Sunday, April 19, 2009

Churches are largely at odds with Western Democracy

We often see criticism levelled against religion as being ‘an enemy of science’.

But rarely do we see religion called ‘the enemy of democracy’ & when we do, the focus is often on Islam.

Westerners are quick to criticise regimes such as Iran, which inter-weave politics & religion, and over-look what is going on in their own backyards.

The very foundation of modern secular world is that broad term we call democracy.

That’s people, getting to have a say about their future – not solely politicians and church leaders.

Have you ever stopped to think, that the political system we embrace is the antithesis of that which operates in the dominant religions operating in the world?

It’s not just the Middle-East where religious groups repress freedom.

To properly analyise what this, we need to take a look at the political structures of the major Churches to see how they operate, and then reflect on the compatibility with the freedoms we enjoy living in a secular democracy(cut and pasted off The BBC’s page on Religion, for the benefit of the theists, who always question my sources)

CATHOLIC CHURCH: the hierarchical nature of Catholicism sets it apart from other Christian churches. It is a pyramid with the Pope at the top, followed by cardinals (who have the right to elect a new pope on the death of the current incumbent), archbishops, bishops, priests and laity. All major decisions rest with the Pope and his advisors.

ISLAM: Today there are significant differences in the structures and organisation of religious leadership in the Sunni and the Shi'a communities. There is a hierarchy to the Shi'a clergy and political and religious authority is vested in the most learned who emerge as spiritual leaders. These leaders are transnational and religious institutions are funded by religious taxes called Khums (20% of annual excess income) and Zakat (2.5%). Shi'a institutions abroad are also funded this way. There is no such hierarchy of the clergy in Sunni Islam. Most religious and social institutions in Sunni Muslim states are funded by the state. Only Zakat is applicable. In the West most Sunni Muslim institutions are funded by charitable donations from the community at home and abroad.

Catholicism and Islam are the two dominant religions on this planet, and which one of the two, operates on a democratic basis?

The short answer is, neither.

Were, ‘brownie points’ to be issued for ‘democratic traits’ the Islamic system, would secure more, but both churches are variants of what we know as dictatorships, one on a macro level, one on a micro-level.

The system the Catholic Church functions under bears a striking resemblance to European fascist regimes of the 1930’s , except I guess you could argue, those historic dictators first came to power via the democratic system, voted for by the people not a small cliché of clergy.

The irony here is, despite running a totalitarian regime, The Catholic Church relies on ‘freedom of religion’ for its very existence, along with complaisant followers, who don’t have the fortitude, or are too scared to question ‘the system’.

For example evidently New Zealand’s Catholics are happy with edicts to ban contraception, stop stem-cell research etc.

The reason of course, no garden-variety Catholic would come out and say openly “I think condoms would prevent AIDS in Africa” at local parish level is - no one would listen anyway!

Even if 99% of Catholic parishioners worldwide believed supporting the distribution of condoms in Africa, was the correct action to take given the circumstances – those in Rome’s corridors of power, could or would ignore the will of the people.

Why should the non-Catholics amongst us, grant special privileges, like a tax-free life-style, to a group that wants to play by its own rules, and rejects the very system we ‘spilled blood’ to keep?

So why does secular society, like here in New Zealand, allow groups in our midst to operate outside the bounds we consider to be fair, for the rest of us?

Allows them to set-up a sepearte schooling system, that selects children on the basis of their parents religion?

The N.Z National Front can’t come-out and say “we don’t want none of them Jews n’ blacks”, without facing state sanction.

Yet, the same state authorities endorse sexism in Churches up and down the country, by taking the default position.

Even if The N.Z Government, made it illegal for Churches to select employees in a non-sexist fashion – the Churches in New Zealand don’t take orders from the state anyway!

Their mandate comes from overseas, exploiting the very freedoms, that they themselves reject outright.

Churches also ‘play politics’ in the public arena when it suits them.

This is not to say, all Churches operate in a totalitarian fashion, many have embraced democracy and the ability for the people to have a say has seen the ordination of woman, relaxation on discrimination against homosexuals etc, and a whole raft of liberalisms - all born of a groundswell from its followers.

