We were asked: “What are the possibilities for resolving conflict between religion and politics?”
To answer that question one needs to understand what is “religion” and what is “politics”.
The world “religion” is used in a number of senses, of which the relevant for answering the above question are:
Although the above four items are closely interconnected, they are not the same, and the differences between them are important for answering our original question.
Thus the primitive religions of people who worshiped stones (or other objects) reveal attempts to assert a fact that their life is controlled by a stone. And that this stone has powers to satisfy their wishes.
And even in those primitive religions there were people who were believed to know the “correct ways” of worshiping stones, and were passing their “science” of stone‐worship from generation to generation.
As the collective human knowledge of the world grew, their view of the world changed with their increased knowledge. And at the present time there emerged three types of human theories about Man's place in the Universe:
Although in the modern “western” culture “science” and “religion” are seen as incompatible with each other, in fact “religion” in sense (1) is science, in the sense of activity aimed at learning about Nature. While it is common to believe that “scientific” knowledge or methods are always objective and correct, in practice this is not the case. In their early days, geography or medicine were full of false assumptions and superstitious beliefs, and some “sciences” like alchemy1, phrenology2, or Marxism‐Leninism3, once very fashionable and popular pursuits, proved to be totally false. Now these “sciences” are just historical curiosities and monuments to human tendency to self‐deception.
And in the same way as it took millennia of collective human experience and inspirations of geniuses to come to the experimental sciences of our times, it took millennia of collective human experience and generations of prophetic personalities to arrive at a truly scientific religion and a logically provable definition of God.
Since religion in a very general sense of that word is the science of Man's role in the Universe and of correct human behaviour, it was always closely related to human government. At times the religious leaders and the administrative leaders happened to be the same people, at other times they were separate and complimentary, and sometimes rivals vying for power. But at all times the administrators (or governments) had to justify their powers and their actions, and they often justified it by religion.
While the purpose of government powers is to perform the duties of government, most rulers used these powers for self‐aggrandizement and enrichment, which they saw as the privileges of power. And it is this self‐aggrandizement and the luxurious life‐style that was usually the main motivation for seeking government power. And it is this activity of seeking, retaining or influencing government power for the purpose of advancing interests of some at the expense of others that came to be known as politics.
And just as government was in constant interaction with religion, so was politics in constant interaction with both government and religion.
Religious leaders used their authority for the purpose of self‐aggrandizement, and they used politics to place themselves into positions of power. Administrative rulers used religion politically to justify their own powers and privileges. Religion itself was shaped and distorted for political purposes both by religious and administrative leaders. Often religion, government and politics were so tightly interwoven that they became just different manifestations of one single entity — absolute power vested in a single person. Thus the Pharaoh of Egypt was God, the supreme religious leader and the supreme administrative ruler all at the same time; and to keep himself in power he used politics.
The absolute monarchs of Europe and the “oriental despots” of Asia all used religion for political purposes. But closer towards the 20th century, absolute monarchy in Europe gives way to “democratic” electoral government, and religion to secular or secular/religious ideologies.
Having examined the interaction of religion and politics, we come back to the question: “What are the possibilities for resolving conflict between religion and politics?” — And whether such conflict exists.
There is no “conflict” between politics and religion in senses (2) and (4). Politics has always been closely intertwined with attempts of Man to control the world around him, and with various organised religions.
But religion, as a science of the place of Man in the Universe and of honest and successful human government, is incompatible with politics.
Politicians are not against religion as a set of rituals and ceremonies, they are only too willing to use such religion for their own political ends, but they are against honesty and justice, because honesty exposes their deceptions, and justice deprives them of the privileges of abusing their powers. Honesty and justice remove politics from government.
Honest search for successful government leads us to the inescapable conclusion that such government must be honest, competent and just. And this is where politics and religion (as a science of government) collide in an irresolvable conflict, because honest, competent and just government is government without politics.
Religion as teachings of prophetic personalities (sense 3), is also in conflict with politics.
The prophets were calling people towards honesty and justice and by doing so they threatened the powers and privileges of the political rulers of their time. And this is why prophets were persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, tortured and killed by political rulers. And politicians were always distorting and misinterpreting the teaching of the prophets as it was convenient for themselves.
Here again we see, that the real conflict is not between politics and religion as an institution, but between politics and truth, honesty and justice. And it is this conflict that can be only resolved by total eradication of politics from government, because a political government cannot be honest, competent and just.
So, why will people abandon politics and turn to honest government? Because by trial and error they will discover that this is the only way to secure life. And in the same way as their selfishness drove them to politics, the same selfishness will drive them to honest government. God does works in his mysterious ways.
1) Alchemy was a science seeking to convert base metals into gold and to discover the elixir of life, which would enable people to live forever. Although this science was popular for a number of centuries, neither of the two objectives had been achieved.
2) Phrenology was a science claiming to be able to determine various mental faculties of individuals from the shape of their skulls. It was proved to be totally false.
3) Marxism‐Leninism was the theory underlying the Communist experiment in Russia and other countries. Although proved to be false, its influences can still be seen in the philosophies of the various Socialist and Social‐Democratic parties around the world and even in theories of political parties seeking to oppose them. The main idea of Marxism‐Leninism was that by abolishing private property it is possible to establish an ideal society where all the wealth of the society will be owned by the society as a whole, and to which everybody will be contributing in accordance with one's abilities and using it in accordance with one's needs. Attempts to implement such society invariably lead to impoverished countries governed by Communist dictators with unlimited powers.