Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Democracy for Export

It has become popular in recent years for certain western Nations to promote democracy in areas of the world which have traditionally been ruled by despotic and authoritarian regimes. Democracy is promoted as a cure-all for a number of destabilizing influences, including support for terrorism. The democracy which is offered comes in only one flavour, which happens to be the style of democracy popular in the West for the last 100 or so years, a form of democracy emasculated by party political process and limiting representation to a preselected enclave, controlled by party apparatchiks on behalf of their respective vested interests.

There may be some benefits in the party political system as opposed to true democratic representation. The arbitrary division into parties places little burden of choice on the individual voter. Choice is limited to those candidates preselected by the party apparatus, ignoring the potential and capacity of the majority of citizens for the role of representative. Vested interests do not have to squander their largess randomly in order to influence the processes of government. They can invest instead in a few well defined institutions, one of which they may be confident will gain a controlling vote in the parliament. It allows the fulfillment of promises made to vested interests prior to and during the expensive period of electioneering to be fulfilled, without the distraction of the parochial concerns of individual electorates. Because the party political candidate owes their allegiance to the party and not to the electorate, the party can make promises which the candidates are then obliged to fulfill, regardless of the needs or interests of their constituents.

Another benefit of the party system is that it provides a career path for professional representatives. Loyalty to the party can be rewarded by nomination to more secure seats. A career politician thinks beyond the needs of their electorate to consider continuity of office as a priorty, and gives their allegiance to the party machine which offers the best protection against being voted out of office. More secure seats offer the prospect of significant increases in remuneration and retirement benefits. Evidence of continuity in party control of electorates also helps campaign managers direct limited resources into particular seats considered marginal by party apparatchiks, and where candidates may require propping up on the hustings.

Curiously, the ideal number of parties is seen as two; one more than totalitarianism, and enough to be called democracy, without risking instability of government which is the ever present danger should representatives have the temerity to express their own views on issues and to vote according to their conscience. The result is not a parliament of the people, but government by committee, with the parliament led by its nose to invariably pre-determined decisions, while entertaining the masses with expensive and futile theatrics of “debate”. Instead of a powerful meld of minds, with each elected representative sincerely applying their full faculties to each issue on behalf of their electors, an impoverished committee of power brokers determines the outcome of debates before they are heard.

The potential of true consultation for distilling insightful solutions to challenging issues is lost in favour of political expediency, and the assurance of funding for the next election campaign. How is it that a creature capable of escaping the gravitational bonds of earth and soaring to the moon cannot in this day conceive of a more suitable form of representation, when the present system requires voters to squander what franchise they have on a tainted and inherently corrupt system? And by whose authority does the West claim a right to subject the East to conversion by the sword, to this absurd and outdated system of government?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Beauty of Parables

Perhaps because I became familiar with parables at Sunday School, I have in the past tended to think of parables as a simplistic and patronizing form of teaching, but having shaken off the things of childhood, I have changed my view. It now appears to me that the parable is an ideal tool for the teacher when their students are not simply one grade, but generations, and not only generations but centuries of students.

The parable, because it finds its illustrations from human experience, speaks across centuries with the same relevance today as when it was first spoken. Jesus, for example was not speaking only to his disciples, or a few shepherds on the hill. He was speaking also to Mohammed’s contemporaries, and with such relevance that Mohammed found no need to abrogate any principle they illuminated. Instead He was able to refer His followers to the Bible for those homilies, and occupy Himself with the particular needs of His time.

In confessing my childish understanding of parables, I do not mean to denigrate Sunday School. On the contrary, and despite the fact that imperfect teachers were seeking to inculcate the wisdom of a Perfect Teacher into imperfect children, nevertheless they managed to impart an essence of the role religion should have in the functioning society. It was the parable that allowed me to recognize this despite my tender years. But this understanding was tempered by the equal realization that those same adults who considered Sunday School valuable to children, had themselves forgotten or had chosen to ignore the principles they still thought were necessary for children in the community to learn.

They, it seemed, were too caught up in the humdrum of a material world in which they had to earn a living and survive. In the face of these exigencies, the big picture of the parable soon narrowed into various forms of selfishness. It went from the selfishness of states, with their claims of sovereignty and nationalism, to the selfishness of races with their prejudices and ideas of supremacy, to the selfishness of vested interests with their political parties restraining democracy, to the selfishness of families with their arranged marriages, to the selfishness of individuals in their willingness to compete, to cheat, and to lie.

