For the average person, it’s safe to say that fundamentalism consider an extreme regardless of one’s belief system.  Every major world religion has a form of fundamentalism from Fundamentalist Christians to various orders of Sunni, Shi’a and even Kharijite Muslims to Hassidic Jews. Even the Amish are considered fundamentalists in their religious beliefs causing them to not participate in much of common modern life. Most Christians, Jews and Muslims choose instead to live in a more moderate religious fashion.

What does this have to do with democracy?  Ironically, similar to religious groups, governments have been created to create rules, regulations and systems of jurisprudence to help their societies thrive according to some common agreements. The societies are defined by geography rather than religious beliefs, but years ago, religions were geo-centric as well. As we have become a more well traveled and integrated world, religions span across national borders, but both religions and national governance systems provide guidelines for how to live within the confines of their belief systems.

In this way, religion and democracy have more in common than might appear on the surface. Even though the separation of church and state is a basic Jeffersonian American precept, both our democratic governance and most religious institutions are based on creating a better society based on mutually accepted ideas, laws and principles.

Religious fundamentalist believe in strict interpretations of the scriptures. It’s the reason most citizens choose to not be fundamentalist. As the world evolves, it’s hard to condone stonings, amputations and other harsh punishments that don’t seem to belong in today’s evolved justice systems.

Ironically, many of these moderate religious folks will sometimes argue for fundamentalist Constitutionalism, a strict reading of the Constitution when interpreting American democratic law and principles. It’s a safe bet both the Bible, Old and New Testaments, the Quran, and obviously the American Constitution were written by men. Not women. Not even perfect white men. Not darker men for the Constitution, although potentially for religious texts. Some American Founders drank. Some philandered. Some had slaves. Some had real dark sides. And yet, they had a vision of what could be over what was – the better selves we all could be.

Darwinian Thinking in Governance

Both religions when reformed and democratic institutions generally accept that practices can evolve.  Judaism split into three major divisions – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform with variations even within those groupings from Hasidism to Reconstructionists.  Christianity has split into even more subsets from Catholicism to Episcopalians, Methodists, Quakers and many more. Islam has its variations as does even Buddhism.

In government, divisions are along party lines, with variations on a theme from hard line Progressives on the far left to Tea Party Republicans on the far right. Yet, just as all Christians study the New Testament and Jews the Old, all Americans, regardless of party, adhere to the general teachings of the Constitution.

Some Constitutional scholars and judges are considered Literalists.  It’s a cute word for Fundamentalism.  Others look to interpret the spirit rather than the letter of the law. The point is that laws, whether religious or democratic, are based on the best thinking of the time – the time when the words were written. But …

Time Marches On

Modern day advocates note that the Framers of the Constitution never could have envisioned the Internet, AK47 Assault Weapons, a car, or even air conditioning.  Yet, even as discuss degrees, we now have laws and mores that address each.

When you hear legal scholars debate the Constitution, it’s interesting to consider the conversation from a theological point of view. There’s no definitive right or wrong, just beliefs and interpretations.

For most people, a desired life in both realms is lived somewhere in the middle between saints and sinners. It helps to think that democracy was designed to be imperfect –  in search of a more perfect union – and, therefore, not inherently correct in any one thing, much less everything. It allows us to consider new ideas and new ways to approach generally accepted principles – from “all men are created equal” to a broader understanding that  “we the people” includes far more than just white landowner males. Evolution is a wonderful thing, not only in religion, but in democracy as well. It’s a case of Constitutional Darwinism versus just staying the course.

Potential Little Hinge Action Steps:

  • Research candidates from the other side who are considered moderate. Study their positions to see if they might be more in line with your own preferences than the more radicalized of either party. Then vote accordingly.
  • Read up on the framers real lives and recognizes where they were flawed and what their own prejudices might have been. Pay particular attention to writings about their doubts about their own standings on various issues.
  • Study a little about another religion. It helps to understand diversity and see similarities in how various civilized principles have developed across belief systems.
  • Consider why the original concept of separation of church and state was considered so important and how it can be protected or infringed upon in modern society.
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