After the European Enlightenment and the Jeffersonian inclusions in Virginia’s early constitution, we in the West began to think that the “separation of church and state” is a universally valid principle—even if it’s not universally accepted. Part of the initial bargain that made this principle and secular government secure was that the secular state would guarantee “freedom of religion”:
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
” II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Secular government, promoted first by Thomas Jefferson in the state of Virginia, eventually enshrined that freedom as first among rights listed in the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution), and the protection of competing religions from one other became one of the responsibilities of secular democracies. This did not happen overnight. Nine of the first 13 states on the North American continent still specifically promoted the Christian religion at the time of the first “American Revolution”.
Protecting freedom of religion is not likely to be a function of government that is founded on the principles of a particular religion. A national constitution that specifically embraces one particular religion, even if it states that it will protect other religious believers, is not convincing enough to be effective as a basis for a democratic government.
Article 10 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)
No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order as established by law.
Nor can a political party that is based in a particular religion govern convincingly as a guarantor of “freedom of religion” which is, in fact, an established element among all the elements that together define democracy. Elections, even if by secret ballot, do not by themselves constitute democracy. Egypt, therefore, did not have a democracy. What failed in Egypt was the superficial appearance of democracy, and this is or should rightly be alarming to those in the West whose alleged democracies have been so corrupted as to be at present only the ghostlike appearance of a democratic process.
These “ghost democracies” in the West and elsewhere (you know who you are) are fooling no one. Without significant reform, it is only a matter of time before they, too, go the way of Egypt, and their collapse may be more immanent than most citizens of the world realize.
U. S. Bill of Rights (1791)
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;“
There is another factor in the fall of the so-called democratic government of Egypt that is relevant abroad. The increasing stress on national sovereignty from environmental change and from the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is gradually and inexorably making the international framework of sovereign states untenable. Even their controlled mass media, high tech spy agencies, secret weapon stocks, drones and guided missiles; in fact, the whole enormous expense of maintaining military and police forces to protect illegitimate hierarchies of wealth and power, cannot save them forever.
But the general decline of a rationale supporting national sovereignty is largely a background reason for the difficulties in Egypt and elsewhere. “Authentic democracy” is the new idea whose time is coming. Its boundaries are not national boundaries. It is growing in the minds of people everywhere, and we better support it or get out of the way. The cleansing of the temples of corrupt power may have only come about rarely in the past, but it is likely to become the norm of the future.
The case of Egypt is particularly instructive, however, because it is topical and because it was so highly touted, along with Iraq, as a compelling example of the trend toward transformations of dictatorship into democracy. Unfortunately, it appears that those who most loudly proclaimed the universal victory of democracy not only do not understand the nature of democracy or the power of people but also do not understand how transparent their self-serving policies have become.
Let us look more closely, now, at the relationship between democracy and religion. That relationship is vitally important, because they are both so fundamental to the principal dilemma of the human condition, that is, to the problems of how we govern ourselves at each level of our existence.
Authentic secular democracy is based on the Enlightenment idea that human health, reason, and intelligence are enough to enable our species to govern itself. The proclamations of those who claimed divine rights to be king or queen and the claims of absolute truth revealed by God via special channels extended only to certain individuals were thus deemed as unreliable bases for human law and self-government. Faith was thus replaced by reason and science, and generally, governments did improve as a result.
The logic of faith says that: if [XYZ] says A is true, then A is true.
The logic of reason, science, and secular government on the other hand, says that: if A is tested very carefully and found to be true by more than one or a few reasonable persons, then A is possibly or even probably true.
Faith is the basis of both religion and dictatorship. Dictators demand faith in their allegedly superior human wisdom and power. Religions are based especially on faith in preternaturally-revealed truth. Faith is, in fact, based on a type of logic that is intrinsic to the evolution of both mind and society, and faith has promoted survival often enough to have survived as a simple form of logic.
But the logic of faith is very different from the logic of reason and science which evolved later and with greater success. The logic of faith is ultimately conducive to the type of totalitarianism that we see in Iran, its trading partner North Korea, and in the militant, extremist factions that form on the periphery of every major religion. If God is all-powerful, so wise that his wisdom surpasses human understanding, all-protective of his true believers, and if your family and/or friends believe that God wants them to kill nonbelievers, then the only thing that the faithful can do, despite misgivings and perhaps a divided conscience, is to ignore doubt and obey God.
Sadly, now, we must say that this same logic of faith, if applied as absolute faith in one’s tribal or national government can lead to similar conclusion. The democratic way, however, is for individuals, groups, and political parties to think, reason, and protest any policy that is offensive to the democratic mind. While such lack of congenial cooperation may be frowned upon, or even characterized as treason by so-called democratic governments, in a theocracy it is regarded as disobedience to the absolute rule of an all-wise, all- knowing God and is punishable in the form of death by stoning, beheading, or other forms of public execution and/or dismemberment. Which form of logic do you want to govern your life now and in the future?
To sum, the idea of democracy goes deep and has not failed.