Such was the contradiction between the deed and the word that in a child’s eyes it came to appear that the principles and morals exemplified in the parable were for children only, and their necessity was outgrown by adults, who found new rules to follow, more suited to their adult world , but which could not be ascribed to any known scripture or revealed Word. Nevertheless, we children noticed that adults followed these alternative rules religiously in their habits, rituals and promptings, and at the expense of worship in Church. While they sent us to Sunday School, they preferred to polish the pews at the Pub or the race track.

The circumstances of my life eventually drew me back to the Scriptures and the parables they contain, and I found I could read them with renewed respect and insight, despite the injuries suffered on my road to Damascus. Now I have opportunity to reflect on the dichotomy I observed as a child, and find it an accurate observation. Moreover, I can declare that it represents an enormous human tragedy when so many supposedly devout adult believers, of all the major religions, who for whatever reason, have failed to heed their Scripture and have chosen a text of their own devising, according to their own appetites and promptings.

Any student of religious texts cannot fail to be amazed at the consistency with which spiritual principles are enunciated and affirmed in the Scriptures of all the major Religions, and regardless of whether their particular declared adherents are seeking each others blood. In regard to spiritual principle, the unknowable essence of God, the necessity for an intermediary between God and man, they are in complete agreement. It soon becomes apparent also that all the religious strife and conflict which may presently be observed and which had blighted human history for centuries has no true basis in Scripture, and represents a complete denial by those zealots who claim license for their brutality from any Revealed Text.

The consequence has been to bring religion into disrepute as a means to social order and harmony, and has prompted a fruitless search for alternative materialist ideologies which might provide a surrogate for Divine guidance. None have proved efficacious, and on the contrary, have themselves become the excuse for atrocious crimes and injustices against countless innocents. And the pattern continues into this 21st Century unabated. As one ideology loses ground, another gains sway, but since all are grounded in material and humanist ideology, and none acknowledge either the existence of God or the essential spiritual nature of humanity, they fail to solve the social ills they claim to understand, nor to satisfy the hunger of the masses for meaning, for truth and above all, for justice.

Perhaps it is time to put aside adult pride, to put aside our investment in various religious establishments, dogmas, ideologies, traditions, all the accretions which might stand between us and the true meaning contained within parables and all revealed Scriptures and look at them again with eyes innocent of any prejudice or presumption, and seek an answer to this question. Why are these Scriptures of the great Religious movements of the world in complete accord, while we, their supposed followers, are not?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Crusade against Nationalism

Commentators have suggested that we are observing a return to the Crusades of the Middle Ages, but it is not clear what they mean by this. Do they mean that we have returned to a period of religious warfare between the forces of Christianity and the forces of Islam, or do they mean a period of warfare in the name of religion? If they simply mean warfare in the name of religion, I can agree with them, but if they imagine that any of the present conflicts in the world are genuine expressions of either Faith, then I am at odds with that view, since the conduct of the combatants is not consistent with the tenets of either religion.

If the fundamental purpose of religion is to unite mankind, then it provides no justification for dividing it into warring factions. It is true that Islam makes provision for war, but only for the purpose of protecting the Faith of Islam itself, which was a dire issue in the days of the Prophet but not today. The greatest threat to Islam today would seem to come from its own professed believers, not any particular political or ethnic group. Indeed throughout the world there is a growing respect for the principle of freedom of religion, so that everyone should be free to practice their Faith according to their own conscience and without hindrance or persecution. Despite the links drawn between terrorist activities and fundamentalist religious movements, the leaders of both religions are at pains to recognise terrorism as an aberation which has no relationship to the true Faith it purports to uphold. In such an environment of growing tolerance there is no rational basis for Jihad, any more than there is a rational basis for refusing to recognize the significant common ground between Islam and Christianity.

The turmoil which the world is presently experiencing will come to be seen as not so much a religious crusade as the death throes of Nationalism, giving way as it must to globalism. That the politicians busy with the present conflict have failed to recognize this is obvious from the absurd excuses they make for their present course of military action well outside their sovereign boarders, well outside the most generous interpretation of their national interests and without a clear mandate from the United Nations. On the one hand they use the argument of national sovereignty to justify the harsh treatment of asylum seekers, while on the other they show complete disregard for the sovereignty of another nation, on the grounds of corrupt government.

It can be rationalised however, if one views the world as a single federation and the United States as the self appointed Federal Police. But what sort of democracy would that illustrate besides one from which ninety five percent of the world is disenfranchised? Is this the sort of democracy we would like to see introduced to Iraq?