Canada does not have an explicit legal separation between religion and government, which is obviously cause for concern for me as an atheist. However, whatever your beliefs, this kind of thing should concern you too:
A senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, has suggested that opposing the country’s supreme leader amounts to a denial of God. Correspondents say the unusually strong comments appear to be aimed at silencing internal dissent over the leadership of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Sometimes in our more contentious debates, we are tempted to accuse political opponents of being heartless, or say that a position we hold is what God wants. I’m not sure how much anyone actually believes that God cares about politics, but the rhetoric definitely gets amped up at times. However, that’s (mostly) harmless talk; we don’t hear that kind of stuff from our political leaders. This is a good thing, because both of those arguments (liberal and conservative respectively) are thought-stoppers – no reasonable conversation can proceed once we start building our house on the sand of emotion or in the cognitive quagmire of faith.
However, Iran has no such restraint:
The latest comments were made by conservative cleric, Ayatollah Jannati, who heads Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, which oversees the country’s elections and the constitution.
Analysts say the unusually strong demand for public loyalty to Iran’s supreme leader is an attempt by the influential cleric to liken political dissent to religious apostasy – a crime which carries heavy punishment under Iran’s strict Islamic code.
The danger of such statements, especially when backed by state power, is fairly obvious. When the religious establishment controls the state power, and opposition to a political leader is tantamount to a religious crime, then any political opposition is, as a result, a crime. If the leader is corrupt, if the leader abuses his power, if the leader violates the rights of the people, the people have no recourse. Political speech is blasphemy, subject to severe punishment. Forget the idea of an opposition party, forget the idea of free speech, forget the idea of fairness or justice under the law.
Obviously nothing about this particular story will be surprising to anyone who’s been paying any attention at all to the situation in Iran. I only began paying attention in the wake of the election madness a couple years ago, but since then I’ve seen nothing but repeated arrogance, stupidity and evil come from this religious republic. However, abstracting a general rule from this specific case may be possible – it is to everyone’s benefit to have religious power separated by law from state power. The only people who would benefit from an erosion of state sovereignty by the religious establishment is those who agree completely with the leading class’ views. History shows us again and again that fractions will appear within religious communities as they grow larger and more powerful. There is no long-term benefit to the rule of religion – there will always be a group that is seen as heretical until there is only one absolute ruler. Religion knows no satiety in its appetite for power.
So regardless of your religious beliefs, a separation of state power from religious influence is to your benefit. Eventually your beliefs will come into conflict with the ruling party’s, at which point you will find the religious/state power directed at you. The solution, of course, is to wall off religion – allow people their individual rights to believe as they want, but to ensure that state power flows from the people, not from the whims of a capricious God.
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