Lately, the issue whether the American government was founded on human reason or on Divine Authority has come back to the public discussion forum, and the perennial argument between the Liberals and the Traditionalists has been revived. The Liberals assert that the Framers of the Constitution deliberately omitted any mention of God in the text in order to assign supreme governmental power to “We the People”. No Deity inspired any part of the Constitution.
The Traditionalists (or the religious rights proponents) counter this argument by saying that “In the 1780s Divine omnipotence was considered a “given”; therefore, the Framers had no need to acknowledge God in the Constitution as His dominion was self-evident in everything”. Obviously, the Framers felt that as government officials they had a constitutionally mandated obligation to devise public policies based not on religious interests, but on a secular concept of public good. Every American citizen must be free to pursue his or her moral vision in the American society.
Admittedly, the European culture and civil progress of our times have grown from Christianity. The Renaissance, Humanism, Age of Discovery, Reformation, Enlightenment…all have roots in Christian Europe. Art and science have flourished in the service of Christianity.
However, in addition to the religious roots of Europe there is another equally important dimension in the evolution of the European culture, and it is the humanistic inheritance. It finds expression in the Roman and the Greek civilizations. Therefore, Europe’s identity is a whole, it cannot be separated or divided; it is anchored in its history and in its authentic values – secular and religious.
Actually, secularism is a Christian concept. Some attribute the seeds of Secularism to Jesus Christ. In Matthew 22:21 Christ is quoted as saying, “Render unto to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Thus, separating the divine and the temporal. Secularist notion first emerged in the Protestant countries of northern Europe, and then it was given legal and constitutional status in the United States. In a letter dated 1689, John Locke, the English philosopher (1632-1704) states that, “Neither pagan, nor Muhammedan, nor a Jew ought to be excluded from the Civil Rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” This document, in English and Latin, clearly separates the sacred and the temporal.
The goal of Secularism is not to eradicate religion from public conscience, but to prevent the state from lending its coercive power to any upholder of a specific belief. The following quotation from Professor Bernard Lewis, the eminent scholar of the Middle East, supports this notion. “Separation of church and state is designed to prevent two things. First, the use of religion by the state to reinforce and extend its authority; and second, the use of state power by the clergy to impose their doctrine and rules on others.” In European history there are reflections from this wisdom. In mid- seventeen century it dawned on Christians thinkers that long and bitter struggles and wars of religion with other faiths as well as the sectarian wars with fellow Christians of other churches were caused by religious intolerance. It dawned on the Christian world that only with the separation of the ecclesiastical affairs and the mundane the adherents of rival churches or different faiths could live side-by-side in peace. In fact, in 1648 the European countries signed the Treaty of Westphalia that brought an end to such wars.
Secularism is an alien concept outside the Judeo-Christian belief. For instance, Islam abhors Secularism. Prophet Muhammad was a soldier and statesman in addition to his mission as a prophet. He combined the state and the religion in his person. Islam is concerned with the “whole” life. The state is God’s state, the law is God’s law, the Army is God’s army, and the enemy is God’s enemy. As there are no two entities to be separated, religious and political authorities are one and the same; therefore, the word and the concept of Secularism are meaningless to Muslims. Not only that, the following pairs of terms expressing Christian dichotomy are alien to Islam: Lay and Ecclesiastical, Spiritual and Temporal, Secular and Sacred.
In that connection an anecdote from the Turkish history is meaningful. In 1923, when Ataturk founded the new Turkish Republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire he held a press conference with several foreign and local journalists and newspapermen. A French journalist asked Ataturk:
“What is the religion of your new state?” It was a “loaded” question to trick Ataturk into admitting in public that the new state was a theocratic state. But Ataturk was too sophisticated to fall for such a ploy; besides, he was an ultimate secularist. He used the occasion to proclaim to the world that the new state was a secular Republic. He responded:
“State is not a person, it is a legal entity; so it can not have a religion. People who make up the state do have religion. We are a laic Republic (He used the French term for “secular”). Within our State there are various communities from different faiths, all with the same equal, civil and human rights accorded by the state. So, talking of a state religion does not make any sense; besides, favoring or promoting a certain religion would sow the seeds of alienation among our citizens, which is detrimental to our unity and cohesion. Religion is a private matter, strictly personal. Whereas our state is a communal and societal body. ”
Islam is still far behind this enlightenment. It desperately needs a Martin Luther, a courageous voice to give Islam an impetus. Until the Muslim nations achieve an Islamic Protestantism that rejuvenates Islam, and rescue it from the clutches of ignorant mullahs, Islam will keep its antiquated status in the foreseeable future.
By: Ayhan Ozer