Friday, May 14, 2010

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Church & State: a similar story from a different place

The separation of church and state has always been the aspiration of any human being who understands the dangers of such coalition. Throughout the ages, religion stood in the face of reason: two non-overlapping magisteria. Today, the same ignorance is being promoted by the church. In fact, only by discouraging free-thinking and applying censorship can religion survive today.As a non-believer living in Lebanon, I wanted to add my voice to that of the millions of other free-thinkers, who are trying to show the world the wickedness of religion, by showing how serious the dangers of the situation in my country. But first I need to clear out a stereotype attributed to Lebanon.
Most what you hear on the news today about Lebanon, especially after the events of September 11, is biased bullshit. I said “most”  because it is true what they say about Hezbollah and that it is a terrorist organization but you need to consider the fact that this organization is supported only by one of the 14 religious sects in the country. Labeling everyone as a terrorist simply because of one group of radicals, is like saying that everyone in the United States is African-American (I’m not comparing African-Americans to terrorist. I’m just trying to show how absurd it is to generalize one aspect present in the country to everyone living in it).
Map of Sects of LebanonThe political system in Lebanon is very complex. The Taif Accord, which took place in 1989 after the end of the civil war between, Christians who were the majority and the Muslims who started to grow exponentially, mandates the equal division of political offices between Christians and Muslims and each half to be proportionally divided into the respective number of sects (9 Christian sects vs. 5 Muslim sects, see picture on right of the major sects in Lebanon).
In fact, having an organization of Islamic activists is much more dangerous for Lebanon than it is for other countries. Unfortunately, the authority given to religion by the government worsens the situation and the only way we can improve it is by making ourselves heard (this is exactly why I am writing this).
The Middle-East region has always been a Land of religious conflicts. A series of conquest by diverse civilizations have been taking place since biblical times. Every time a different civilization settled in a country, it spread its religion throughout the territory and became the only authority. In present day Lebanon, we do not have a unified Civil Law regulating every aspect of our lives; instead each religious community follows the ethical guidelines dictated by their Holy Book, when it comes to personal affairs, and the government regulates the more general matters.
Over the years, the majority of Christians (and a minority of Muslims) started to realize that some of the laws imposed by their religion were absurd and sometimes even barbaric and they decided to disregard them – This is why most Lebanese Christians today are very liberal. As for Muslims, however, being selective in the Quran is not tolerated since the it is the unmediated word of God; and today many of them remain attached to their deep-seated convictions. For some of those devout Muslims, observing an increase in the number of “infidels” pushes them to form groups of Islamic fundamentalists. Add a political agenda to the equation and you will obtain an extremely dangerous organization: Hezbollah.
Regardless of the fact that the Law, in Lebanon, does not force anyone to believe in any religion or to follow any of its guidelines – there are a few exceptions, however, such as civil marriage not being an option – and despite the fact that the spectrum of most religious people is shifting towards a more liberal state, religious extremism remains the major cause of hate crimes, committed by religious fanatics and xenophobes, against anyone who deviates from the Holy “path” – an Atheist like me for example. They believe it’s their God-given duty (or should I say Allah) to eradicate the infidels off the face of the earth. So as long as this sacred union between religion and state continues to be blessed, it will remain a major stumbling block in the face of our cultural advancement; and Lebanon will forever be a country of terrorists in the eyes of the world.

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