“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number that are not good.” – Niccollo Machiavelli.
Following up on that offer to explain my understanding of power and its place in modern society as a means to bringing clarity on the role of religion in the political landscapes I want to first go back to the textbook definition of power.
Its clear that power in its simplest from, and for the purposes of this treatise has to do with ability. But to be specific, I’d like to stay with the second definition as it is of the most import in the argument I’m going to lay out.
For millennia, mankind has grappled and jostled with the idea of a deity. As far back as 10,000 years ago Chinese historians record the presence of deity figures to whom was attributed the control and dominion of the universe around them. The younger religions (speaking purely of the nascent Abrahamic religions here) have claimed this to be false and stand by their 6,000 year old theory of creation. The origin of and creation of deities is of little concern here. What matters is that they exist and people believe in them. The world as it is today is divided into denominations who believe in one form of deity or other. If you believe that mankind created God to explain the unexplainable world around him, you are probably right. But also if you believe that God or a deity created man and let them evolve over 65 million years and then at some point gave them understanding you are also probably right. Why? Because it is all a subject of belief. What you believe shapes your outlook on the universe, the world, the continent, your country and eventually your neighbor.
Which brings me to the task at hand; you argue that religion is in fact inextricably tied to the political culture of countries; effectively making the argument that religion and its associated vagaries will affect the political upheavals in countries if indeed politics is the study of how people live together.
I argue that it doesn’t. I argue that elements like greed, corruption, social inequality, graft, cronyism and political disruption/instability are more in effect when and where social upheaval occurs than are the forces at war are of different religions. In a report from the Instituteof Economics and Peace a question was polled “How much conflict has religion caused in the world?” The report came back with 14% of conflicts in the world in 2013 were motivated by religion alone (although religion mixed with other factors brought the figure up to 60%). Why is this so? Because the very nature of upheaval and conflict in itself reflects a sense of anarchy, an element that no religion condones. How could it? How would it then control its faithful? Anarchy portends, disobedience, disorder, betrayal, defection, lawlessness and deviance. All undesirable outcomes.
I also believe that the elements above central to social disillusionment. How? Any role that religion might play is mostly as a spark in igniting an existing dissatisfaction and fueling an already underlying current of rage. For example, the Rwanda genocide has been said to have been aided and fueled by religious elements, but closer analysis reveals that the root causes were more socio-political. Therefore, if a society is disgruntled and disillusioned therein already exists the recipe for a fire. It’s simply which causal agent will provide the spark.
Secondly, you argue that the politics of a country will often revolve around its religious inclinations. You are even willing to say that it is difficult to define the political culture of a country minus its religion.
I submit that the political cultures of most countries (African in this case) present largely variegated religious demographics. While these groups disagree occasionally, the political culture of most African countries exists outside these religious faculties. This is not to denigrate the role leaders and influencers play in these societies. However there are more examples of social cohesion for the purposes of uprisings, upheavals and rebellion around non-religious grounds like corruption, election reform or the lack of it, injustice, tyranny, etc.
Alternatively, consider the “peace time” activities of most African countries like appointments to office, election to office, patronage, resource allocation, development prioritization and other aspects of political culture most of them will be done with considerations that are not principally or primarily religious in nature.
If on the other hand you were to consider the “culture of honour” posited by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” you will find that in societies with the honour culture; a culture signified by revenge killings, reprisals, honour killings, and family honour being protected, created a code. A code that makes society shun the likely peacemaker; the element of reason. In such a society you will find that religion could find a place in shaping and even enforcing a society’s own self view where people will steer clear of idle threats (if they make a threat, they will see it through), feeling bound to their word and a blunt and brutal approach to the realities of their environment. In these cases, the factors that shape these kinds of society are more societal and environmental than religious. For an example, I’d like to use the Dinka tribe of South Sudan and northern Uganda whom people have said are, in their natural habitat, very trusting, generous and welcoming but also lethal, decisively swift and unrelenting about slights against their honour. They could Christian, Muslim or even Jehovah’s Witnesses. It doesn’t change who they are.
If you approach this from the “Spiderweb economic theory” first broached by Malcolm X and later honed and refined by Chika Onyeani in his “Capitalist Nigger” where the idea of ‘trading like the Jews” is discussed and broken down, you realize that while the Jews did in fact trade within their communities, the complex interwoven nature of their societal setup makes it impossible to separate from their economy and religion. A rather unique social glue. The theory basically states that the closely knit Jewish community buy from Jews, will try as much as possible to keep their money circulating within their community and that way they help each other develop and build their community as a whole. This approach for you would of course raise the questions of the impact of a shared history and a communal sense of persecution they all share which further strengthened that historical bond. And going down that route would lead you down the inevitably precarious path of separation of church and state – which in that world is a slippery slope.
Having explained this I feel I must tie this all together with how it all begun; with power. Religion carries the ability to influence, to mollify, to invigorate and even instigate people. That is its power. This power however is given to it by people’s choice to believe for without the choice to believe religion holds no power over anybody and therefore would have no ability influence the political culture of a society in any way.
In a faithless state the power to influence political culture would reside in and with people who had resources, means, money, access to resources, information, state machinery, influence, an ear of the leader, leverage over politicians, blackmail, intellectual superiority, physical excellence and a host of other attributes that you could name. People with these or access to any of these attributes would wield power because they could lean upon them to influence events in their societal sphere of influence; to protect themselves from the machinations of others, to advance individual interests, to gain advantage over rivals and; sometimes, to just even the playing field.
This theory seems to operate in the highly amoral and evolutionary arena of “kill or be killed” and is safeguarded by the old political adage “have no permanent friends or enemies” and would appear idealistic upon first sounding. But upon closer scrutiny, you will agree with me that this scenario is more real than ideal. It is one in which we live every day; sworn enemies coming together to fend off common threats; an estranged couple uniting to defeat an erstwhile ally now turned deadly foe, a national Christian prayer overnight presided over by a confessed animist president, a bishop who has sworn an affidavit changing his name so he can remain in power past his retirement age, a national army caught in 3 wars across the region juxtaposed against the housing condition of the Police Force, and other examples. That is the reality we live in. Those with the ability to move the pieces WILL move them. Irrespective of what they believe.
Over to you