So therefore, political pressure can be placed upon those in charge of religious entities, where a system of democracy exists within the Church itself.

But, where a Church rejects democracy outright, society must start asking questions –“why are we letting them get away with this, under the name of religion?”

So should the adherents question the morality of sexism and facism - if they had any fortitude and spine – which patently they don’t.


binSchmidt said...

1) Are universities also against Western democracy, because they're governed by the Vice-Chancellor and his cronies, who are appointed, not elected by students and staff? To say that an institution is against democratic principles simply because that institution doesn't itself have a democratic structure is surely a mistake!

2)I believe some churches have long had significant democratic channels for their congregants; for instance, the Presbyterian church.

3) In many cases it's actually the church leaders who are the liberals in the church. For instance, Lloyd Geering, formerly a prominent Pressie churchman, was tried for heresy by the aforementioned NZ Presbyterian Church in the 60s, probably largely as a result of the more Fundamentalist/Orthodox views of the laity as compared to the theological school-educated church leaders.

The comment about the tax-free status of churches is a fair point' although you misleadingly rhetorically question why 'non-Catholics' would want to extend tax-free status to the church (the answer is simple, because non-Catholics might like tax-free status for their own religious and charitable groups), but generally I think you're quite unfair to call the church 'against democracy'!

Canterbury Atheists said...

Hi there,

I have passed comment that some churches have embraced democracy and the natural flow-on is change.

Prime example is The Presbyterian Church.

Sorry I can’t see the link between the University and Churches analogy you give, since educational institutions are run locally and not part of a worldwide network, who issue instructions ‘from high’.

No one can tell me the system of governance The Catholic Church employs is in the slightest ‘democratic’ in its truest sense.

Thanks for your comments.


binSchmidt said...

No, I'd agree with you that the Catholic Church isn't governed democratically.

When you're at a university it certainly seems like campus decisions are made 'on high' with little or no regard for the average student! In both cases there are self-proclaimed 'experts', on uni governance or on theology, apparently making arbitrary decisions about the whole group.

I'd be quite angry if the government took away parent's rights to have their children educated according to their own values and philosophy. Of course we need to have a reasonable consensus about what things can be taught in schools - we might object to racism, fascism, or homophobia - but I think banning religious schools completely would amount to dictatorship by the majority, not liberal democracy.

Lucyna Maria said...

This is a very disturbing post, Paul.

Historically, when Catholics start being considered enemies of the state (enemy of democracy being just another incarnation of the same fear), persecution normally follows.

I can give you many examples, if you can't find them yourself.

Is that what you are advocating?

Canterbury Atheists said...

I gather you don’t find the concepts of freedom of speech, democracy in secular life equally disturbing LM?

It’s not just only when you enter you local church you find it perfectly acceptable to be considered a 2nd class citizen and having no say in anything going on.

You are happy with a system of misogynistic fascism with-in the church of your parents.

Democracy is the enemy of Catholicism and unless it’s membership rises-up and demands change, you deserve both my and societies derision.

Off biking - see ya.


Andrei said...

Hey Paul;
Nobody forces anyone to be a Roman Catholic - its a choice. That pesky free will thing.

This is not rocket science.

Canterbury Atheists said...

Gidday there Andrei,

99% of Catholics are Catholics because their parents made them one as kids.

Where's the choice in that?

That’s how you ‘became’ a Catholic, eh?

It’s that pesky indoctrination thing, mate.

You didn’t get a say on what religion you belong to, and have been educated from a toddler to ignore all its foibles.

You were taught fascist dictatorships are the done thing in Church circles, and to do what the 80 year-old virgin ex-Nazi tells you – or burn in hell for eternity.

And what is the punishment for departing ‘the one true church’ – again, it’s burning in hell for eternity business (the punishment to fit all crimes).

Great how, Churches can get away with psychological abuse on a mass scale and teach this to kids.

‘Free will’ and ‘Catholic Church’ put side by side are oxymoron’s.

The great shame is more Catholics don’t use, what I consider to be their own, free-will to think for themselves, and make their own decisions in life.

Thanks for your comments.