Politics and The Bible
The rise of the religious right in America since the late 1970s has given serious consideration to the role of religion in the politics of a nation built upon the separation of church and state. It is therefore worth exploring what the relationship between religion and the Bible is exactly.
Of course, there will always be those who can find Biblical support for any issue. For example, in the Antebellum South, Scripture was used to justify slavery. One of the most succinct statements regarding politics in the Bible is Romans 13:1, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." If one were to stop with that particular verse, it is entirely possible to interpret the Bible as being pro-secular authority. Instead, St. Paul was noting how God ruled over even secular authorities, as "those that exist have been instituted by God." However, Acts 5:29 seems to directly contradict Paul, where Peter declares, "We must obey God rather than men."
This topic would make an excellent research paper on politics and the Bible. Some other topic suggestions are as follows:
- How has religion affected politics in the United States in History?
- How does religion influence the current state of politics in the United States?
- Why do we now ignore the constitutional separation of church and state?
Perhaps even more important, nowhere in the Bible is there any exhortation towards political behavior. The idea that is constantly raised is that faithful individuals should remain above earthly affairs. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," Jesus told the crowd. This about as close that the Bible gets to politics. Here, Jesus was advising earthly affairs, in this case taxes, to be submitted, but with the realization that there are more important values to follow.
Politics, Religion and the Middle East
Although both Muslims and Christians wanted to expand the role of religion in public life, this was generally a peaceful process, characterized by the appearance of Islamic banks and corporations and the growth in Sufi activities. The Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate organization, looking to the political process to achieve its aims. In the 1980's, however, a number of fundamentalist splinter groups began to appear who advocated the violent overthrow of the government.Their beliefs were largely based on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in 1966 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate President Nassar. These splinter groups have initiated a terrorist campaign, most recently aimed at tourism, in an effort to destabilize the economy and thereby discredit the government. The movement is particularly strong in the south of Egypt, where a low level insurgency has continued since 1995.
Egypt's attempt to include religious factions in the political process does not satisfy those individuals who will be satisfied only by the full integration of Islamic and civil law. This conflicts with the sovereignty of the people on which the modern nation-state is based. The more repressive approach to government found in Saudi Arabia faces similar difficulties when determining the extent to which religion will influence government.
The Saudi royal family has tightly controlled the government since the nation achieved independence. Its policy has been to balance the pro-Western orientation necessary for economic development with the requirements of Islamic law. Although religion played no direct role in politics, the ruling Al Saud family has traditionally recognized it as an element in their power base. As a result, much of Saudi civil law incorporates elements of Islamic law. To minimize the influence of religion, however, the Saudi government emphasizes nationalism. As in Egypt, the rise of fundamentalism led to dissatisfaction with the degree of religious involvement in the affairs of government. An early manifestation of dissidence was the seizure of the Kaba in 1979 by fundamentalists, which the government quickly suppressed.
In 1992, the royal family responded to increasing demands for popular representation by forming the Consultative Council as an appointed advisory body. While this does not provide for elected representative, it does provide a forum for the two developing political factions of the nations to express their growing criticism of the government. The pro-Western liberals contend that the authorities are too severe and are hampering the modernization of the nation. The Islamic fundamentalists, in contrast, call for even greater severity in order to build a more Muslim oriented government. While the ruling family recognizes that it cannot maintain its autocratic rule indefinitely, it remains reluctant to offer these sharply polarized factions a greater degree of autonomy. In both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, religion forms an important element of the debate concerning democracy and the legitimacy of the current political systems. Most citizens remain moderate on the issue of religion, believing that it should play some role in civil affairs, but not necessarily the dominant role. Nonetheless, the possibility remains that the status quo in both nations could be destabilized by an economic downturn, which would weaken the credibility of the liberal and moderate factions.