Not for the first time, Paul of Blogging Theology has suggested that democratic rule is incompatible with religion. It seems that he is putting forward an idea he’s tried before, more than once. It also seems that Paul does not believe democracy can be a reasonable form of government. Indeed, one of the blog entries is titled The Selfishness of Democracy.
However, if we’re to follow Godly laws, the question always becomes ‘which version?’ Are we to based a system of governance and rules for society upon Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism, to name but a few religions. Once we’ve reached a consensus upon a specific faith (which all, have holy, immutable texts that are not necessarily compatible with one another), we must then ask, which version of that religion (for many have different interpretations, often relatively minor theological differences that nonetheless create considerable consternation).
There’s also the issue that theocratic forms of government tend to fail a great many of their citizens (see Iran, for instance). Now, Paul (among others) might argue that the rulers of Iran are not truly following God’s law, and instead filtering it through human eyes… but that is inevitable. It’s all well and good to say ‘follow the exact text of <insert holy document here>’, but no one can agree on what that text truly means!
I’ve asked Paul to explain how we determine which religion forms the basis of government, and it’s not a surprise to me that he not only hasn’t answered the question but gone off on an unrelated tangent, though part of me suspects I know why. He asked me if I am an atheist (I’ve answered him more than once on that subject and yet he continues to ask it, despite failing to ever provide a reasonable context for the question). I suspect his aim is to associate atheism with a lack of morality, hence why (in his view) democracy (a secular form of government) is apparently immoral too.
Now, the link between Paul’s anti-democracy arguments and atheism is tenuous at best, but if he’s trying to suggest that religiously pious people are better people than people who aren’t religious, he should open a history book. I’m going to be quoting from Creation Theory (composed by Michael Wong), a site primarily looking at evolution vs creationism, but it contains some excellent articles about morality as well.
Atheists have been and continue to be the targets of a vicious, tireless smear campaign. For example, after informally questioning my co-workers, I realized to my chagrin that most of them think Adolf Hitler was an atheist! Not one of them realized that Adolf Hitler had a strict Catholic upbringing (of the type that supposedly produces moral, virtuous people), or that he was an altar boy in his youth, or that he once told General Gerhart Engel that “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so”. None of them knew that his infamous “Mein Kampf” contains phrases such as this: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” (among many, many other things; see my page on Hitler’s Religion for more). None of them knew that Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles inscribed with “Gott mit uns” (God is with us).
Hitler (despite numerous claims to the contrary) had a deeply religious upbringing and that inspired, at least in part, his genocide against the Jews.
Michael also addresses the question of whether or not someone can be moral without God:
Fundamentalists are fond of saying that humanist morality isn’t “universal”. They argue that we humans cannot distinguish right from wrong without divine guidance, so humanist ethics are essentially a rudderless ship, with each person defining his own version of morality to suit his convenience. The problems with this argument (apart from its bigoted attitude) are easy to see, because they fail to ask the obvious question: to paraphrase Socrates, is something righteous because the gods deem it so, or do the gods deem it so because it is righteous? Fundamentalists argue the former, while humanists (not to mention most polytheistic religions) argue the latter: that morality transcends even the gods. If you are fundamentalist and you lean toward the former, then answer this: since your religion is not universal, then how can a system of morality which requires your religion be universal?
These are but two quotes from robust arguments that I would be fascinated to see Paul confront (and whilst Paul’s doing so, I’d be intrigued to hear David of Theology Archaelogy’s view, given his deep Christian perspective).
To swing back to the original topic, the argument that we cannot rely on human judgement to form governing policy doesn’t hold water. You do not have to be devoutly religious to be moral (indeed, immoral behaviour inspired by religion can be seen throughout history), and basing a government upon religion relies upon a consensus that wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t grant rights and protections to everyone – far from it.