Thursday, May 15, 2008

Authoritarian versus Totalitarian

In my post about the TVO episode with Mark Steyn, commentator "aelfheld" took issue with my assertion that Islam is an authoritarian religion, claiming that, as it recognizes nothing outside of itself, totalitarian would be a more apt description.

I don't agree with that. I think it is very important to be clear in our use of language so that we have proper problem identification. Normally, people spend about 10% of their time identifying a problem and 90% coming up with solutions (e.g. Kyoto Protocol.

To describe a religion as authoritarian is to refer to the requirement of strict obedience to the dogma. Islam demands strict obedience. Other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, do as well. Although, what we find is that people stray from obedience for different reasons in all three of these religions. But that doesn't mean at their historical and purest core they don't demand obedience as the key to entering the kingdom of heaven.

The term totalitarian applies when a religion becomes the operative agency in the administration and policy formation of the state -- when it controls the civil functions of a society. Iran would be an example. This is a theocracy, whereby clerics dictate to the civil authorities the policies and the laws. In Saudi Arabia, the civil authority, the tribe of Saud, having entered into a pact with the Wahhabi sect of Islam, allows the religious authorities free rein in enforcing religious rules.

This is not peculiar to Islam. In the 9th century, Charlemagne created France (and Europe) by entering into a pact with the Vatican and either destroyed or converted the Germanic barbarian tribes to Christianity. All pagan gods were abolished.

In the 15th century, Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain threw out the Islamic Moors, then entered into a pact with the Vatican, commenced the Inquisition, and drove the Jews from Spain in an effort to make the country completely Catholic Christian.

And while our historical evidence is weak, Old Testament accounts from the time of the Jewish kings, Saul, David and Solomon, suggest that the ancient Israelites were no less fanatical about religious purity within the territory of the state's writ.

To speak of a religion as totalitarian without identifying in its relation to the secular power of the state is not accurate.

1 comment:

bs said...

i think you're muddying the issue. all religions are authoritarian. i don't think you can argue against that, except for the possible exception of buddhism, which eschews dogma for the most part. but even so, to be buddhist you must reject other religious truths (ie, naming yourself "buddhist" means you reject islam, judaism ...) , so it too has qualities of authoritarianism.

theocracies are unique hybrids between church and state. i do not think islam lends itself especially to this relationship any more than christianity or judaism. having read your other post, i think aelfheld is wrong... but it's an interesting thing to try to parse out. you describe something i've witnessed in my own country:

"They think they are entitled to force Mcleans to simply allow them to publish whatever they want, and if they can't get it by bullying Mcleans they will get a government agency to do it for them."

please see the parent's television council, for an example of a similar, christian flavored group. they aren't young lawyers, but they attempt control of content in much the same way- appealing to higher authority for censorship.

have you really never witnessed this from any groups besides muslim ones?