Americans, Egyptians want 'G-d's standards' in government
Mike Huckabee, the conservative former Arkansas governor, this weekend said that he is concerned about Islam's role in Egypt's future. As On Faith panelist Reza Aslan this week noted, Huckabee has also called for Americans to "take this nation back for Christ" and, while running for president in 2008, declared that "what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards."
In America and in Egypt, should a majority religion inspire political life? How will Islam play a role in the struggles for democracy happening now in Egypt and other parts of the Muslim world?
Mike Huckabee's presidential aspirations-inspired call for amending the Constitution to meet G-d's standards has an interesting correlation with what is going on in Egypt. According to Micah 6:8 (that's in the Bible, by the way, in case any Quakers of a particular type are reading this!), G-d's "standards" are fairly simple: "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with G-d." I have no complaint with the former governor if that's all he's calling for - more justice, more mercy, and more humility. And it seems that's about what the people in Taghrir Square in Cairo (the name in Arabic means "change"!) are calling for.
Perhaps both MIke Huckabee and "the Arab street" have been reading the same passage in the Bible that describes what happens when G-d's standards for government are replaced by human ambition and the rule of kings, potentates, and dictators. In I Samuel 8, the people of Israel complain to the great spiritual and social leader Samuel that they want to be "like the nations" and have a king to rule over them. Up until that time, the various tribes of Israel depended on G-d's leadership and G-d's annointing of a leader in times of crisis. But that seemed a bit too unreliable, evidently. That, or they missed the politcal advertisements during election season!
G-d heard the complaints of the people and told Samuel that they could have their king, and that this is what they'd get in the bargain: "...[the king] will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen...and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers...." (I Samuel 8:11-18). I think you get the picture!
G-d's standards appear to be justice, mercy, righteousness, care for "the least of these," concern for the powerless, the orphan, the widow, the poor. Funny, but those aren't always the same concerns expressed by those crying out for "G-d's standards" in government. Too often that agenda appears callous toward the "the other" - the stranger, the marginalized, the person on social welfare. But the agenda is mighty big on maximizing ones own rights to wealth and focusing a government's efforts on a strong military presence.
What I hear from the streets of Cairo is more concern for the poor, the unemployed, the hungry; a more democratic society in which the billions in annual military aid poured into the government by the U.S. to protect our own strategic interests show more results in the quality of life of Egypt's citizens; a government that shows more interest in enabling its citizens to pursue dreams of happiness and meaning rather than entrenching their own power.
And the role of Islam in all this? Even more so than with Christianity, Mike Huckabee's own religious faith, Islam calls for a unity of purpose in the sacred and secular realms. All of life is to be governed by the will of Allah - of G-d. If one looks at the "99 names of G-d" in Islam, one gets the distinct feeling that justice, mercy, compassion, love, and beneficence are mighty important. If those are "G-d's standards" there, too, I have no problem with it!
Last week at my college we enjoyed hosting a speaker for our annual Religious Emphasis Week, Trisha Taylor, who spoke about "emotional maturity and the spiritual life" (check out her thoughts in the book she co-authored: "The Leader's Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation"). Her definition of emotional maturity resonated with our community: "The ability to stay connected with others without changing our deepest beliefs and behaviors - while at the same time not trying to force others to change according to our beliefs and feelings."
I think these times call for some emotional maturity. I can have my deep beliefs and allow you to have yours while not forcing my will on you - or conscript governmental power in the interest of forcing my ways on you. But I come from a tradition that sees the church as an association of voluntary believers, one that rejects any state coercion in religion. We Quakers remember what happened to us when "G-d's Elect" were in charge in Massachusetts: They hanged us!
I am hopeful that the great masses of Muslims in Egypt simply want basic freedoms granted by democracy. That seems to be the indication thus far; let's hope that the Egyptian Mike Huckabees are motivated by the standards of mercy and beneficence embedded in their religious traditions.
February 1, 2011; 9:47 AM ET
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