Religion’s role in any political society has been questioned and the topic of heated debate from both the left and right. Many have been cautioned about historical fallacies and tragedies such as the Crusades and more recently, the Holocaust and September 11, all done in the name of a religion. Yet many do contend that religion does provide a moral doctrine which can assist governments, and ultimately society, in becoming more ethical.
The world’s two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, have been in the spotlight with regards to their relationship to democracy. Christian Democracy was a recent historical phenomenon occurring in Europe and took full force after World War II. Although not surviving with the same force today, it most certainly cannot be called a failure. Islamic democracy, however, is interesting because although it is the subject of constant study, it has yet to truly co-exist with the essence of democracy as we know it today.
This has made many wonder if it is even possible whether they are fundamentally destined to collide, or whether they can co-exist. Upon examining Christian Democracy, Islamic Democracy, and the similarities and differences between the two, it can be concluded that although no tangible proof has yet to come, Islam and Democracy can co-exist. However, in order for it to do so, it must follow very similarly to the model of Christian democracy in Europe.
The best example of the relationship between Christianity and Democracy as a success is the Christian Democratic movements during the last few centuries. Although it is difficult to define a common opinion of different Christian democratic parties, especially from its origins in the eighteenth centuries to modern times, Michael Fogarty believes that there are three essential characteristics which are similar in all programs of Christian democracy.
He asserts that all Christian democracies are “(1) comprehensive and balanced, a catholic (with a small ‘c’) synthesis of views from all quarters of the political universe on the whole range of problems with which government is concerned; (2) based consciously and, usually, explicitly on the Christian revelation and the tradition and teaching of the Churches; (3) empirical, built up in the light of history and current experience rather than of any systematic, a priori, theory” (16).
Although the beginnings of Christian Democratic parties started taking an active role in European politics post World War II, the Christian Democratic movement originated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in France. Remnants of Christian Democracy still exist all throughout Europe, in the form of Great Britain’s Movement for Christian Democracy and other political parties who, in their constitutions, believe that Christianity is central to a country’s political, economic and social affairs.
Movements for Christian democratic parties arose in France after the Republic had been the enemy of the Church since the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (Fogarty 4). Under the ancien ri?? gime, the Church and Monarchy had been so closely linked that when the latter was deprived of its privileges, the former was inevitably attacked as well. The more recent success of Christian democracy has been reliant on the support it garnered from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church and its relationship to Christian democracy “involves both ideological and institutional ties that have varied across time and place” (Kselman 5).
The Catholic Church heavily questioned the position of democracy before World War II, and even found the positions of Mussolini and Hitler more appealing and more in line with the doctrines of the Church. Finally, after World War II, the Vatican began to accept the doctrines of parliamentary democracy. Their sharing of social doctrine has also been responsible for the relationship between the Church and Christian Democracy. According to Mitchell, a commitment to the poor, a concern for the integrity of the family, and a critique of the materialist assumptions undergirding ideology provided common ground for Christian democrats.
Thus, we see the rise and success of Christian Democratic parties in Europe as more of a gradual process than something that happened overnight, and also one founded on basic moral doctrine. Christian Democratic parties in France identified most with the Mouvement Republicain Populaire (MRP). While referring rarely to Christianity by name, the MRP always based their doctrinal arguments on a Christian interpretation of the value of the individual (Irving 74). This was the essence of the MRP’s doctrine.
Democracy, the family, the school, the trade union-even the Church-were important only in so far as they made it possible for the individual to develop his capacities to the maximum. In other words, the MRP saw democracy, and ultimately the Christian Democratic parties, more as a means rather than as the goal. The MRP doctrine was therefore very individualistic, not in the nineteenth century liberal sense, but in a Christian sense. By de-emphasizing religious institutions in the political state, the MRP was able to take care of the society as whole. The aspect of faith in Christian democracy is obviously one of crucial importance.
In his Cet Inconnu, Borne describes an act of faith as something that “has no meaning unless it leads to action. Faith must generate thought and political engagement. Because we believe that freedom and justice are ultimately reconcilable, we must try to bring this about. Political engagement entails a passion for freedom and a passion for justice” (qtd. in Irving, 56). The correlation between action and faith, then, is very interesting. A separation of church and state really is only necessary when the Church begins to dictate and influence government unfairly towards those who don’t follow the Church’s doctrine.
Yet if the Church influences the state in a way that helps the state to become more moral and just, this can only be seen as beneficial to the society as a whole. Here Borne explains that these actions must fall in line with ideas of freedom and justice, two crucial aspects of democracy. This is another reason why Christian democratic parties were able to exist in European society: their primary agenda was to benefit society with ideas of freedom and justice through acts of faith.
The main question, however, remains about the role that revelation and texts, namely the Gospels and the New Testament, had to play in Christian democratic movements. According to Fogarty, “in the main stream of Christian thought it has always been clear that revelation completes natural knowledge but does not replace it. To have a full picture of the world,, one which will allow Christians to take hold of their surroundings and shape them according to their principles, the broad and long views of revelation must be filled in with the detail of purely human science, experience, and intuition” (402).
This is crucial to the Christian democratic argument, for it falls in line with much modern democratic thinking in using reason and intuition in order to make political decisions. It almost seems as though Fogarty interprets the place of revelation as taking a back seat to reason. In essence, many times this is necessary in order to prevent irrational decisions that can be ultimately very costly for those in society who do not adhere to the Christian faith. In comparison, the Islamic experience and experiments with Democracy have not been so pleasant.
This has led many to wonder whether or not fundamentally Islam and democracy as we know it are incompatible. In actuality, however, despite attempts by moderate Muslims in the West to bring Middle Eastern countries and self-proclaimed “Islamic states” towards a democratic ideal, Islamic democracy has yet to exist in the modern world. Even in states such as Algeria that had what Noah Feldman coined a “democratic flirtation,” democracy does not last for long because of Western fear that Islamist control will eventually lead Westerners to believe that elections that were not “fair” would be better than no elections at all (6).
In order to test the Islamic experience with democracy, Samuel P. Huntington conducted a test in which he defined a democracy as two consecutive and peaceful changes in government through free and fair elections. However, upon testing Middle Eastern countries that deem themselves as “Islamic states” or where the official religion of the country is Islam, the only country that passed Huntington’s test of democracy was Turkey. Even within Turkey, as Bernard Lewis points out, though it seems the Middle Eastern country with the most promise for democracy, it cannot truly be proclaimed to have the essence of democracy within itself.