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In the earlier times, people and society were under immense influence of religion. Religion controlled the governance of a society, people’s actions and even the way people led their lives. It was until the eighteenth century that a group against religion having so much power over people emerged. The movement was the enlightenment group. They believed that human beings could reason and survive on their own without relying on religion. Religion has also played a role in politics even in today’s world. This essay will focus on religious beliefs in contrast to enlightenment beliefs and hoe religion can hinder democracy.
The enlightenment era brought about new values and beliefs.
The most significant contribution of enlightenment though was that it introduced human reasoning. People around the world were relying on reasoning rather than religious beliefs (Freely, 2008). This immensely affected religion and the church, the beliefs that the church had preached to be truth fell under the test. For instance, the belief about the sun revolving around the earth, which scientist using reason proved to be wrong.
Enlightenment believes in individuals having truth and reasoning under their control. This means that human beings should reason independently and to make their own decisions. It is also upon the individual to judge what the truth according to their reasoning is and what it is not. This gives people freedom and enables them to engage in more productive activities than it was initially.
On the contrary, religion dictated what the truth was in the days before enlightenment. It also gave restrictions on what an individual could do or not do. The way the church operated was that it kept people in darkness concerning some matters. This limited the freedom that individuals experienced in societies. The values that religion advocated for was the belief in higher authorities and in following their orders to the point.
Another example of an enlightenment value is that every man is equal. This then gives individuals the freedom to seek their own happiness in every possible way. This value believes that every man has an equal opportunity to this world and that he or she should strive to achieve his fulfilment in this world. This gave human beings the freedom to pursue the things that made them happy in the world.
This was a shift from what the church teachings. This is so especially for the Christians who believe that their happiness is not of the earth but rather found in another lifetime. This, therefore, renders Christians to endure suffering in the world and not search for happiness. These oppressing beliefs enacted by the church will result into a person suffering during their lifetime and not finding happiness in life.
The above are just examples of enlightenment values that intellectuals introduced bi intellectuals to oppose the normalcy that had been developing. Enlightenment though proposes three main ideas and subjects, which revolve around the movement of enlightenment. These ideas are individualism, relativism, and rationality. To demonstrate the influence that enlightenment had on religion, the essay will focus on the three key ideas proposed by enlightenment movement.
Relativism, individualism, and rationality
The beginning of the enlightenment movement began on the focus on the individual. The values that enlightenment proposed focussed on helping the individual. The philosophers of the enlightenment were more concerned on the individual’s rights and freedom. The new proposed values focussed on making the individual attain material things and live comfortably.
Enlightenment stressed on the individual as having inborn right, which he was, supposed to exercise (Freely, 2008). Individualism caused individuals to pursue their own future without caring about the other individuals. Enlightenment wanted to see the individual rise to levels that he or she had not imagined. This notion was to eradicate the group or community consideration before acting.
This aspect of enlightenment started to thrive in every part of the society. In politics, people began to act on individual desires and ambitions. This also must have also thrived in the economic region. Karl Marx believes that individualism that led to capitalism. This was evident in the fact that the bourgeoisie did not care about the workers. Individualism also thrived in art and even in literature.
Individualism is an aspect highly reprimanded by the Islamic religion. In Islam, they preach against individualism and instead advocate for oneness and group aspect. An individual cannot survive in Islam on his or her own. This was one of the reasons that individualism was not able to penetrate the Islamic religion. On the other hand, in Christianity, individualism prospered. This became heightened by the Protestants break from the Catholic Church. Individuals then began to see that they could survive on their own. Protestants also promoted the materialism theme, which encouraged people to attain materials for their own benefit.
The second idea that enlightenment promoted was relativism. This meant that there was universality in people’s culture, belief, and ideas. It emphasized that no culture in the world was superior to the other. It gave all cultures and people’s beliefs around the world equal opportunity. This idea contrasted with the different beliefs attached to the different religious groups (Freely, 2008). Groups such as the Jews strongly believed that their culture and beliefs were superior to the other religious groups. This even differed from one country to another. For example, the Church of England had differences with the Roman Catholic Church. Enlightenment eliminated this difference and equated cultural beliefs and ideas across the world as having the same merit.
The third idea proposed by the enlightenment movement was rationalism. In fact, the basis of enlightenment is rooted in rationalism and reasoning of an individual. This aspect believed and encouraged that human beings should use reasoning to gain the truth. It was against the individual relying on the truth put forth especially by the religious groups. The truth that individuals attained through reasoning was then to be used to make humans lead a better life.
