The Bigger Picture
Published on April 30th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I have little doubt that few if any religious leaders want to see a return to the days when they took their marching orders from the monarch or political rulers of their states. But the decoupling of religion from political governance is a two way street, in my opinion. If they don’t want governments interfering in the practice of their religion, then they shouldn’t try to inject their parochial religious views into the practice of governance.
Mind you I’m not saying that religious leaders don’t have a right to express their opinions about their government’s leaders or the laws of their country. They have every right to express their support or opposition to governments or laws as individual citizens, just not in their capacity as religious leaders. By using their positions as religious leaders in an attempt to force governments to enact laws that forbid certain practices that they oppose for religious reasons, I think these religious leaders are effectively trying to use government to force others to adhere to their religious beliefs i.e. forced conversion.
Why have there been numerous instances throughout history where pseudo-religious political leaders of these Abrahamic faiths have forced non-believers to convert or face death, exile or other forms of persecution? Part of the answer lies in their propensity for proselytizing and attempting to convert people to their respective religions. Buddhism is the other major world religion that encourages missionary work to convert others, although not as strongly as Christianity and Islam.
However, the Catholic Church and other Christian religions have never officially sanctioned forced conversions and the Quran and Islamic law actually forbids forced conversion per this verse from the Quran; “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” So what is the difference between religious leaders encouraging their followers to vote for and against political leaders who take secular positions on issues like, abortion, divorce or same sex marriages and trying to force those who don’t agree with them to convert?
While the other two major world religions of Judaism and Hinduism do not actively encourage conversion, they have also seen instances where their own religious zealots have persecuted non-believers or attempted to force them to convert. But while a desire to convert others to one’s own spiritual and religious beliefs may indeed be a contributing influence, it isn’t the root of the problem. In and of itself there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting others to share your own spiritual or religious beliefs.
But there is a big difference between trying to persuade someone to adopt your religious beliefs and using government laws to force them upon those who aren’t persuaded. So I am of the opinion that the root of the problem is that certain religious leaders, particularly some of those who call themselves Christians and Muslims, are actually afraid that they will lose control of their followers if the laws of the state permit practices that go against their religious beliefs. They have no desire for their followers to think for themselves or freely choose what religious practices they will follow. So these religious leaders need laws that reinforce their power over their religious followers.
On the one hand these same religious leaders will tell you that God gave us free will and that our sins can and will be forgiven, while on the other hand they want to prevent their followers from possibly committing a sin by exercising that free will. The truth is that many of the world’s religious leaders are driven by the same unholy desires for money, power and control that are at the root of most of the world’s armed conflicts.
It should therefore come as no surprise when some of these so-called religious leaders more intellectually challenged or psychologically disturbed followers latch onto their political positions and use or extend them to justify their use of armed violence, suicide and murder to advance their own pseudo-religious political beliefs. Yes, many of the same religious leaders who publicly condemn the use of these terrorist tactics are in fact the ones responsible for planting the seed from which these terrorists have grown. Instead of blaming Satan or increasing secularism, they have only themselves to blame.
I believe that the general trend in the world toward secularism ever since the 19th century has slowed down in recent years, but will nonetheless continue virtually unabated unless religious leaders change their attitudes about politics, power and control. While it is true that Christianity and Islam have seen increases in their absolute numbers, they’ve been driven by higher birth-rates in developing countries. But more developed countries with historically large Christian populations like the US and Ireland have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of practicing Christians. Symptoms I see as a Catholic include dwindling church attendance and declining recruitment for the priesthood.
But I do see some glimmers of hope from a rather surprising place in America that tells me it isn’t too late for the world’s religious leaders to stop planting the seeds of terrorism through their pursuit of political power. While I am usually on the opposite side of the debate with America’s Christian right, it is from within this segment of the American electorate that I have recently heard some refreshingly honest observations.
A fellow columnist and former Moral Majority vice president, Cal Thomas, recently criticized America’s religious leaders for their political lobbying instead of following the teachings of Jesus through good works, service, prayer and education saying; “If people who call themselves Christians want to see any influence in the culture, then they ought to start following the commands of Jesus. The problem isn't political. The problem is moral and spiritual. You have the choice between a way that works and brings no credit or money or national attention. Or, a way that doesn't work that gets you lots of attention and has little influence on the culture.”
Hmmm. Stop preaching and start practicing. What a concept! Next week, we’ll discuss Obama’s first 100 days.