February 2, 2006
Reza Aslan on ALOUD on The Off-Ramp
Through a special collaboration with 89.3 KPCC, ALOUD on the Off-Ramp extends the insightful discussions of ALOUD at Central Library to allow both audience members and listeners the unique opportunity to engage each other in an informal exchange of ideas beyond the live lecture and performance series held regularly at the Downtown Central Library.
ALOUD on the Off-Ramp will present thought-provoking questions posed by participating guests from the award-winning series. 89.3 KPCC and ALOUD at Central Library invite you to join in and respond by voicing your own opinions and viewpoints.
Presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, in association with the Los Angeles Public Library, ALOUD at Central Library presents over 75 live events a year and provides a public forum for discussion and ideas from some of today’s brightest writers, thinkers, and innovators.
On Thursday, February 2, 2006, scholar of comparative religions and author of No God But God, Reza Aslan, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of GOD: A Biography, Jack Miles, met on the ALOUD stage for a spirited conversation on the coming reformation of Islam. Through the course of the evening’s program, Aslan and Miles discussed the troubling internal conflicts that will have a profound impact on over a billion people worldwide.
After the program, Reza Aslan posed the following question for ALOUD on the Off Ramp:
What role do you think religion should play in modern society? If a democracy is based on the values, opinions, and mores of the majority population, then is it inevitable that the religion of the majority form the moral foundation of the state? Can there even be such a thing as a "religiously based democracy?"
Click on the comment link below to send us your feedback.
Posted by ALOUD at 6:14 PM
Some might argue that there is no such thing as a Democracy not based on religion. Choices are based on beliefs. I do think it matters whether the voters are filtering their religion or whether religious authorities are filtering votes.
Posted by: Doug on February 4, 2006 4:43 AM
Can there even be a "reliously based democracy"? Some thirty years ago, the Swedish federal government taxed their citizens to support the Lutheran church intheir country and their democracy was certainly in tact!
Posted by: Allen Van House on February 4, 2006 3:55 PM
I consider myself a Christian and teach at a Christian university. I do not think my religion should be a force in politics, and I am ashamed of my "bretheren" who have been crusading. Christians are at their best when they are down. The Bible never mentions Paul urging Christians to infiltrate the Roman Senate in order to enact laws that would make it easier for them to pursue their faith. He basically said, 'Bring it on (slight paraphrasing). Persecution made them stronger. The church has a poor track record when it gets mixed up with politics. Crusades, Inquisitions, Pat Robertson, etc. While there must be some morality and consensus of values which will inevitably be influenced by the population's religious beliefs, I don't think one dominant or several competing religions can meet the mandate of democratically run nations.
Posted by: Scott on February 8, 2006 10:05 AM
Democracy is not just majority rule, it is representation of all the people. Even in this country (!) our leaders represent the people who elect them and thus have input into the governing system whether they are members of the majority or not.
I think minority representation is the key to keeping democracy effective. Once there is no clearly heard and included minority opinion, democracy is toast. If members of a certain religion become the majority power, democracy is lost only if they become unresponsive to others and deny them representation.
Posted by: Susan on February 8, 2006 11:15 AM
While government is rightly instituted to give form to consensus and to protect the values of those that run it ("the people" in a democracy), the protection of rights of even unpopular minorities--to the extent that those minorities do not harm others is an equally-valid measure of how truly "free" a society is. Democracy is not an excuse for mob rule.
The pages of history are littered with the corpes of million of innocent victims of governments claiming to act on behalf of the Almighty. But the separation of church from state exists to protect each from the other--and thereby us from each!
Posted by: Rick Watts on February 9, 2006 12:42 AM
I think of democracy as analogous to people driving on a freeway: as long as we each respect the known rules of the road (i.e. democratic principles), assuming that others are doing the same keeps traffic moving in a reasonable fashion. Add each individual's desire to drive as if he or she can determine what the rules of the road should be (such as personal religious values) and the system begins to break down. Chaos would quickly ensue as the proponents of differing belief systems, unable to hear each other through closed vehicle windows, move in more than two orderly directions.
