Separation of organized religion and state

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries” (James Madison). Is violence inevitable without a separation of organized religion and state?

Does religion cause violence or does it bring peace? It is a topic that has been debated for centuries. I think it is a subjective issue for which we may not be able to come up with a definite answer. Throughout history we have seen numerous wars and violence committed in the name of religion. But we have also witnessed peace and harmony among people brought by religious values. However, one thing is for sure;; countries that have kept the state and religion separate, seem to be doing comparatively better in terms of prosperity and peace. A good example is the majority of Western world where the church does not interfere in state affairs.

On the other hand, countries whose governments are significantly or entirely controlled by religion, seem to be struggling with maintaining peace and prosperity for their people. Today, the violence in many countries such as those in the middle east, Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to be rooted in religious beliefs and religious differences. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are fighting to regain Islamic sharia law in the country. In Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, it’s the different Islamic factions that are fighting each other for superiority like the Daesh or other Islamic militant groups.

We still here news about the reports of legal or illegal stoning-to-death of the convicts of adultery or homosexuality, or chopping hands in religion-driven states. In middle-east, where states are run in accordance to Quran and Sharia, religion is believed to be God’s word and its sole purpose is guiding humanity towards peace and prosperity. States and groups in Middle East, Africa and Asia, who has God’s name on their flags, allows themselves to do all types of inhuman crimes and violence driven by religious motivation. In this essay, I intend to explain that how a religious state might be unable to prevent violence and maintain justice.
Today, we live in a world where different countries and societies have various religious views and some have none, however; the state has to work with all of them. A state driven by religion, will have tendencies for expanding and imposing its own version of religious believes on its citizens in the first place, and then on minorities and other nationals, by using force or military. The history books talk about the birth of religions as somewhat peacefully, yet; most of them have eventually led to violence. This is because religions, especially the Abrahamic religions, favor themselves against other groups. The beliefs of purity and righteousness in these religions leads them to commit violence against one another.

In Islam, Muslims are taught that their religion is the seal of all religions, meaning that Islam was introduced to combine all other religions into one final version i.e. Islam. This belief led Muslims to fight other groups and religions who did not accept Islam as the ultimate religion. Muslims, as they believed, tried to impose God’s will which was to bring all humanity under the umbrella of Islam. Muslims fought wars for this purpose which were called Jihad, or fighting in the way of God. Countries like Saud and Iran, who are known for Wahabi Islam and Shia Islam, still tend to promote and sponsor violence against one another in the name of Islam, and promote their version of religion. Prior to Islam, the holy wars in early Christianity or crusades also caused significant violence in the name of religion.

God in Quran encourages Muslims to impose the Sharia law with punishments which in today’s world can only be considered inhuman, such as beheading, stoning, imputation of hand, public lashing and toppling of the wall on the convict; for the crimes of homosexuality, apostasy, blasphemy and theft. In civil life, Islam gives men dominance over women and encourages domestic violence if women are disobedient. It does not accept the present day human rights. Similar is the case of other religions such as Christianity and Judaism with violence ingrained in its scriptures and religious teachings.

If we look objectively and realistically, we will note that most of the violence is focused in Muslim countries. It seems majority of the countries where the dominant religion is Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism etc, do not see as much violence as we see in the Muslim world. What is the reason for this? If we are arguing that religions cause violence, why do we see most of the violence concentrated only in Muslim countries? There could be two explanations for this. First, religion may be causing violence in places where people are suffering economically. In economies where a small group of people have a large amount of wealth, other deprived groups feel unfairly treated. This might lead them to use their religious beliefs to fight for their rights, such as waging Jihad, and as a result they will be causing violence.

The other reason could be lack of education and awareness, in particular about religions. If the scripture and text of any religion is taken literally, it could cause or lead to violence whether it is Islam, Christianity or any other religion. But if people have better education, they will be able to understand the context and history of each religion and accordingly interpret it. There would be little chance for violence if people had better knowledge of their religions, and this can only come through higher level of education.

To summarize, diversified world of today where societies and individuals practice different religions or do not practice any religion, a state with an organized religion, regardless of its name and nature will have tendencies to commit violence against its own citizens or minorities in the name of religion. The degree of violence may vary, but all of such states have tendencies to expand its own believes and impose it on others. The violence, either physical or mental, is inhuman. The goal of a state is to ensure its people are safe and have access to human rights regardless of their race and religion; this could only be achieved if religion is separate from state. And for that to happen, I think it is important to first provide equal education and economic opportunities to all people. This will help them develop a broader and more contextual understanding of their religions. Once they have that level of knowledge, like we see in most western countries, they will be able to accept that religion should be kept separate from state, for the sake of peoples’ harmony.

Write By: Umar Haideri

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