Saturday, February 27, 2016

Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Evangelical Christians were influential in determining the predictable outcome of the South Carolina GOP primary on February 20, when Donald Trump won with 32.5% of the vote, and Senator Ted Cruz came in third with 22.3%, for a combined 54.8% of the votes cast.  Trump was endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Jr. of Liberty University, and Cruz, the son of an evangelical pastor, was endorsed by Dr. James Dobson; and exit polls indicated that 74% of voters supported a ban on Muslim immigrants to the U.S.

            These statistics are not unique to S.C.  National polls indicate that Trump and Cruz have similar support nationwide from voters frustrated and angry with politics and fearful of immigrants, especially Muslims.  Religious polarization is on the rise in the U.S. and Europe with the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war, and it is exacerbated by the prediction that Islam will surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070.  To avoid further polarization and coexist in peace, Christians and Muslims must be reconciled with a common word of faith, freedom and politics.

            Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all religions of the book based on ancient scriptures that predated the advances in knowledge and secular political concepts of the Enlightenment.  Libertarian concepts have since transformed both politics and religions in the West, but not in the Islamic East where the virtue ethics of the Qur’an continue to define concepts of legitimacy (what is right).  The resulting conflicts in legitimacy are palpable, and they center on the role of freedom in both faith and politics.

            The fundamental freedoms of religion and speech are essential to both free will in religion and political freedom.  This requires that religious standards of legitimacy are voluntary moral standards and not coercive laws.  So long as religious rules are voluntary and not imposed by law on others, they do not inhibit the freedom of belief or political freedoms.  But when virtue ethics are dictated by ancient scriptures and imposed by law they deny both free will in religion and the fundamental freedoms defined in the U.S. Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

            The true virtue of any faith is based on what its believers voluntarily choose to do, not on what they are coerced to do by law.  Libertarian democracy allows believers the right to shape their own government and make their own laws, but theocracies do not.  Islamic law, or Shari’a, denies fundamental freedoms with apostasy and blasphemy laws.  In the U.S. political freedom has been taken to the extreme by emphasizing individual rights to the exclusion of providing for the common good.  The rights of freedom must be balanced with the responsibility to provide for the common good, or the virtues of both faith and freedom are lost.

            The virtue ethics of Judaism are defined by Mosaic Law and those of Islam defined by Shari’a.  Jesus was a Jew, but his teachings emphasized love over law in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—even our unbelievingneighbors—as we love ourselves.  And Paul affirmed that love is the fulfilment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).  Only the altruistic love for others can reconcile conflicting standards of legitimacy and virtue ethics.   

            Fundamentalist Muslims, or Islamists, have prevented both free will in faith and political freedom by using government powers to enforce Shari’a, including its apostasy and blasphemy laws and laws that discriminate against women and non-Muslims.  Fundamentalist evangelical Christians have gone to the other extreme and used exaggerated concepts of individual freedom to ignore the role of government to provide for the common good, including care for the poor and needy.  Both Muslims and Christians need to balance the requirements of faith and freedom with the moral imperative to love God and love their neighbors as they love themselves.

            Jews, Christians and Muslims must learn to balance the conflicting concepts of individual freedom with providing for the common good in both their faith and their politics.  If and when those people of the book can put love over law and apply the greatest commandment to love God and their unbelieving neighbors as they love themselves, then they can begin to reconcile their religious differences and learn live together in peace.             

Notes and References to Resources:          

Previous blogs on related topics are: Religion and Reason, December 8, 2015; Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love Over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today?, January 25, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil?, February 15, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, The Kingdom of God, Politics and the Church, March 15, 2015; May 10, 2015; God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty, March 29, 2015; Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, April 12, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, June 21, 2015; The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing, June 7, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities, August 9, 2015; How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights, August 16, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; What Is Truth?, August 30, 2015; Politics and Religious Polarization, September 20, 2015; The Power of Freedom over Fear, September 12, 2015; God in Three Concepts, January 2, 2016; Who Is My Neighbor?, January 23, 2016; The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves, January 30, 2016; The Evolution of Faith, Religion and Spirituality, February 20, 2016; and Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics, February 7, 2016.

Suggested readings on the evolution of the American religion in matters of faith and politics: Harold Bloom, The American Religion, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1992; Mark Noll, America’s God, Oxford University Press, 2002; Stephen Prothero, American Jesus, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 2003; Jon Meacham, American Gospel, Random House, NY, 2006; Matthew Paul Turner, Our Great Big American God, Jericho Books, NY, 2014.

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