Posted by: Frank MJ on February 9, 2006 9:55 AM
Our system is a republic, not a democracy. We elect representatives to act on our behalf and in our best interest. Our elected officials are supposed to represent all of the people in their district, not just those who voted for them, not just those who contributed money, and not just those who follow the same faith. Separation of chruch and state is not only desirable, it is mandatory if we want to maintain our republic and not find ourselves in a theocracy.
In todays climate of hyper religious seniment, those who are not Christian are rapidly losing their voice in government and those do not follow any religion have become disenfranchised.
Posted by: Paula Christie on February 9, 2006 10:37 AM
Religions should be recognized only for their historical roles. They have outlived their usefulness to the point of being dangerous. They are keeping us away from God, not bringing us closer. The idea that all the truths of the Divine have come to us through one teacher, one set of books, or one culture is absurd to anyone who has enough awareness to watch the news on TV.
Fundamentalists of all stripes feel threatened, and they are - but not by the evil and godless. They may be making a lot of noise these days, but in terms of pure numbers they (like the majority of religions) are losing followers, because most people know in their hearts that intolerance and discord are not the true fruits of the Spirit. The fundamentalists can't convince anyone of their moral ideas through loving persuasion and personal example, so they try to get their "truths" made into law, and make the police and armies do their Gods' work for them. If they succeed, they will find out soon enough that that path leads to resentment and eventually rebellion.
Posted by: Steve Batte on February 9, 2006 10:35 PM
When thinking about the role of religion in government one should first consider the degree of its influence in everyday life. For some, religion is a sometime thing where rituals, public and private, are observed. For others it consumes the greater part of a daily routine. Religion is a fundamental part of any culture, and a vital tool in the control of societies not yet open to democratic principles of representaion. Although it cannot be used as a roadmap toward democracy, any government in the making should fully consider the degree of influence upon its people, and the necessary transitions that must be made when long-held beliefs are ruled to be illegal and improper. It is our government's failure to understand the role of religion that has landed us in the quagmire of Iraq. Struggles between church and state will and do inevitalby continue everywhere. Extremists here and abroad do kill for the sake of their beliefs, and that is the best argument for the separation of church and state.
Posted by: Rose Gaglioni on February 10, 2006 12:55 PM
It is funny how people mistake faith for religion and call it the same. It was said by the founders of this “Republic” (thank you Paula for reminding us of this), that our system of government would only survive in a moral society. Not a “religious” one, mind you but a moral one.
I believe that most people like to think that because they are religious (what ever that means to them) then they are moral. But the moment that their religious beliefs (or faith) are foisted upon another, it defeats the purpose of their faith. Faith is a personal thing not a group activity. Morals on the other hand are a group activity. Personal morals can be more stringent then the group, but a society’s morals are a commonality, a leveler if you will. Here is what you must live up to…minimum requirements, your ante.
Does that mean that religion has a place in government? In my opinion it does not. But it has a place in each person’s heart to work with each other to develop those minimum requirements for the good of each other. You must be true to yourself. But in doing so you must be true to all. A system of laws should be based on an agreed upon set of rules that all agree on. In the case of America, we ALL agree upon our rules and laws, because our proxies (elected leaders), agree upon them. This is the nature of a republic. The way to change them is to change your elected leaders.
Posted by: Tom Fafard on February 10, 2006 3:17 PM
No, I don't. Democracy is not just about the majority but also
about protecting the minority. A government based on the
religious values of the majority will always in the end oppress
the minority because the minoriy does not share its religious beliefs.
History and the modern world overflow with examples of this:
just look at the treatment of the Ba'hais in Iran or Roman
Catholics in Northern Ireland, to cite 2 obvious examples.
Democracy needs to be inclusive and protective of all people
and points of view that want to be included. It needs a public
space, an Agora in the words of the ancient Greeks, that
nourishes a cacophony of competing ideas and that is
free of the exclusive dogma that defines the boundaries of all
religions, particularly the revealed religions.
