the rejection of the notion that the king can uphold such a function. At the same time, as a part of the Reformation, the Bible was translated into different national languages, and then by new printing technology was made available to the common man. Thereby making it possible for the people to actively relate themselves to the proclamations of Jesus and to evaluate their political leaders in this connection. It was, by all means, a radical foundation for a secularization of political affairs.

Against this background history does not resemble Asger Aamund’s account of it. Now we understand that it is not necessarily an established fact that Christianity has been forced to accept the division of politics and religion as a result of its meeting with the ideas of the Enlightenment. The same demand for the separation of politics and religion is actually implicitly rooted in the life of Jesus and his proclamation.

Seen in this light it becomes certain that one has to turn the relationship upside down and refer to Christianity to explain why the ideas of the Enlightenment actually provided their breakthrough in our part of the world. Then, the breakthrough in Europe happened because Christianity itself, as is revealed in the dynamic forces of the Reformation, contributed to the secularization of politics. And so the idea of the Enlightenment is only an expression of secularized Christianity.

As an extension of this, we also find the explanation of why the Islamic world never experienced a similar radical period of enlightenment. It is connected to the fact that the reform of Islam has a whole different political dynamic than the Christian Reformation. And that is once again connected to the radical difference between the life of Jesus on the one hand and the life of Mohammed on the other. Whereas a reformation which is rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus leads to secularization of politics, a reformation rooted in the life and teachings of Mohammed leads to an Islamization of politics. It is not because the Islamic world hasn’t had its reformation yet that it has not developed into a stable secularized democracy from within. It is because its reforms lead to Wahhabism and thereby Saudi Arabia rather than a secular democracy.

On this ground we end up with a different conclusion than Asger Aamund. We cannot state that because Christianity has actually allowed itself to unite with a secular democratic order then Islam can do the same. On the contrary, we have to acknowledge that a decisive part of the explanation of why our part of the world has evolved into secular democracies while the Islamic world has never, from within, developed in the same direction lies in this central inner difference between Christianity and Islam.

It does not automatically follow that it is therefore impossible for Muslims to become democrats, or that it is impossible for Islamic countries over time to develop in the direction of secular democracies. That development is just a lot more difficult for Muslims and Muslim countries. This is simply caused by the fact that if Muslims were to move towards a secular democratic order of society, they would have to oppose their own religion on decisive core issues; especially with the demand to decide about their society’s legislation. This is a problem which the Christian does not face. For him, the critique against special Christian legislation already comes from the life and teaching of Jesus.

This is why we have to understand that when we ask Muslims to become democrats — and to accept non-Muslims as equals — then we ask them to contradict some completely central teachings of their religion. They have to do something that a Christian does not need to do because their religion has a completely different central core. And now we know how difficult it is to bring democracy to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. But what about Muslims who have decided to settle in the West?

I perfectly agree with Asger Aamund in his demand that they integrate according to the secular democratic order, and that as a result they abandon those parts of their religion that are incompatible with this order. But I am probably a little less optimistic about whether they are going to actually do that than Asger Aamund is. Here we are faced with a political assessment which it is dangerous to underestimate. And I am afraid that Asger Aamund’s simplified notion of the developments which have led to our secular democratic order of society will also lead to a situation in which erroneous boundaries for the defense of our way of life will be drawn.

9 comments:

John Galt said...

Islam is not a religion.

It is a political system like socialism, communism, nazism etc.

Prophet said...

So hard to take these people seriously when the very basis of their analysis if flawed.

I got to Luther and stopped. What a joke the "reformed, protesting, enlightened" intellectuals are when their "truth" is based on ideological narrative instead of objective truth.

Simply put - Islam can't as Mohammet set it up as a political system; Christianity could because Jesus did not.

Zenster said...

And when Islam has not yet gone through the same process, it is because Islam has not yet been lucky enough to meet the ideas of the Enlightenment.

The word “lucky” may not have any application in this case. Islam has encountered the “ideas of the Enlightenment” and found them thoroughly objectionable. If the Enlightenment led to formation of the secular state, it precludes any foreseeable intersection with it by Islam. The notion of manmade law—a key feature of secular politics—superceding the eternal shari’a law of Allah being one of their foremost objections.

So, in principle, there is no difference in the two religions’ inner potential to be united with a secular democratic order of society.

