Politics and Religion: Relations and Conflict Issues
Politics and religion are among the most crucial subjects of discussion in the modern generation. Many questions, such as where does the church come into a state? Who should control public religious functions? What is the involvement of the country in spiritual issues? and so on, continue getting different answers. But one thing clear is that religion and politics are inseparable, even though they seem so. They bot have one common goal, which is acquiring political power and using it to fulfill their aims. In other words, they both seem to seek control over people of a nation or the world at large.
The primary difference is perhaps in the way each institution does what they do. On one hand, religion uses more subtle ways by mobilizing religious sensitivities in people to acquire their support in getting power. On the contrary politics uses intrigue and diplomacy, and tries to win public opinion either democratically (where systems allow) or forcefully (as in underdeveloped society). As such, there is a constant power struggle between religion and politics as they try to undermine each other. Where a belief holds political powers (as in the Roman Catholic case in the Vatican), it exploits it in fulfillment of a divine mission. Its claims lie on the foundation of having divine authority; hence it has a holy mission to guide and reform the society spiritually. Politics applies its policy on the needs and expectations of the community of which it instructs changes on laws and government systems according to the needs of the society.
We can, therefore, summarize these two approaches as;
- Religious approaches tap into unchangeable divine laws for its authority
- Pragmatic political society needs to develop, change, and adjust according to the rising challenges of the moment.
In a secular setting, it is the man for himself; he determines his destiny without relying on or submitting to any divinity. However, he is expected to draw and initiate a plant to build a society that fits his vision.
Model of Religion-politics Relation
History records three significant models related to religion and politics:
- In one, religion and politics join each other in trying to monopolize political power. This is called integration and sharing model that encourages a common ground between politics and religion.
- In the second one, politics subdues and overpowers religion and then uses it is for its gain. Here, religion acts on a subservient role to politics.
- In the third model, religion and politics come into a conflict that leads to separation. It is a rivalry for dominion.
The survival of religion has often been tied to politics, and historically, the establishment and spread of religion indicate there are a particular time and space that initiated its beginning. Hence, religious teachings focus on solving existing problems. However, society has been on a constant path of change in which new challenges emerge in the spiritual realm. These challenges demand religion to adjust appropriately if it has to survive. But sometimes the changes become too overwhelming that religion fails to respond to problems and respond to new environments effectively.
Consider Islam; for instance, orthodoxy took close to half a century to come to completion. Once the process was complete, a new challenge arose where orthodoxy had difficulty implementing any new ideas and new thinking. It was a belief that any structural change would weaken the foundation; hence it old structure has remained without any modifications. In all, religion seeks to adjust to the political temperature of the current times. At the point, religion has three options where it can:
1. Avoid and reject any structural changes. Any attempt to change its teaching is crushed either politically or using religious injunctions (like in the case of fatawa in Islam). Anyone who comes up with changes in religious thoughts is considered an enemy of the region; hence believers are warned to avoid and stay away from such a person.
2. Adapt itself. Change is inevitable, and religion needs to adapt according to the needs of the time. Where new interpretations relating to its teachings are eminent, especially in accommodating modernity, religion should be flexible enough to make the changes.
3. Fails to respond to challenges and is faced with insecurity. In this case, religion may withdraw itself from active life and completely avoids worldly affairs, hence, confining to spirituality.
In the contemporary world, religion is faced with oblivious challenges owing to the rise of scientific and technological inventions. There is no doubt that these aspects are rapidly changing society and its character, creating a more complex and mechanical environment. This is even tougher with the extension of knowledge, politics, and economics, as well as science and technology. These aspects require specialized and professional handling, which threatens religion. Religious scholars, Ulema, cannot understand the intricacies of these experts in adjusting them with religious teachings. This is the reason why, in some societies, religion, politics, and economics do not interact. Religion does not enjoy the dominion over society as it did in medieval times. Instead, it serves under politics and is used according to the will of political powers.
The three reactions can be defined as aggressive, compromising, and separatist. Each of them faces different challenges according to the needs of the current society. There are groups or individuals in society who many want a change in life yet do not want to leave religion. Hence, they will support any religious reformation that seems to suit their way of life. The result is the emergence of sects. This is why we find that in many religious groups, some sects or offshoots fulfill the demands of a group of people in a specified time and then disappear in history; a few sects persist and survive.
Over the centuries, politics and religion have always brushed shoulders. In some situations, they work together whereas, in others, one is dominant over the other. It is, therefore, necessary for a political science student to know the relations, divisions, and conflicts of religion within a political setting.
Author: James Hamilton