Religion is a critical element of identity, although not for
everybody. Its true home is in the community and the hearts of believers. I believe firmly that the words of Jesus, when He says "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's", are meant to define and protect both the realm of God from the state and the state from those who would interpret the
Word of God for the rest of us.
The ideals and the drive to public service of a particular religion should be manifested in the public space through the actions
of the indivdual working with other individuals who don't
necessarily share his faith or ideals, or who are unbelievers. But the values and the beliefs of a particular religion should never be embedded in the fabric of the state and reflected through its constitutions and laws.
I believe this is an excuse to escape the responsibilities of a democracy to all of its citizens, to restrict the true rights and obligations to citizenship to members of a particular tribe, to
impose the values and world view of a particular way of defining
the divine and the world we all live in.
Posted by: Emmanuel Hadzipetros on February 11, 2006 7:11 AM
Serious study of the writing of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights makes it clear that the separation of the church (an institution) and the government was fundamental to our Democracy.
The history of Man (Egypt, China, Asia) all systems of governing have been informed by the religions of their times. In many cases the "Church" or religious institution was the ruling system.
Welcome to the 21st Century. Note that it has only been 600 years since we accepted that the earth is not flat, and that the heavens did not revolve around the earth. It has only been 160 years since science brought us the concept of evolution. (No longer a theory). In 1840 fire and brimstone was the understood reality.
Change is difficult for the human animal. As sentient beings fundamental change is even more unsettling and difficult.
If we are to survive, those of us that embrace fundamental change will need to find a balance with the resistance to it, and its ever more violent and destructive nature.
Curious, the Mystic has so often provided civilization with this balance.
Are we ready to believe that we “Humanity” can be trusted to provide the light and best hope for our small world.
Posted by: Ray Thomas on February 11, 2006 2:33 PM
I feel that the fear of religion and government not being seperated is grounded in the centuries past experiences of the influence of various churches in the business of government.
If one equates religion with moral values then does not religion in government always exist. After all our representatives as the individuals that are elected by us all are assumed to be sof some religious faith. Does this faith govern their decisions or does the needs of the electorate dictate the the road that they travel.
When a religion tries to dictate to the people what it believes its faith deems right or moral we begin to blur the line between secular and religious government. In a democracy where there is the opportunity to choose both your religion and a government they both by nature will not influence each other in a negative manner.
The current hulabaloo over the removal of religious icons and words that merely reflect the faith of different religions should not be construed to be in violation of the seperation of church and state. If these were mandated by the representatives or even the majpority we then truly would not have seperation. The self appointed keepers of this law "ACLU" merely create controversey for themselves. I once asked an attorney who worked for them why they are so focused on this issue. He said, " we don't really believe these issues such as religious icons in public are a threat to seperation but it makes good press"
Posted by: Cliff Gordon on February 11, 2006 5:57 PM
Tough question to a complex issue. As the majority opinion of this thread might indicate , I think there is great apprehension to 'officially' declare integration of Religion into our so called modern day Democracy. The idea of a separation between Church and State is just that; an idea. The fact of the matter is we live in a Republic that has not only embraced Religion into our mainstream society but let it impact its way into government politics on every level. The Christian Coalition and Moral Majority, the ban on gay marriage, Terry Schiavo, the ongoing profiling of Muslims, the appointment of activist Judges to the Supreme Court (my personal favorite) are just a few examples of this infringment. In all honesty, I appreciate this forum and very much respect all who contributed. The sad fact of reality is that its moot. We live in a Society that, on the surface claims to be secular, but in practice is very much a Theocracy. And did I mention prohibition?
God Bless All!
Posted by: Thomas on February 12, 2006 9:39 PM
In our modern society, religion plays a terribly negative role. It stands for seperation and isolation. Americans use religion to single themselves out as being better than others, simply on the basis of belief. And they believe things not because of verifiable evidence, but rather because their parents and grandparents believed those things.
If we are to rescue our society from its current authoritarian direction, we must seperate religion from public life, and return to a polite disinterest in things such as other people's religious beliefs.
Posted by: Michael on February 13, 2006 4:16 PM