This statement is optimistic at best and, at worst, downright foolhardy. Many elements within Islam view democracy as a dire enemy. Among them, a now-dead but once close associate of Osama bin Laden, one Yussuf al-Ayyeri.

An article about him stated:

What Al-Ayyeri sees now is a ''clean battlefield'' in which Islam faces a new form of unbelief. This, he labels ''secularist democracy.'' This threat is ''far more dangerous to Islam'' than all its predecessors combined. The reasons, he explains in a whole chapter, must be sought in democracy's ''seductive capacities.''

This form of "unbelief" persuades the people that they are in charge of their destiny and that, using their collective reasoning, they can shape policies and pass laws as they see fit. That leads them into ignoring the "unalterable laws" promulgated by God for the whole of mankind, and codified in the Islamic
shariah (jurisprudence) until the end of time.

The goal of democracy, according to Al-Ayyeri, is to "make Muslims love this world, forget the next world and abandon
jihad. "If established in any Muslim country for a reasonably long time, democracy could lead to economic prosperity, which, in turn, would make Muslims "reluctant to die in martyrdom" in defense of their faith. [emphasis added]

One key benefit of the Enlightenment was the spectacular prosperity it eventually conferred upon Western civilization. The rebirth of Greco-Roman investigative thought was tempered with the scientific process, which went on to yield a trove of mechanical and, eventually, industrial inventions that forever changed the course of human history.

If, as stated by al-Ayyeri, prosperity runs counter to the aims of Islam, then the Enlightenment has no place in Muslim culture just as prosperity does not either. A fact quite in evidence even to this day.

It is not by chance that the Enlightenment's spectacular advances went unused and, even, unnoticed by Islam. Access to them required an entirely different and essentially alien mode of thought that continues to absent itself from Muslim culture even now. Proof of this lies in the enormous disparity between Islamic Nobel laureates and non-Muslim holders of the Nobel Prize. Even starker is the contrast between Jewish and Muslim recipients and that disparity is a direct reflection of each culture’s respective ability or inability to embrace secular governance as summoned forth by the Enlightenment.

Zenster said...

… there is no reason to believe that the difference in content between Christianity and Islam has played any significant role in the different political developments in the Christian and in the Islamic world.

Here Asger Aamund departs from reality in an abrupt and entirely dangerous manner.

At first, the Reformation resulted in the transfer of power from the church to the king; but the same logic that leads to rejection of the Pope as a top religious figure must also lead to the rejection of the notion that the king can uphold such a function.

Compared to the Divine Right of Kings, the Papal election process is a paragon of democratic procedure. In reality, both the Papacy and monarchy share about the same amount of legitimacy regarding fitness to govern. Be it during the Reformation’s time frame or now.

The same demand for the separation of politics and religion is actually implicitly rooted in the life of Jesus and his proclamation.

Something wholly ignored by the Church for a rather lengthy period of time.

And so the idea of the Enlightenment is only an expression of secularized Christianity.

While Christianity cannot be disallowed due credit for its role as handmaiden to the Enlightenment, it is equally impossible to deny that its seed was planted during Greco-Roman times and lay dormant throughout the Dark Ages until the barren soil of theocratic Europe was amended and sufficient nutrients allowed for its eventual germination.

Whereas a reformation which is rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus leads to secularization of politics, a reformation rooted in the life and teachings of Mohammed leads to an Islamization of politics. It is not because the Islamic world hasn’t had its reformation yet that it has not developed into a stable secularized democracy from within. It is because its reforms lead to Wahhabism and thereby Saudi Arabia rather than a secular democracy.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Those who continue to claim that Islam can be reformed ignore the fact that Islam has reformed. It has become more violent, more puritanical, more intolerant, more abusive of women, more aggressive and even less compatible with Western civilization than ever before in its entire history.

It does not automatically follow that it is therefore impossible for Muslims to become democrats, or that it is impossible for Islamic countries over time to develop in the direction of secular democracies.

This is an incorrect conclusion. ISLAM IS CUT IN STONE. There is no altering it. The door to ijtihad was shut nearly a millennia ago and no significant alteration of the Qu’ran, the hadiths or shari’a law are allowed.

Furthermore, Islam’s clerical elite and the governing power structute of the MME (Muslim Middle East) directly benefit from continued maintenance of the backward and exceedingly corrupt conditions that prevail in the region. It is in all of their’s best interest that pious Muslims continue to kill apostates and reformers whenever and wherever possible.

