Monday, March 7, 2011

Viva Secularism, Viva!

Many people today have moved beyond the confusion caused by mixing religion and affairs of the real world. Unfortunately there are still many people who cannot tell the two apart. To them there is no difference between politics, civil affairs, daily life and their own personal religious views. And for some unfathomable reason, whenever it is pointed out to them that they are being unfair for using their personal religious opinions to detract from the civil rights or equalities of others, they start whining childishly that it is they who are being picked on, and not their victims.

Fortunately, this sort of mentality appears to be gradually on the decrease, and those indulging in it are increasingly being exposed for the bigots, hypocrites and fascist leftovers they make themselves out to be.

This world is made up of all kinds of people, resulting in diversity - and not just diversity of race, culture and language, but also beliefs. This means that to expect people of all kinds of beliefs in particular to be satisfied while the government in their area proudly champions just one belief system or religion, while trampling the rights of others underfoot and preening its feathers at their cost - is not only naive', but plain stupid as well.

The logical mind would arrive at two possible outcomes; the first being to homogenize all belief systems into a harmonious gray sameness, where all people believe the same things, and have the same values. This is of course, unlikely at best, and has been something many social engineers have been trying to achieve since time immemorial.

The second alternative is to keep matters of government, law and justice and civil matters apart from religious belief systems, and to accord all religions equal status under the law of the land. This second system is called secularism - and for Christian fundamentalists in particular, is a favorite most-hated feature of the modern world - second only to homosexuality and other religions, chiefly Islam. It is nevertheless, this second system which history has demonstrated works best, although I am sure the Roman Catholic church would disagree - after all, their faith came about as a result of the first option, back in the old days when the emperor Constantine created Catholicism and then blamed it all on Christ - which I have to say, seems to be a favorite pastime of many modern cult-like evangelical churches today.

Nevertheless, secularism - the separation of church and state - is one of the tenets of modern civilization, and something which if applied correctly, favors no religion and prejudices no religion above or below another - and allows for all people to flourish on equal terms without using religious values to impede them. This is key if the world is to avoid any more religious wars in future.

A country which has no state religion, and in which religion is kept separate from affairs of state and government, is defined as a secular state. Wikipedia maintains a listing of secular states, among which are included MOST of the European nations, MOST of North America, South America and in fact even MOST of Africa. Few countries include a religion in state affairs today and make absolute mention of such religion in their national Constitutions and state machinery, but among them, there is most prominently, the UK (Church of England) and Indonesia, and of course, most of the Islamic states in North Africa and the Mediterranean area, and Israel.

This means that in most countries today, government and the running of these countries, should be progressing in a manner which should benefit people of ALL religions, or at least all people within these countries REGARDLESS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS PERSUASIONS. Now I have to ask myself, is this the case? I'm not so sure.

South Africa is listed as a secular state, although sometimes the lines between religion and state become a little blurred. Be that as it may, thus far, 16 years into the new post-Apartheid democracy, most of our civil rights appear to be relatively unscathed by this blurring as well as the mounting assault on the Constitution by far-right religious "transformationist" groups and religious political parties.

Uganda is not a secular state, but by stark contrast, a Christian fundamentalist one. For an interesting look at the recent affairs of the Ugandan state, go here. Yes, I'm sure many people, especially Pink tourists, would be tempted to go there for a visit. Not. There are quite a few countries around the globe making very similar moves, and not just in Africa, but in the Middle East, the Balkans, Jamaica and so on. And of course, the utterances and blunders of government in our own country sometimes gives us pause as well.

Politics is public and affects everyone in the country, and so everyone should be interested. Religion is personal and private and should only affect people who follow particular religions or spiritual beliefs - or who are interested. When religion is brought into government - or into political parties - it begins to affect everyone, and especially those not of those particular religions and consequently, not of their particular party support. It is because of this that people of religious or spiritual minorities, or any other groups not of the same beliefs or "convictions" as the term which is used - most often become the target of those who take power - or seek to take power.

You see, that's how you start defining Christianism: Christianists believe that because they are Christian, 'everyone else' is too, or SHOULD be... and it is then that you start having people behave as if other beliefs don't exist, or SHOULDN'T, and then take steps to make it so.

I have the pleasure of knowing a few people who call themselves Christians and who could be called "devout", going to church every Sunday, all dressed up, brainwashing themselves daily by reading floral-covered Solly Ozrovitch books etc... and every time some little issue arises in the news, such as Woollies not wanting to stock fundamentalist Christian magazines anymore due to lack of sales - they start beating that little drum, trumpeting about Christianity being "persecuted". I doubt they realize how ridiculous they make themselves, because when I appeal for them to calm down, they get even more upset.

I doubt they even realize how privileged they have been the past few centuries. Why do I say this? The Christian church had control of everything, and now that times have changed, and they are on an equal footing with everyone else, they don't like it. The fundies are getting restless. But then, fundies are always restless. They see conspiracies under every bush and in every corner. Everywhere they see little revolutions threatening to topple them from their remaining privileged seats of supremacy and power, and they don't even stop to realize that other people are not trying to climb above them and trample them, but are merely trying to claim their equal and rightful places in the sun beside them.

Morality can be distorted by any religion, remember that. Morality is what it is because people don't like to be lied to, cheated or done by unfairly, not because of what god they kneel to. Whatever gods there are, created by humans, will fit this morality - and consequently, the type of person defining the morality will define the face(s) of the god(s) they create. It's a case of art imitating life, imitating art.

In a country in which religion and government are segregated or separated by the Constitution, political parties which are founded on religious principles, ie the Christian Democratic Alliance and the ACDP - however small - and are operating on the promise that should they come to power one day in the distant future, or ever, they would run the country on the way they interpret the principles of the religion on which they supposedly base their values and policies - hence making their very existence and participation in politics and elections and potential government - UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Wow. Really? Well, think about it. Certain of these "political" parties have already made it clear in the past that should they come to power, they would reinstate their religion as a state religion, ending secular government. They have also made it clear that certain sectors of the population would be treated as criminals based on their immutable characteristics - and resting solely on their personal interpretation of their religious laws as pertaining to them. Since their founding in the early 1990's, these parties have acted consistently - and even aggressively - against the civil rights and equality of some minority groups in - and outside of South Africa. Being part of several of these minority groups, I would object most strongly to one of them gaining any power at all in local or national government.

When I look at the track-records of groups such as these, I cannot see justification for their existence under a secular democracy, for if any of them came to power, there would be an end to such religious freedom and secular democracy in itself. Their existence is in my opinion, democracy falling on its sword for the sake of political correctness.

It is possible that allowing such unashamedly religious fundamentalist political parties to exist and operate may threaten the broader system of democracy in a secular state - but on the other hand, their screw-ups, blunders and the sheer stupidity, selfishness and thinly-veiled hatred in their policies - if continually exposed - may in fact provide clear reasons to the populace WHY they are a bad idea in the first place.

If people are to be treated with equal respect, dignity and given equal opportunities in a diverse society, then politics and religion should not mix. Simple.

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