Religions in Public Democracy


Girl gagged with blue scarfIn democracy, people’s religions should not be kept private. They should form a legitimate part of people’s participation in the public square. Not dominating, but participating. This is true for government processes, services, education, media, the whole public domain. Yet now, religion is tightly gagged in public, and the pressure is building.

In Miroslav Volf’s words,

  • In private, everyone is a “religious exclusivist” in the sense that we each think we know The Truth when it comes to religious matters. But we must not enforce that exclusivism on the public, because this is a democracy where all voices are permitted to have their say, not just one view exclusive of the rest.
  • In public, we should be “religious pluralists,” allowing each participant to bring their own religious views to the public forum as a true disclosure of their whole selves. These views about religious matters (whether secularism, Christianity, or Islam) should neither dominate nor be disallowed, because doing so would exclude views from the democracy. If we want to maintain a democracy, no view should be enforced to the exclusion of all others. NB: This goes for secularism just as much!

Example. In the early stages of “community organising,” it is important to bring together all affected parties, to hear each others’ stories. “Why are you interested in the treatment of refugees?” In answering the why question, people will often include their religious motivations, and then people can trust each other because of the religious motivation, not in spite of it. obama-teaching-community-organising1“Even though you come from a different religious exclusivism than me, I can understand and now see why you are as committed to this cause as I am.” Such public religious pluralism identifies why we can trust each other despite coming from such different viewpoints.

Public religious pluralism makes perfect sense. 

So why isn’t it happening? How often we have heard that politicians should keep their religious views to themselves, or that religion has no place in politics, or education, or media. We see education departments stay well out of religious education, and these days when in doubt, exclude RE. Media outlets are invariably awkward about religious views, falling back to the position of “as long as you keep your views private.” Why is religion so gagged in public life?

Perhaps the robust way of religious pluralism in public life is unknown to most public power-figures (those in public services and media).  This post is a small attempt to rectify that.

dem4NB: Excluding religious views from the public square, is a secularist form of religious exclusivism.

Example. In religious education, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc all greatly agree on the need for ethical religious education in public schools, and on the general ethics of doing it. It is a myth that we should avoid RE so as to not offend others. So who is spreading the myth and working to oust RE from public schools? Secularists! What is the only worldview left in public schools if RE is excluded? Secularism! This is unethical exclusivism.

Secularism is assumed to be the lowest common denominator of agreements among people, but in civic life secularism is too low a denominator to produce anything more than the law of the jungle. Dictatorkilled themostpeopleAnd just like any public exclusivism, secularist exclusivism in public life historically ends up persecuting dissenters, and more so than any other kind of exclusivism. Observe the repeated rise and fall of secularist communism: starts well-meaning, becomes exclusivist, the ends justify the means, persecutes, law of the jungle. Various ones who have lived through the rise of secularist exclusivism in Russia, and others from Germany are dismayed to see the same exclusivist pattern forming here in Australian public life as they saw during the rise of those secular sects.

And this is why pressure is rising here. Eventually those who are excluded will rise against the excluders. History shows that secularist exclusivism fails to increase secularism, it merely increases extremism, then the uprising occurs, has to be “put down,” and blood is shed. All because the powerful in public life failed to identify their own rising exclusivism, and failed to return religious pluralism to the public square.

To rise above this we need some values that are higher than the lowest common denominator, values which resist public exclusivism, and uphold public pluralism in democracy. We have to have a public sector that is open to all that protects the democracy itself.

Therefore we should publicly applaud those religious motifs which produce those democratic values. We should keep revisiting and encouraging them. According to Miroslav, such motifs are found in every religion. Well, I’m not expert enough in every religion, but I do know Christian motifs that give rise to this democratic freedom of religion:

Examples: Jesus’ words, “my Kingdom is not of this world,” stop us from nationalism and dominating others in public life – Christ is just not about setting up the nation of Christianity.
Plus, His words about us being salt and light in the world encourage us to have a blessing effect on the world by our good deeds. “All the commandments are summed up in these: love God and love your neighbour.”  

Such motifs motivate us to defend people’s freedom and resist exclusivism. And I do know that the history of Australia, as bad as it is, is blessed by the development of a democracy that was fundamentally Christian-based-and-improved. We should applaud and remember those Christian motifs in public.

However, such positive religious motifs are becoming increasingly gagged. The call is becoming more aggressive that “religion has no place in public life.” This is not the call of democracy. This is exclusivism. It is cancerous to democracy.

as-i-would-not-be-a-slaveso-i-would-not-be-a-masterthis-expresses-my-idea-of-democracy-democracy-quoteIt is time to re-open the doors to public religious pluralism, in government, services, media, education, even business discussions. And as we do, let’s concede that everyone is a religious exclusivist in private, but defend against religious exclusivism in public, and promote religious pluralism in support of democracy. And let’s applaud the religious motifs that produce and protect such democracy in the first place.

Please encourage your public servants, politicians, and media bosses, to share the religious motifs that build and safeguard democracy. Use this post.

If enough of them realise what is happening, and find each other soon enough, maybe the tide can change before we descend into another police state or war. Public religious pluralism is a much better way.

Further reading: here.

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