None of this contradicts “that it is impossible for Islamic countries over time to develop in the direction of secular democracies”. That Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories all employed the democratic process to install shari’a law and its concomitant human rights abuses only cements this fact.

This is why we have to understand that when we ask Muslims to become democrats — and to accept non-Muslims as equals — then we ask them to contradict some completely central teachings of their religion … But what about Muslims who have decided to settle in the West?.

The author has asked and answered the question. There can be no favorable outcome. Events in Europe have proven this over and over again.

Here we are faced with a political assessment which it is dangerous to underestimate.

Something done quite readily by Asger Aamund.

Czechmade said...

"Kai Sørlander, philosopher"

I am afraid that any commenter on this web is more a " Kai Sørlander, philosopher" than Kai himself.

We simply exercise more freedom in our thoughts. And that is all that matters.

Luther won under given circumstances - accidently favourable to him. But we should go and check ALL people trying to reform the church all over Europe in the past. Their theses might be more interesting.

I remember vaguely some analysis claiming that the rise of Luther was possible at that time, since the Roman Church was that busy managing the flow of riches from South America, that they neglected for a while such an issue as spread of dissent in Europe north of Alps.

That would be interesting. "Sciences, discoveries" shaping the Roman Church in such a way, that Protestant North was an option.

I do not know enough about Luther, excepts his hateful rants aganst the Jews, but for ex. Jan Hus wanted to reform the Church from within one century before Luther.

A Czech-Jewish religion student claimed to me Hus was friendly with the Jews. A nice option with zero consequences now. And this student is no admirer of Christianity. Also Jews in US feel
more threatened by Protestants I learnt. In Germany Catholics were much more resistent to nazi propaganda that the Protestants.

Same with communism here. Catholics did better.

Luther maintained partly a ground favourable to the nazis for centuries - I fear. All these seeds planted - and the fruits harvested much much later. Think of it.

Czechmade said...

Zenster,

"ISLAM IS CUT IN STONE"

Mohammad did not study the Bible, he noticed simply the by-product, the power of written word.

Something like Turks viewing the Japanese constitution (a copy from Prussia) to be a fetish to make the Japanese win over Russians 1905.

These simpletons see something partially and implement it. We should study their limited optics...

joe six-pack said...

Excellent discussion! Thanks to all for participation.

One key here is the Islamic law that the penalty for leaving Islam is death. This law is considered to be 'authentic' and has been and is today enforced. The violence and warfare between shiite and sunni demonstrates the internal problem that this law presents.

This basic divide has been present within Islam almost since inception and is today no closer to resolution. With this in mind, I doubt that a resolution with the rest of the world in the form of a reformation within Islam is possible. Anyone who disagees in ANY fundamental way is Apostate and is to be eliminated along with that viewpoint.

Robin Shadowes said...

"The importance of this cannot be overstated. Those who continue to claim that Islam can be reformed ignore the fact that Islam has reformed. It has become more violent, more puritanical, more intolerant, more abusive of women, more aggressive and even less compatible with Western civilization than ever before in its entire history."

Still, those hypocrites has no problem using modern kufr technology as long as it serves their purpose and islam itself. When settled in dar al-harb, they use satellite dishes and cell phones to connect with MENA. Also, they have no problems using modern weapons and explosives to kill kufr and even their own. As discussed elsewhere, the muslims living in dar al-harb should be forced to live exactly as the perfect man himself. Without electricity and running water. No telly's and cell phones and so on. What could they say? As pious muslims they cannot complain. I mean it woold be supported by the quran after all.

Zenster said...

Czechmade: Mohammad did not study the Bible, he noticed simply the by-product, the power of written word.

Something like Turks viewing the Japanese constitution (a copy from Prussia) to be a fetish to make the Japanese win over Russians 1905.

These simpletons see something partially and implement it. We should study their limited optics..
.

I could not agree with you more. The imitative nature of Islam will be its downfall.

If you mimic an opponent's chess strategy, your checkmate arrives one move after his own.

Your observation about fethishism warrants an entire essay of its own. I encourage you to submit a piece that expands upon this regarding Islam's use of and difficulty in adopting high technology and so many other aspects of its mimickry that leave it stagnant and impotent.

Ask Dymphna or the Baron for their editing assistance, but definitely send in an essay.