Initially, knowledge about the phenomenon and happenings in the world became explained using faith, revelation, and even strong beliefs in what religion proposed. People believed in what they were told or what became revealed to them as being the truth. In this period, there was no room for reasoning as to whether the truth was indeed the truth. On the other hand, enlightenment introduced the basics for knowledge as logic and reasoning.
This is in contrast especially to the Islamic religion, which heavily relies on religious beliefs and faith in order to gain knowledge. Islam teachings believe knowledge emanates from spirituality. The values of enlightenment may have even contributed to the formation of religious state. Enlightenment values led to secular states that separate religion from politics entirely.
Separation of governments and religion
Enlightenment values contributed largely to the secularisation of politics. Politics shifted from authority from God and from those that God had bestowed upon power. Individuals who came up with rational ideas about governing the country replaced crowns and aristocracy. Individuals proposing to offer rights to every citizen began to form, and this was the emergence of government.
The history of government and religion began at an early age. In those early times when one became a leader, they took up both political and up religious roles. During these times, the kings and leaders ruled with the advice or consent of the church. If critical decisions arose, the church was to be consulted on its ground on the decision.
On the other hand, the state even supported and enacted rules of the church. If the church condemned adultery, it was upon the state and its powers to execute the punishment upon the adulterers. There existed a mutual relationship between the state and the church. This began to change with time, as there emerged a division of the society into two spheres. This was the secular and the spiritual sphere.
One of the first proponents of state existing different from religion was James Madison. He began this debate of separating the state from religion. His main argument was that religion was a choice of an individual (Jefferson, Madison, & Brenner, 2004). He argued that religion was a duty that people owe to the authorities above. Additionally, for this duty to be fulfilled, individuals must be set free to reason and give their duty voluntary. He opposed forcing people into religion without their consent.
Madison though was adamantly against religion that constrained or limited the existence of democracy. He proposed that zero tolerance upon such a religion. According to him, an ideal society was one that allowed individuals liberty to choose the religion they wanted to practice. Consequently, religion had no influence whatsoever on the government.
Madison gives examples of the earlier roman government that portrays an example of state and religion (Jefferson, Madison, & Brenner, 2004). It is from these earlier times that we are able to see that the state and religion cannot exist harmoniously. One way or another it will lead to a conflict and sufferance on individuals. The government may fail to protect individuals from religion if the two are in existence. This was the main reason why Madison advocated for separation between the state and religion.
The reasons for the two remaining separate include; first, separation of religion and state enhances individual’s rights. This is because the government as a separate entity will provide for the rights of individuals without the influence of religion. These rights will even include rights for freedom of religion. This means that an individual is free to choose what religion to follow. This is contrary to if the state and religion existed as one as in many Islamic countries, there would be a lack of freedom of religion. This would result to almost all individuals in such a state belonging to the Muslim religion.
Second, separation of state from religion prevents discrimination of the minority religion. If a government that experiences influence from religion is ruling a state, it may result in oppressing the minority religion. This situation has occurred in countries leading even to conflict between religions. For example, if in a country dominated by Christianity, and the state not existing as a separate entity from religion, they may discriminate other religions such as Muslims.
Third, the separation of state and religion is necessary to ensure that people do not follow one religion. This occurred in England under the rule of King Henry viii, where the officials forced everyone to swear allegiance to his new religion. If a country fails to separate religion and state, this occurrence is most likely to reoccur.
On the opposing side, there are those who argue against separation of the state from religion for the following reasons; one they argue that without the influence of religion, the state may lose the sense of morality. This is may have some basis as religion may result into giving a state consciousness that will ensure that they look after an individual’s rights. Second, the opposition argues that such a situation that separates the states entirely from religion cannot exist. This is because most laws made by the states derive from religious teachings. In addition, religion sometimes heavily relies on the state or government to make sure that some it enforces some of its teachings.
Third, the separation of the state entirely from religion may render some individuals to suffer and may lead to war in certain countries (Church, 2011). This is because of the influence that religion has in some countries. For instance, it would be difficult for Muslim populated countries to have a government with lack of Islamic influence. This may even lead to war and restriction of the individual’s rights in that country.
