Dave Hale: Sacred Sharia vs. secular democracy
September 4, 2003
So we are going to bring democracy to Islam. Let freedom ring and all that. Very noble. Very Christian. The gospel according to America. Makes me goose pimply all over just thinking about it.
This cost of keeping our gun-toting evangelists in Iraq is costing at least a billion dollars a week. And there is no end in sight. But we will prevail, our leaders tell us fervently. We will not let the terrorists deter us from bringing the gospel of democracy to Iraq. Faith is like that.
However there could be a problem. A small teensy-weensy problem. You see the people of Iraq do not want democracy. They never have and they never will. Islam and democracy go ill together. Muslims just don’t think that religious matters are of the kind that should be voted upon. And political decisions are a religious matter in Islam.
Even the very structure of government is of a religious order. Muslims call this form of government and law Sharia, and it is laid out not just in the Koran but in the holy texts of the Hadith. For a Muslim to deny Sharia and the Hadith and embrace democracy is just not going to happen. Is a Christian “Evangelical” (code word for fundamentalist) going to vote for Hilary Clinton? It could happen theoretically, but so could a cold day in hell.
We Americans love to vote on everything. This extends from things like whether practicing homosexuals should be bishops to critically important matters like whether there should be a cupola on a building that stands taller than the existing height ordinance allows in Aspen. It is ingrained in our thinking that democracy itself is sacred.
But would we dream of voting on the right to vote? Absolutely not. That is because matters of faith always veil themselves. Faith is not a decision, it is a way of seeing the world. It might be a decision in a very limited sense, but only if it were a passionate decision, as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said.
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Islam simply sees the world differently than America and that is never going to change. Even at gunpoint. This is not a war against terrorism in Iraq, it is a war of faiths.
I have heard many conservative Christian leaders, including one of our most prominent local ones, state that this country was founded on Biblical principals. But this is simply not true.
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, two of the most important figures in the founding of our country, could hardly be called “Christian” in the way that a present day Bible-thumping Baptist means. The simple fact of the matter is the Bible says nothing about democracy.
It does have a lot to say about kingship and monarchy. That is why the concept of “Divine Monarchy” ruled over Europe for nearly 1,900 years before democracy was accepted. So if Christians really wanted to follow the Bible they would have a king instead of a duly elected president. But because they don’t follow the Bible they embrace democracy.
More than that, confusing patriotism for democracy they passionately embrace it because as Samuel Johnson once noted, “Patriotism is always the last refuge for the scoundrel.” Or as Plato said in the Republic, the problem with democracy is it is always susceptible to demagoguery. He should know, it (demagoguery) was responsible for the death of his teacher Socrates.
And by the way, slavery is also condoned in the Bible. (But not “gay unions.”)
Christians have always tended to pick and choose their way through the Bible much more than Muslims do with their own Koran. The difference between a liberal Christian and a fundamentalist Christian shows itself when you accuse them of interpretation; the liberal admits it and the fundamentalist threatens you with bodily harm.
But the problem for Christians might lie in the very nature of the Bible. It was written over a period of nearly 2,000 years by many, many authors and spans two of the world’s major religious traditions. The Koran was written by one person – Muhammed.
The Bible has many literary forms: prophecy, poetry, metaphor, history, narrative, songs, apocalypse, revelation, doctrine, proverbs, etc. The Koran has just one literary style: that of the Prophet. The nature of the Bible repulses any kind of consistent reading much less a literal one. There is much more “group think” going on in Islam than in Christianity. It is monolithic, reaching throughout the Muslim’s life: in their politics, their culture and their morality. Like democracy.
Faith is not blind like some think. Faith is how one sees. Faith is the seeing. It is a certainty that cannot know itself. There is no self-reflection, no self-consciousness, no reasoned decision – there is only seeing. Like this faith in democracy. For those of us who do not possess such sight, it is truly frightening.
This is my definition of religion (or war).
[Dave Hale has a B.A. in religious studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, an M.A. in religion from Yale University Divinity School, and is currently in his fourth year of the joint doctoral program in philosophy, religion and cultural theory offered by the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. He is the religion columnist for The Aspen Times as well as an editor for the Journal of Critical and Religious Theory.]
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