Religion and Politics in Israel

Religion and Politics in Israel

Religion and Politics in Israel

Religion and Politics in Israel

Excerpt

There are two presuppositions about religion and politics prevalent in the West in general and in the United States in particular. One is that democratic political systems cannot deal effectively with religious issues. Therefore, the politicization of religion threatens the system's stability. The second is that religion is undermined and corrupted by political involvement.

These presuppositions are built on a number of assumptions, which include the following: First, religious issues are ultimate issues upon which religious advocates cannot compromise. Hence, if religious issues are allowed to penetrate into the political arena, the group holding one point of view will be locked in an irreconcilable conflict with the group holding another point of view, to the detriment of the civil order. Second, religion deals with questions of conscience. Governments ought to maintain strict neutrality in dealing with such matters in order to preserve individual liberty. Third, religion is true to itself only when it persuades its adherents to exercise free choice in the direction it desires. The entry of religion into the political arena means the attempt to invoke the agencies of the state to achieve religious objectives. This state of affairs, it is argued, is counterproductive from a religious point of view, since coercion renders free moral choice impossible. Finally, the temptations of political power and the attainment of a religious group's goals through political action rather than through persuasion, corrupts the religious establishment. In the long run, attachment to the instruments and material rewards of politics leads religion to advocate coercion or to adopt an increasingly materialistic, compromising, and worldly orientation at the expense of spiritual, principled, and other-worldly goals.

There are two problems with these attitudes. First of all, they assume that a certain type of secular-libertarian society is the most desirable. There is much to be said, for example, on behalf of a state that remains neutral or never seeks to coerce its citizens regarding matters of conscience, but one cannot assume that such a state is either possible under some circumstances or desirable under others. We allude to this question in chapter four. Second, although they are true in part, the assumptions we have listed are not absolute truths. Our study of Israel demonstrates that these assumptions are more appropriately formulated as dangers to the polity or religion rather than as the inevitable consequence of mixing religion and politics. Religion in Israel is so directly involved in political life that one cannot understand religious developments there without noting the importance of politics, or study Israeli . . .

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