Religion and politics have been very closely knit since the beginning of history. Very often the political identity of a state has been held together by religion. From ancient pagan societies where the king or ruler would also be the priest, to the separation of the state and the church, the relationship between religion and the government has undergone a tremendous evolution. Does this evolution take us further along the path to secularism? What makes secular nations secular? In the world around us, are nations and states ready to embrace secularism and divorce religion from government and administration? In our attempt to answer this question let us look at the very origins of this close association
Since the origins of time and the development of civilizations, religion has been used by the rulers of states to gain absolute authority and unquestionable dominion. From the earliest Egyptian pharaohs to the Jewish kings of the Old Testament to the Suryavanshi kings of India, rulers of almost every state have claimed to be the representatives of God on earth. In the middle ages the endorsement of Rome sealed the political future of most emperors. With the outbreak of the religious crusades many bloody wars were fought for religion and to establish the legitimate faith in the form of a political entity. Of a population of about seven billion the majority follow some form of religion
Modern nations are either secular or have declared state religions. In a few rare cases the religious stand of the nation remains ambiguous. States with a constitutionally endorsed religion largely base their choice on the demographics of the population or the historic legacy that has been handed down to them.
Countries With State Religions
Though there is no one clear definition of what constitutes a “state religion”, most countries which have adopted a religion, provide for certain privileges, and endorse the state sponsored advocacy of the religious tenets. There is also a compulsion to take up religious studies in most countries where a state religion has been acknowledged. Depending on the country and the religion, the legislature and judiciary make laws and adjudicate with deference to the religion’s ethical principles. In countries such as Finland the religious affiliations of the state have tax implications as well. In the Maldives all citizens must be Sunni Muslim. Foreigners must practice their religion only in the privacy of their homes. The following is a list of nations which have officially adopted a religion or at least recognize a faith.
|Christianity||Roman Catholicism||Costa Rica|
|Eastern Orthodox Church||Greece|
|United Arab Emirates|
How Secular Is Secular?
Secular states such as the communist nations could be atheistic. Alternatively, secular states may be more tolerant in their outlook, allowing citizens the freedom to choose any religion. A number of states have been secular since inception. Religious freedoms, equal opportunity to practice and preach a religion, and equality of all religious sects are the guarantees extended by these states. Historically, the evolution of a nation from being a religious state to a secular state has been viewed as a progressive change. Countries such as France and Nepal have lost their religious outlook and turned secular. Similarly countries like Iran have also lost their secular outlook to adopt a state religion.
The relevant question in this context is ‘How secular are secular states?’ In a number of states the interests of the minority religious groups are protected by according them certain privileges. In many secular countries allowing for concessions such as Haj subsidies and earmarking funds for a particular religious community are common practices. In many western countries, and now as a global practice, the holiday calendars of most countries include many Christian holidays. A number of state ceremonies make references to God and religion in some nations. The need is now to define how secular a secular state really should be.
Is Secularism A Better Option?
Over the past few centuries, secularism has been the growing trend with the nations of the world. In most EU nations strict equal opportunities and diversity laws have been implemented. But is secularism a better option for nations?
When weighed in the context of the conflict between nations due to their religious differences, secularism seems to be a good solution.
Another strong reason why secularism seems to be a better option is the rise of religious terrorism across the world. Among the infamous religious terrorist outfits of the world, the names of Al Qaeda, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Hamas, the Aby Sayyaf, and the Klu Klux Klan, seem to strike fear. A number of terrorist attacks, including the 9/11 bombings, have made the international community more sensitive to religious issues. A secular country is definitely more liberal in terms of the rights exercised by the citizens to practice and even change faiths.
Declaring the state 'secular' is by no means the final word. A number of countries have been known to switch from being religious to secular and vice versa.
Here are the top five countries with the largest population for some major religions:
|Vatican City||Saudi Arabia||Cambodia||Nepal||Israel|
|Independent State of Samoa||Somalia||Myanmar||Fiji||Cayman Islands|
Do religious states have a point?
When most people of a nation belong to a given religion adopting it as the state religion, forming and executing laws in keeping with the tenets of the religion is but the logical consequence of self-determination. In countries such as Morocco, Afghanistan, and Yemen where about 99% of the population are Muslims, the Sharia Law, a set of Islamic moral and legal codes of conduct, is what defines the lifestyle and behavior. The constitutions of these countries naturally reflect the standards which are accepted widely by the people. What is indisputably ambiguous is the interpretation of the Sharia as varies among the Muslim nations. While Saudi Arabia is vehemently rigid and perhaps puritan in its interpretations, other countries are quite liberal in their outlook. A number of countries have adopted religion as their ideological foundation. It is well neigh impossible for these countries to adopt secularism.
Should All Nations Adopt Secularism?
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