Friday, May 25, 2012

Should religions be removed from the public sphere?

This picture is powerful. If there is no religion, the World Trade Center's twin towers will still be around. But there are two questions we need to ask. 

First, is religion really the cause, or something else? In other words, did the terrorists flew the planes into the towers merely because their religion commanded them to do that, or there were other factors  that drove the terrorists to understand their religion in the way they have understood it?

Second, even if religion is the cause, should the society get rid of it from its public life? Let's assume for the sake of argument that there were no other factors affecting the terrorists' understanding of their religion besides the inherent destructive character of the religion. Does this mean that, therefore, religions must be excluded from the society's public life? Is this really the solution?

Professor Christoph Stückelberger, the founder and Executive Director of, recently alerted politicians not to banish religions from the public sphere just because they appeared as a source of conflict. 

"If you exclude religion, you don't solve the problem, you just postpone it," said Stückelberger. "Often it comes back in violent and fundamentalist ways, so it is better to integrate it now."

This was what John Gray has written in his book:
Those who demand that religion be exorcized from politics think this can be achieved by excluding traditional faiths from public institutions; but secular creeds are formed from religious concepts, and the suppressing religion does not mean it ceases to control thinking and behaviour. Like repressed sexual desire, faith returns, often in grotesque forms, to govern the lives of those who deny it.
(John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia [UK: Penguin, 2007], p.190.)


Martin Yee said...

Interesting post. Luther have always insisted that religion be removed from the public sphere, hence the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. the church should not be involved in politics - period! Christians can and should involve in politics (civil realm) but not the church itself (spiritual realm).

Whether religion is good or bad depends on how a person interprets data. Through the eye of faith, it gives meaning, life and hope for now and the hereafter. Through the eyes of unbelief religion is bad and contributed to senseless wars and ripped apart nations and communities. that is why Jesus said the eye is a lamp to the soul. The Apostle John talks about the lust of the eyes which Raymond Brown interprets as looking at things on the surface and not knowing its true substance. Just a thot.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Martin,

Rightly said that our eyes influence how we see religions.

Regarding whether Christians or the Church should involved in politics, I think that the rule of thumb is that any kind of involvement has to depend on the requirement of the situation.

In some situations, the Church has to get involved, if not being dragged into involvement. For eg. when emperor Theodosius I massacred thousands of people in a town, Ambrose the bishop of Milan issued a condemnation on the emperor in a ecclesiastical council and barred him from communion. A form of war-crime trial. Ambrose acted representing the Church to remind the emperor that though he was the ruler, yet human lives were ultimately valuable because they are creatures of God.

At other times such as when the 'German Christians' movement was out to assimilate Church life into Nazism, the Confessing Church emerged to respond to such hegemony.