A baffling opinion from an Indonesian author appeared in Inernational Studies Institutionīs electronic news page. It conforms that the optimal solution for state -church relations is a complete separation, but the reasoning of the author is throwing light to some additional aspects of the views which could possibly devout believers find quite plausible and ready to embrace .
God Gains from Church-State Separation
Why State and Religion Should Not Mix
Reporting for the Strait Times, writer Janadad Devan analyzed a New York Times series detailing some revealing statistics about the state of religion in Europe and the United States.
"In France, a predominantly Catholic country, only one in 20 attend a religious service every week. In the US, about one in three do. Only 21 per cent of all Europeans say religion is 'very important' to them. In the U.S., close to 60 per cent say the same."
Why is religion less influential in countries like Britain and the Scandinavian states, with state-sponsored faiths, than in the U.S., with its strict separation of church and state, Devan wonders.
One reason seems to lie in precisely that relationship between church and state.
"In countries where it is conjoined to the state, religion cannot function as an alternative focus of allegiance. In countries where there is a separation of church and state, religion can and does function as an alternative focus of allegiance -- and occasionally, of opposition to the state.
"Americans continue to value religion in part because it has never been tainted by the state. In Europe, religion was tainted by secular power, and has therefore become one among the many institutions of authority that people revolt against. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it would appear that the other-worldly power of religion exists in an inverse relationship to its this-worldly power.
"America's founding fathers insisted on a separation of church and state because they wished to be free of the coercive power that the church, of various denominations, used to exercise in the Old World. The ironic result of that separation is that the church is now more influential in the New World than it is in the Old. That is why someone like General William Boykin -- who believes his God is 'bigger' than the God of Islam -- can become Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence in the U.S. Department of Defense. If he had been French, he might have hardly made it to the rank of Sergeant-Major.
"A recent book by Australian academic Riaz Hassan, Faithlines, details how an analogous situation obtains in Islamic countries. Based on extensive fieldwork in four Muslim countries -- Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Kazakhstan, which together hold one-third of the world's Muslims -- he finds a surprising twist to the basic Islamic belief that Islam din wa dawla (Islam is religion and state). It is precisely in those Muslim countries where Islam isn't the official state religion that the belief it ought to be is strongest. In countries where it is, people don't find the result altogether pleasing.
"In Pakistan, for instance, 'whose constitution formally declares it to be an Islamic Republic and recognizes the sovereignty of Allah', 'less than half' of Prof. Hassan's respondents said they trusted religious institutions. By contrast, in Indonesia, where governments have consistently refused a state based on Islam, religious institutions are 'the most trusted institutions of civil society', with between 91 to 96 percent saying they trusted them.
"Prof. Hassan explains why: There is a dialectical relationship between trust in state institutions and trust in religious institutions. When the state comes 'to be seen as authoritarian, oppressive and unfair', that 'leads to political mobilization against the state. The institutions of civil society' -- among them, religious institutions -- 'which act as the mobilizers of this resistance, gain in public trust and consequently come to enjoy high levels of esteem'.
"In 'differentiated Muslim social formations' like Indonesia and Egypt -- meaning 'societies in which religion and state occupy different spaces' - the legitimacy of religious institutions rises as the state's declines.
"In 'undifferentiated Muslim social formations' like Pakistan or Iran -- meaning 'societies in which religion and state are integrated' -- 'the erosion of trust in state institutions also corrodes trust in the religious institutions which are perceived as part of the state'."
- The Strait Times is an English language publication in Malaysia
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