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demurral about religion and democracy

Reader comment on item: Islam and Democracy - Much Hard Work Needed

Submitted by Kepha Hor (United States), Feb 11, 2011 at 19:16

I doubt that the religion of Islam can become part of the democratic process, and by focusing on the Roman Catholic Church to understand how "Christianity" relates to democracy, Dr. Pipes has missed something very, very important.

Britain, the USA, the Netherlands, and Switzerland--the common denominator is the Reformed branch of Protestantism, vulgarly called "Calvinism". South Korea and Taiwan--again, Protestant Christian minorities influenced by the Swiss Reformation are influential, plus much following of US models. India, parts of Africa, the political tutelage of Britain is important.

The Calvinists took their Bibles very seriously, and this is an important part of how they came up with the ideas of limited government, the political supremacy of law, and consent of the governed (I refer you to John Ponet, Christopher Goodman, Samuel Rutherford, Francois Hotman, Hubert Languet, Philippe duPlessis-Mornay, and a bunch of others, and even Maitre Jean Calvin himself, who declared that "a mixture of aristocracy and democracy" is the best form of government).

Far from seeing kings as the living image of God, the Old Testament usually wraps up with "and he walked in the way of Jeroboam the Son of Nebat, who led Israel to sin" when summarizing career of an Israelite monarch. Deuteronomy 17 subjects the king to Torah. In reading I Samuel 8, Samuel Rutherford saw the "mishpat hammelek" as "the manner of the king" rather than as "the right of a king", and took it as a warning to a sinful people who had rejected God's own rule over them. In the New Testament, there is the election of bishops (apparently practiced as late as Cyprian of Carthage two centuries later) by the congregation.

In the church polity of the Reformed churches, congregations had a voice in choosing their elders and ministers. Here, the church democratized (using biblical justification for it) before the state. Hence, it can be argued that there is a republican or even democratic strain in Christianity rooted in theology rather than outside pressure.

Further, the powerful sense of human sinfulness present in Calvinism led them to be suspicious of too much power in any set of hands (the concerted effort by 19th century American Unitarians, English Anglicans, and Roman Catholics to paint the Calvinists as clerical dictators), and saw absolute power as a burden "too great for mortal shoulders".

Last of all, the only infallible leader they knew was the Lord Jesus Christ, the sole head of the Church.

FInally, most forms of Christianity and, for that matter, Judaism understand that members of the elect community can and do wrong each other and those on the outside, and wrongs done to those outside are also considered sinful. Islam, however, reserves ethical behavior for people of the 'Umma, and views those outside as prey for plundering, pure and simple.

Islam denies the doctrine of original sin, and thinks that somewhere, sometime, there's an infallibly just ruler among Muslims. They yearn for a return to the rightly guided caliphs, and forget that hose guys all seemed to die in power struggles. The inability of Muslims to consider that sin might infect both them personally and their societies as a whole leads them to be very receptive to the latest conspiracy theories. Hence, if things don't work, blame the Jews; but never dare wonder if it might not be your own "great leader".

Unlike the Old and New Testaments (which Muslims excuse themselves from reading on the grounds that the Christians and Jews corrupted them, despite everything your High School history teacher told you), the Qur'an is the product of one man's lifetime. Muhammad had no way to reflect on the tragic experience of the Israelite polity, the Babylonian Exile, and the positions of political powerless the Jews had as subjects of Babylon and the Christians had at the outset of their movement. Given that the hadith were completed within a century of Muhammad's death, the canon-building experience of Islam is far shorter than that of Christianity in any form, and hence less historically aware.

Islam at its root is incorrigibly supremacist, triumphalist, and given to the cult of human "great leaders". Its democracies will always be at best one-man-one-vote-one-time.

This being said, I sure hope I'm wrong. But, at present, my only hope for reform of the Muslim world is mass conversion of Muslims to some kind of biblicist Christianity.

Submitting....

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