Political theology

Belief in something greater than ourselves is deeply embedded in the tapestry of human kind and an impulse that seems to be universal.

Today billions believe, and contemporary religions are swollen in number be it Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Islam or Judaism.

Many possess an incandescent faith in what Mark Lilla, in a New York Times Magazine article, "The Politics of God," calls the "divine nexus": God, man and the world. In other words, for centuries man has assumed that institutions established to create order and continuity in society, such as government, should exist in a synergistic relationship with the divine. Lilla refers to this as political theology.

The West, in contrast, has had a tradition of what Lilla refers to as "The Great Separation," born out of experiences wherein heads of state and religious leaders carried out, in concert, wars of faith and inquisition fashioned from the crucible of belief and the purported will of God. Look no further than the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion. Messianic theology, history demonstrates, breeds messianic politics which has reduced societies to ruins.

Despite the attempts by the current administration to blur the lines of separation between church and state, and no matter that politicians feel compelled to openly declare their faith, the American experience continues to be remarkable.

"There is no other fully developed industrial society," Lila writes, "with a population so committed to its faiths while being equally committed to the Great Separation. Our political rhetoric ... vibrates with a messianic energy, and it is only thanks to a strong constitutional structure ... that political theology has not challenged the basic legitimacy of our institutions." Americans, Lilla points out, have explosive differences over abortion, prayer in schools, censorship, euthanasia, biological research, yet we settle said differences within the bounds of our Constitution. Lilla calls it a miracle.

It is because of this historical commitment to the Great Separation and our rejection of political theology (replaced in America and Europe by political philosophy) that we are often perplexed and threatened by what we think of as radical Islamic fundamentalism. Nothing in our philosophy prepares us for the suicide bomber, for being viewed as infidels, or for the unequivocal embracing by Muslims of Sharia, that body of Islamic religious laws based on the Qur'an (the religious text of Islam) and hadith (sayings of Muhammad). Sharia follows centuries of precedent while governing all aspects of life as ordained by God (Muhammad).

Many devout Muslims who have settled in the West &

living now in large communities in Germany, France, and England &

have declared that they bear no allegiance to the adopted country but only to Sharia. They insist that they will adhere to a political theology and not a political philosophy and are committed to the "divine nexus."

The greatest dissonance occurs when Sharia is in conflict with civil law and authority. The treatment of women and honor killings are examples, as is the theocratic response by civil authority in the Sudan to a British teacher who recently allowed her class to name their mascot teddy bear Muhammad. She was subsequently jailed and threatened with 40 lashes, while Sudanese demonstrators called for her execution.

Add to the belief in Sharia the concept of jihad and the effect on the Western perspective can be jarring. While jihad has been described as a moral or spiritual quest, it is more accurately used to describe armed struggle against the infidel as voiced by al-Qaeda worldwide and made manifest by 9/11. There is also an apocalyptic element to jihad where the coming of the 12th Imam (aka as the Mahdi) is much anticipated, preceeded by chaos in the world, followed by a final day of judgement. Listen to the speeches of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, and find therein the quintessential examples of a state as a political theocracy.

The "divine nexus" and the belief in political theology are historically familiar. Prolonged religious wars have ever been with us; however, to contemporary Western sensibilities, formed by the Great Separation, such viewpoints are antithetical to our world view.

"So long as a sizable population believes in the truth of a comprehensive political theology," Lila states, "its full reconciliation with modern liberal democracy cannot be expected." In other words, it will be the experience of this generation and those to come that the West will be engaged in a theological-philosophical struggle that will extend into the future and have many permutations. This is just the beginning. If we are to respond effectively, we will need more than the hammer of our military. We will need a nuanced understanding that transcends the one dimensional "evil doers" view of the current administration.

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