2012 is set to be a year filled with political fervor as citizens in several countries including France, the United States, Germany, and Egypt will vote in presidential elections. Individuals from all walks of life will engage in an important discourse on vital issues relating to peace, human welfare and security as they determine the composition of their government and its direction for the future. Amidst this mounting political climate, societies both in the East and the West will be confronted with issues regarding the role that religion plays in this political process. While immersed in the excitement of a heightened political atmosphere, the line between politics and religion can become blurred, diluting and corrupting the purpose of each.
On November 17th 1912 Abdu’l-Bahá gave a talk in Paris about the ninth Bahá’í principle of the non-interference of religion with politics. This talk continues to serve as a guide in reconciling the role that politics and religion play in the advancement of society. He began by calling attention to the positive effects that true religion can have on the life of an individual, which impact the political life of society. He said that “in despotic Governments carried on by men without Divine faith, where no fear of spiritual retribution exists, the execution of the laws is tyrannical and unjust. There is no greater prevention of oppression than these two sentiments, hope and fear. They have both political and spiritual consequences.”
He went on to make a clear distinction between the role and purpose of religion compared to that of politics:
With political questions the clergy, however, have nothing to do! Religious matters should not be confused with politics in the present state of the world (for their interests are not identical). Religion concerns matters of the heart, of the spirit, and of morals. Politics are occupied with the material things of life. Religious teachers should not invade the realm of politics; they should concern themselves with the spiritual education of the people; they should ever give good counsel to men, trying to serve God and human kind; they should endeavour to awaken spiritual aspiration, and strive to enlarge the understanding and knowledge of humanity, to improve morals, and to increase the love for justice.
He ended His talk by appealing to each individual to see their own life as coherent with the life of society:
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered […]. Each man has been placed in a post of honour, which he must not desert. A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice.
It is not enough to elect individuals whom we feel are just, while conversely allowing injustice to seep into our daily lives. Personal transformation is intimately and inseparably linked to the transformation of families, communities, and governments. This year as many of us weigh the pros and cons of each of the candidates, let us also reflect on our own lives and see how we can contribute to the progress of our respective communities.
Photo by Shahriar Erfanian, www.nineteenmonths.com