Politics and religion are two topics never discussed in polite society, it is said. There is no better way to make enemies than to vehemently expound on one or both of these usually controversial subjects, especially in a group just trying to have fun. In this blog, I had not talked much about either because lighted trends are not indigenous to the way the populace as a whole generally handles itself politically or religiously. It seems that both COULD be enlightened but generally aren't at this time--with notable exceptions, like the Burmese Monks so often mentioned here. Could it be that lack of true leadership is one of the main components missing?
Having asked that question, three articles caught my eye in the past couple of days that may show a lighted change in the realm of political and religious leadership. In each case religious leaders stepped up to the political plate to promote freedom of the people and democracy, a role that could be fitting for them if handled well.
First, as reported by the United Press International today on its website, Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived in Kenya to help broker a peace between rivaling factions following an allegedly flawed election in that previously quiet country:
"Archbishop Tutu began an attempt to restore calm to the African nation torn apart by post-election violence. Tutu, a Nobel Laureate heading up a delegation from the All Africa Conference of Churches, said he would meet with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odina. . .Tutu said the group had hopes of reaching an acceptable agreement to save the country and its people."
The two vying Kenyan political leaders are from separate tribes, and the words between them have grown incendiary. There is fear that, without intervention in the current fledgling democracy, the prevailing peace between the 40 Kenyan tribes will fail, leading the country into civil war. Archbishop Tutu's role as an African religious leader could turn the tide in Kenya, and also set an example for other African religious leaders--whether they be Muslim, Christian or Jew--to lead the way to freedom for other beleaguered African nations.
Darfur is another example where African religious leadership could make a difference--most likely from a Muslim cleric of some kind. It is obvious that the political will is lacking to bring that sorry situation to an end. Thus, inspiration will have to come from another sector, and it might be time for religious leaders to step forward into that quagmire.
Second, the WSJ as a year end send-off entitled "Liberty Theology" opined that the Catholic Church is having a change of heart regarding its role in Latin America:
"Catholic Church bishops, priests and other Church leaders in Latin America were once a reliable ally of the left, owing to the influence of 'liberation theology,' which tries to link the Gospel to the socialist cause. Today the Church is coming to recognize the link between socialism and the loss of freedom, and a shift in thinking is taking place. In a region that is 90% Catholic, this change might have enormous implications. A Church that emphasizes liberty could play a role in Latin America similar to that which it played in Eastern Europe in the 1980's, as a counterweight in defense of freedom during a time of rising despotism. Fro proof of the change. . .consider the recent statement from the Catholic Bishops of Venezuela: It blasted the political agenda of President Hugo Chavez for its assault on liberty under the guise of helping the poor. It is morally unacceptable, the statement said, and will drive the country backward in terms of respect for human rights."
Bolivia has apparently also been under the gun of the Church in the form of its late Cardinal Castillo who said that the country was slipping toward dictatorship. Mind you, the Catholic Church is not put forward by me as THE answer--its own checkered past would preclude entirely trusting the Church's motives. However, motives aside, the trend is enlightening when religious leaders stand up for freedom, particularly in the face of adversity and death as in the Myanmar case.
Third, on a slightly different note, it is newsworthy that the people of Bhutan went to the polls Monday to elect a Parliament for the first time. I put this into the enlightened religious leader category because it was remarkably that their former monarch, the Dragon King and a religious leader in his own right, led the way forward without fight or friction. The WSJ reported this story as an op-ed entitled "Democracy in Shangri-La" January 2, 2008. The story is so compelling, I include it in its entirety:
"The citizens of the world's newest democracy went to the polls Monday to elect members of the upper house of Parliament. In coming months they will vote on a draft constitution that has been mailed to every household in the nation and choose representation for the lower house."
"Welcome to Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan Kingdom wedged between India and China and made famous for a national philosophy of 'gross domestic happiness.' Until recently, Bhutan has been an absolute monarchy, under the reign of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who ascended the throne in 1972 at the age of 16. The monarch's official title is Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King, but His Majesty also deserves to go down in history as the country's George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson."
"In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk voluntarily reduced the scope of his powers. A few years later he decreed that Bhutan would become a constitutional monarchy and set out to educate his people on the virtues of democracy. He accomplished this task by personally presiding at informational meetings throughout the country and holding mock elections. In December 2006, after 34 years as sovereign, he abdicated, turning over his limited responsibilities to his Oxford-educated son."
"In drafting a constitution, the elder King ordered his legal experts to study the constitutions of all the world's greatest democracies. The final project opens with 'We the People' and speaks in the preamble of securing the 'blessings of liberty.' These words were originally penned by a group of men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787. Their power has not diminished over the centuries. Today, the ideals that stand at the heart of the world's oldest democracy are understood anew by men and women led by an enlightened former monarch in Thimphu."
My hat goes off to Bhutan for continuing with its democracy dreams while many in the rest of the world spit on the word. Democracies have gotten somewhat of a bad name in the last several years under our current President who believes that this political form should be spread like evangelical religion rather than through a slow, steady process like Bhutan's. Study of this tiny country's experiment might prove illustrative to those interested in seeing how a true democracy is born.
And finally, here is enlightening news you can use that could make a difference in your waistline by this time next year. MEN'S HEALTH magazine website reports on nine "health foods" that are pulling your leg. David Zinczenko wrote in his book "Eat This Not That" that these hyped non-fat and/or low-calorie foods are anything but that. The nine offenders? Bran muffins, chicken Caesar salad, tuna melt, chicken wrap, turkey burger, fruit smoothies, granola bars, pastas salad, and yogurt with fruit on the bottom which each and every one containing hidden fats and sugars.