The case of the United States and United Kingdom
In the United States, the law is clear and has been especially since the times of Thomas Jefferson. It states that the law will not in any situation whatsoever refer to any religious teachings or writings in making of their laws. This was in the establishment clause (Church, 2011). Although the tea party has recently challenged this establishment amendment, it is still part of law that the state and religion are separate even if is not stated openly.
The establishment clause introduction in the United States was in the earlier years. During those times, the separation between the two may have been apparent and yet evident. This may have resulted because of where the society had come from, meaning that the society was ready for a change from the rule of the church. On the contrary, the situation has changed today and it seems that the church and the state are more entwined than they would want to admit. This is evident in the fact that candidates for election to the United States have their religious beliefs or allegiance considered.
The United States may have provided for a separation and the lack of interference between religion and state. It may have also given room for any religion to prevail in the country without interfering with the state. What the United States failed to do was to provide a clear distinction of separation between the two. This has occurred in several European countries such as turkey and France. In these countries, there is the lack of even the slightest influence of religion on politics. Religious experiences in these countries are only in public lives and by individuals.
As for the United Kingdom, the separation between church and state is minimal. This dates back to the earlier times when the Roman Catholic Church had influence in politics and on the monarchy of England. This even continued after the Church of England overtook control of the Catholic Church. The church has an immense influence in the government in the United Kingdom; this is so especially for the Church of England.
In the United Kingdom, the utmost political power is the monarch. The monarchy is also the head of the Church of England, therefore, making England be under the rule of the church. There are also twenty-six bishops with seats in the House of Representatives. The church also has a role in the appointment of crowns in the country. The church is also responsible for several state responsibilities. These responsibilities include; being in charge of the coronation ceremonies. The Church of England in the United Kingdom had such influence; it even forbids those who are in the monarch on marrying Catholics. This later changed, and marriage between different dominations is allowable.
This term means or refers to the separation of the state from religion. As many would want to claim, that secularism is a belief against God or rather a movement against believers, it is not the case. Secularism instead focuses on promoting governments that are free of influence from religion. This movement of secularism aims at providing democracy especially to the minorities. Secularism is also against supporting certain religions over others. It neither selects nor chooses sides. A neutral movement aims at promoting harmonious existence between different religions by making sure that the state and religion are separate.
The Israel situation
In Israel, there is freedom of religion, but there lacks a separation of the state and religion. The country is largely characterised by Judaism and Judaism practices. Although Israel recognises the existence of some other denomination, the freedom provided to this denomination is minimal. The lack of separation has sifted in the law. Therefore, providing for laws that are Jewish or that the Jewish favour.
In these situations, the lack of separation oppresses those that are not Jewish such as Christians. One such discriminating law is a law offering citizenship to Jewish upon their will (Halkin, 2007). This does not apply to those who may want to settle in Israel and are not of the Jewish denomination. This infringes on the rights of such individual the state should offer equal opportunities for citizenship regardless of their denomination.
This is the reason why secularism movement became established. It is evident that those countries that do not have separation between the state and religion will end p not practicing democracy. It will not offer the same opportunities or consideration to those from a different religion as the dominating religion. It is crucial for countries to have separation between the two for the sake of democracy of all its citizens regardless of what religion one belongs.
There have been countries that propose and even practice leniency on some religious groups. This mostly occurs in countries largely dominated by Christianity and has a minority of Muslims. Muslims as an ethnic group usually have their own law under which they judge or rule against offenders. This is the sharia law; the introduction of sharia law raises questions especially in the debate of separating state from religion.
In Britain for instance, there is the debate on the sharia law and it legitimacy. It questions the fact of allowing the sharia law as being democratic or not. A new bill has recently emerged to ensure that the British law supersedes the sharia law in certain matters (Brown, 2011). This is so especially in criminal matters. Sharia law is discriminatory toward women, and at times, it may ignore their contribution in court.
This move of this bill goes against the democracy of not discriminating a minority religion. Many may even argue that this move is not democratic as it is denying the Muslims to practice their religion. It also shows that there cannot be an entire situation where the state is free from religion. Learning from the sharia law, there those practices that are not democratic neither fair nor may necessitate the intervention of the state.
In conclusion, there will always be a debate on the influence of religious beliefs on state matters. Initially, there was no or less differentiation between the two, but enlightenment changed this view, by introducing individualism and rationalism. This then promoted the emergence of separate government ran by individuals. This has then led to the debate on the separation between the state and religion. Though some countries have embraced this, some are still resistant. It is evident though that lack of secularism in a country undermines the democracy of its citizenry.