Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Gotta Keep em Separated?

Quoth Marco: Let me take that grain of truth metaphor and turn it on its head. Lets say I postulated that grain should be separate from state. Somewhere like Australia, there is no tariffs, less interference in trade in grains from government. Now is Australia any richer than than the EU because of this? We would probably agree that we are better off than the EU in grain trade because of our policy. However this does not mean the EU won't still successfully trade in grains for millenia - nor does it mean Australia is demonstrably any better off. It's quite clear to me that USA is more successfully religious compared to Israel, Northern Ireland or Iran. However, although these other countries/states are seemingly "successful" and "good" at some level, in religious conflict terms, they are complete disasters. This is the crux of my argument and probably the point of our disagreement. You don't think there is a religious conflict problem in Israel that has anything to do with the fact that the state is defined by its religion. And yes, I know that some arabs vote, but I don't know why palestinian refugees should be locked out of the voting process, at least in theory. Are they afraid of becoming citizens of a jewish state?

Okay, I will have one more stab at this. I admit that this is an argument I took on in a fit of bravado to be contrary, and I do not have the same emotional investment that I do in our other discussion. Therefore it is much less stressful to talk about than the fact that 89% of my fellow citizens are in thrall to the Prince of Darkness.

As it has unfolded, your argument seems to have two parts:

(1) Nations without an established church are more successful economically than those that are not.
I think this is not sustainable as a general principle, given the brief sample of nations I discussed earlier. You counter that successful nations would nevertheless be more successful if they also had separation of church and state, other things being equal. However, you note that this is not demonstrable- the separation can never be carried out in controlled conditions while leaving everything else the same-and therefore it cannot validly be used as an argument to change the policy of a state. Argument (1) is an assertion based on faith, not evidence, and unless there is a ‘will to believe’ among the populace that separation of church and state will benefit them, it should not be contemplated.

(2) Religions will be more successful as religions- in mediating God to the citizens of a country- if they have to compete with one another.
I do not think the spectacle of religions competing with one another is very edfiying or likely to bring people closer to God. Do you remember the old atheist adage that there is no need for them to disprove religion, since all religions have already provided convincing arguments disproving each other? Competition is likely to discourage the weak and bring about contempt for religion among the elite.
Most of the world’s nations have one clear majority religion, and in this case, while freedom of religion is a natural human right, a close association of the dominant religion with the state may either help or hinder both of them, depending on the situation.
Where there are naturally present a large number of competing religions, it is probably better, in terms of their success purely as religions, for one of them to be established and the others to be persecuted: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.’

I do not see how Israel, Iran, and Northern Ireland can be held up as complete disasters in religious conflict terms. There are two possible reasons why there might not be any religious conflict: the laws of the state are in harmony with the laws of God (which would be good), or, the religions are cowed and afraid to challenge the laws of the state (which would be bad). Stoning buses on Shabbat, while religious conflict, is not a disaster: it is a positive sign that religion is alive and well. Overall, there seems to me to be about the same degree of religious conflict in Israel as there is in the United States. I deplore the persecution of religious minorities in Iran, but this is not a natural consequence of the union of Church and State, as witnessed by the long and successful existence of flourishing Christian and Jewish minorities in Dar-al-Islam in earlier centuries. I do not see how Northern Ireland is an example of anything. The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1870 and there is complete separation of Church and State in Northern Ireland. Both Catholics nor Presbyterians are religious minorities in the United Kingdom, and they are simply competing in the manner you have suggested is a good thing.

Finally, some Palestinian history.
According to the UN partition plan, there was intended to be a Jewish state and an Arab state in the area occupied by the British Mandate of Palestine. The Jewish state was established, and those Arabs remaining there were recognised as citizens of that state. Gaza was occupied by Egypt, which did not attempt to establish an Arab state there, or recognise its inhabitants as citizens, because its goal was the annihilation of Israel. The West Bank of the Jordan river was occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan, which annexed it and (I think) offered citizenship to its inhabitants. This annexation was only recognised by a very few countries (Pakistan and the United Kingdom, I think). The inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank do not vote in Israel because they live in disputed territories that have not been annexed by Israel: there would be an entirely justifiable uproar if Israel were to do this. It would be like letting Iraqis vote in the United States elections: the world community would be thoroughly pissed off, even though you and I might think it would be a good idea. To be consistent, of course, Jewish settlers in the disputed territories ought not to be allowed to vote either. Inhabitants of East Jerusalem and the Golan, which have been annexed to Israel, vote just like Arab citizens of pre-1967 Israel.

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