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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Texas Faith: How should we incorporate faith into a secular political world?

True Secularism or true religious government is not about forcing others into obedience, but facilitating freedom to live his or her life as one chooses. However, the radicals in all systems bring a bad name to their respective group. Radical Secularism infringes on freedom of the religious people, just as radical religion does to non-religious people. 

The history of Soviet Union and China has left a bad taste for generations to come; they forced Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, and others to abandon practicing their faiths. It is like forcing someone not to love his mother. The resentment it created has permeated throughout the world and has earned a negative connotation of being a Godless government.  

On the other hand, the radicals calling themselves ISIS wants to force people to become Muslims. I have recommended the administration to give them warning to back off, surrender or go ahead and destroy them to prevent further deaths of Christians, Yazidis and other Muslims.   In India the newly emerged government has remained silent while radical Hindus are hell bent on reconverting Christians back to Hinduism, this needs to stop. We in the United States needs to drop the hatred for the same sex marriages, and restrictions placed on women about their bodies, we should and not infringe on the liberties of others. The Rabbis and the Ministers in Israel need to be slapped for telling their congregants to kill the Palestinian Mothers, and the Buddhist Monks need to be poisoned for goading and killing non-Buddhists in Burma.  Even though these are done by the radicals and not the mainstream majority, the religions get a bad name because of these radicals. 

Ideally every human should be free to breathe, drink, eat, wear or believe whatever the hell one wants to. I hope we all work for such societies, the least we can do is see the value in such societies where every one minds his or her own business.

Mike Ghouse

By Rudolph Bush rbush@dallasnews.com 
11:53 am on November 5, 2014 | Permalink

The writer Karen Armstrong recently noted that it was through bitter experience the west learned to separate the state from religion and wonders why Muslims have “found it impossible to arrive at this logical solution to their current problems.”
“Why do they cling with perverse obstinacy to the obviously bad idea of theocracy? Why, in short, have they been unable to enter the modern world?”
We’ve all asked these questions so often. If only these extremists would lay down their arms and embrace plural, diverse societies, they would see the benefit.
But as Armstrong so clearly writes, the path to our sort of secular and plural society, where we try to divide politics and religion, has been anything but bloodless.
“If some Muslims today fight shy of secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith but because they have often experienced efforts at secularisation in a particularly virulent form. Many regard the west’s devotion to the separation of religion and politics as incompatible with admired western ideals such as democracy and freedom.”
Acknowledging this past is important, even if it is unlikely to impress fanatics and extremists.
Perhaps more helpful questions for us are these: how do we, as people practicing and preserving our faiths, segregate the political from the spiritual in our own lives? What lessons can we offer those who want their faith to infuse all elements of their lives and are skeptical of a society and political system that calls for secularism? Are we fooling ourselves that we can have both? Are we cheating one aspect of our lives, spiritual or civic, to serve the other?
Our panelists respond on the jump.
MIKE GHOUSE: President, Foundation for Pluralism and speaker on interfaith matters, Dallas
Karen Armstrong, in her thought provoking essay, ‘Myth of religious violence’ takes us through a journey of governance and alignment of people from religious to multi-religious to secular in several avatars, it is also a history of the rights of minorities in relation to the majorities. I was hoping she would pave the way for yet another form of governance; Pluralism, which can address some of the questions we are facing today, instead she abruptly ends, perhaps for the reader to take the next step.
Mr. Rudy Bush has picked where she left, and I am pleased to do my share of work towards answering the questions.
I have been working on the idea of pluralism in governance, religion, society, food, gender, politics, culture, race and other aspects of life. I have put in solid 20 years of research work into this, thank God, Pluralism runs in my veins now.
Pluralism is definable as “respecting the otherness of others”. Indeed, if we can learn to respect the otherness of others and accept the God given uniqueness of each one of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge for a smoothly functional cohesive society.
What lessons can we offer those who want their faith to infuse all elements of their lives and are skeptical of a society and political system that calls for secularism?
Radical Secularism infringes on freedom of the religious people, just as radical religion does to non-religious people. The history of Soviet Union and China has left a bad taste for generations to come; they forced Christians, Jews, Buddhist, Muslims and others to abandon practicing their faiths. It is like forcing someone not to love his mother. The resentment it created has permeated throughout the world and has earned a negative connotation of being a Godless government.
There are historic models of pluralistic governance that can be studied. The one practiced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was the first its kind in human history. Four religions were practiced simultaneously in the same town without violating each other’s rights. He was the head of the State and initiated the Madinah treaty to protect religious freedom of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Pagans and possibly Zoroastrians. Each tradition was to have its own rules to abide by within the larger context of the state, everyone was free to practice his or her religion, and he called the others “People of the book” to create an inclusive mindset among the people. It’s a shame that some of Muslim nations have abandoned it.
The Second example is that of India, a Hindu majority nation. Even though it is labeled a Secular Democracy, it has always been a pluralistic democracy. There is a common criminal code for all citizens, but in matters of faith and civic affairs, each one follows his own religious traditions. It has worked beautifully for nearly 60 years, and I am skeptical of its continuance with Hindu radicalism on rise. A lot of healing is needed to fully restore the Pluralistic ethos.
The third example is that of Indonesia, a Muslim majority nation with a duly elected Christian President, and they now have a raging debate about electing a Christian governor for Jakarta province. I am sure they will honor their pluralistic constitution called Pancasila based on Madinah treaty.
The United States has been a pioneer in every aspect of human life. Our constitution guarantees liberty to every individual; however we are evolving in our declaration that all men are created equal. We have to take pride in our form of governance, which is becoming pluralistic every day.
Pluralism is nothing but an attitude of live and let live, and it is applicable in every aspect of life including culture, society, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender, food, ethnicity, race and other uniqueness’s.
You practice your faith and I will not meddle with yours, as in the case of contraceptives for Catholics or Mormons, or do not force the church to give access to the transgender identity to their rest rooms, instead build separate for them and preserve each human with his or her dignity.
Pluralism in governance looks at the criminal as an Individual and not a Christian, Jew, Muslim or Hindu. We are not fooling ourselves, we can have both and we would not be cheating one aspect of life over the other.
You are who you are, and I am who I am. As long as we don’t mess with each other’s space, sustenance and nurturance, and mind our own business, we all will do well. If we can learn to respect the otherness of other and accept the God-given uniqueness of each one of the 318 Million of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.
HOWARD S. COHEN, Lecturer in Jewish/Christian Relations and member of Congregation Shearith Israel and Congregation Beth Torah, Dallas
I know it is “politically incorrect” in this neighborhood to support the secularist thinkers who claim that religion itself has been the greatest force for destruction and mayhem in western history; nevertheless, their argument cannot be ignored. The religious insistence that the believer has the absolute truth about the will of God and how devotion to that truth needs to be demonstrated by word and deed continues to be the source of tyrannical, imperialist, and dictatorial repression responsible for so much suffering in history. Intolerance seems to be the natural corollary of any religion that claims to have the universal answers about God and claims “absolute truth,” as if any human being could actually know the Unknowable or have a handle on absolute truth.
Armstrong is right in reminding us that secularism – which decries beheadings, honor killings, and death for converts -has only been with us for the last 300 years in the post-enlightenment west and with a spotty record, at that. On the other hand, that observation does not ease our reaction to the actions of the small number of Muslim terrorist extremists (thousands of Muslims out of 1.5 billion) that fill our news reports. No one wants to wait 300 years for them to catch up.
Like Odysseus choosing between Scylla and Charybdis, it is conventional wisdom today to assume that we must decide between religion and secularism, bifurcating our lives according to our chosen priorities. But there’s a third option.
George Washington declared in his 1796 Farewell Address that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Yet he also believed that “the liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, worshiping Almighty God agreeably to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”
Thomas Jefferson believed that “no nation has yet existed or been governed without religion,” yet he articulated and defended “a wall of separation between Church and State.” If our Founders could envision a free church in a free state, why do other civilizations struggle to embrace a similar ethos?
Here’s one reason. With all due respect to Karen Armstrong, one of our greatest scholars of world religions, we must not overlook genuine worldview differences among the various faiths. The Qur’an prescribes an entire system of governance, complete with dietary restrictions and economic regulations. The Hebrew Bible does the same. Many who follow their teachings most fervently therefore believe that they can allow for no “secular” state outside their “spiritual” authority.
WILLIAM McKENZIE: a co-founder of the Texas Faith blog, is editorial director at the George W. Bush Institute.
I would argue this issue the other way around: Religion and politics do mix. In fact, they inevitably mix. Religion and politics are both about values, so it is only natural they will be in the same arena. In modern times, the clearest example – and most important one – is the way in which black churches and their leaders gave birth to the civil rights movement.
If they had kept their religion separate from their politics, the country never would have had this major breakthrough. Put another way, if African-American churchgoers had only adhered to personal piety, and not tried to seek justice in the larger social realm, America would have not moved forward.
There have been many other examples of people of faith acting in the political arena because of their religion. The Moral Majority gave voice to many Americans who were concerned about a cultural drift within the nation. At heart, this was a response framed by religious views.
Of course, what we want is a healthy dose of respect and tolerance to go with the mixture of religion and politics. That is what keeps people from different persuasions from tearing each other apart.
We also have been blessed in this country by the figurative line between church and state. That distinction has helped both religion and politics in America. There is more freedom in each domain because we have no official merging of church and state.
Yet I don’t see how religion and politics – or spiritual lives and the social realm – can ever be kept separate. Not when they each involve how we translate values like justice and mercy into the course of our lives together.

To Read the views of other panelists, please go to Dallas Morning News at:

Mike Ghouse is a public speaker, thinker, writer and a commentator on Pluralism at work place, politics, religion, society, gender, race, culture, ethnicity, food and foreign policy. He is commentator on Fox News and syndicated Talk Radio shows and a writer at major news papers including Dallas Morning News and Huffington Post.  All about him is listed in several links at www.MikeGhouse.net and his writings are at www.TheGhousediary.com and 10 other blogs. He is committed to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.

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